Meet the 130 goats, and one family, making N.L.'s first chèvre

Cuddling a kid will make your day better— just ask Karen Bennett.

"It's like therapy," she says, holding a snow white baby goat like a newborn, the little kid nibbling at her coat.

As a co-owner of Eighth Day Acres, Newfoundland and Labrador's first goat creamery, Bennett has needed a few kid cuddles while working toward getting their chèvre in stores. Headquartered in a barn in Cormack, filled with 130 or so bleating goats, she, her husband and daughter have been trying to turn their cheese dreams into reality for five years.

And in October, their first tubs of cheese finally hit store shelves across the island.

"Making the cheese, and seeing the final product, has been really, really great," she said.

It's also been really, really busy.

While husband Bill Bennett milks the goats twice a day and takes on most feeding and mucking duties, Karen and her daughter Amanda hold down full-time jobs Monday to Friday, making the cheese at night and sneaking in the occasional public cheese tasting on the weekends.

Lindsay Bird/CBC
Lindsay Bird/CBC

Rewards after red tape

The Bennetts have few complaints about their workload, however. Living in the heart of farm country, the family has always wanted to transition into agriculture, and chèvre seemed a no-brainer when they surveyed the competition — or lack thereof.

"When we looked at goats, there's nothing here like it. So we decided to go into something new," said Karen Bennett.

"We figured, just do something different from what everybody else is doing," added Amanda Bennett.

Their first four goats arrived in the pan of a pickup, each with its own nameplate on a collar — something Amanda Bennett laughs about, now surrounded by a herd too numerous to name.

But becoming trailblazers was a bit of a double-edged sword, as the Bennetts tried to navigate the bureaucratic test of patience and time that accompanied bringing in a totally new industry to the province.

"There was a lot of red tape," Karen Bennett said. "There were no regulations.… It was challenging at first."

Lindsay Bird/CBC
Lindsay Bird/CBC

Things moved slower than they had hoped, but the Bennetts chugged along with the creamery for years, working with the province until it finally all came together this fall. Along the way, while goat knowledge was in short supply locally, the Bennetts tapped into farms in Nova Scotia and Ontario any time they had a sick goat or a cheese inquiry.

"Everyone we visited has been fantastic. They've given us the dos and don'ts, and any time we've got questions, It's just a call away," said Karen Bennett.

And of course, when things got stressful, hanging out with the herd always helped.

"The goats are definitely a perk. And unlimited cheese, I won't complain about that either," said Amanda Bennett.

Taste tests and favourite flavours

But that cheese supply doesn't make itself, as Amanda Bennett is well aware.

It's a three-day process to turn goat milk into goat cheese, and on the fourth day it starts all over again. You can understand the desire to add an eighth day into the week, although the Bennetts joke their farm name actually came from a 2013 Super Bowl ad that saluted farmers.

During all that work, the Bennetts have set up at the agricultural fair in Corner Brook and various Colemans locations to introduce people to their product, as they realize not everyone may have tasted chèvre before.

That includes Amanda.

"I'd never even tried it. I was afraid I wouldn't like it," she said.

"But the very first batch that we made proved me wrong, because it was delicious."

Lindsay Bird/CBC
Lindsay Bird/CBC

Now, having eaten more cheese than she probably cares to count the calories for, Bennett said the public reception for the product has been, for the most part, positive.

Chèvre seems to fall into that select category of food that divides taste buds — think cilantro or olives — with people either loving or hating its tang.

"Half the people are, 'I love goat cheese!' and can't wait to try it.… Other people are afraid to try it, because it is something new," said Amanda Bennett.

"But most people who do try it do love it."

The Cormack cheese does have a fresher, creamier taste than what's trucked in off the ferry, which makes sense as the Bennetts say what appears on store shelves is often only a few days or a week old. With a variety of flavours besides plain for sale, as the Christmas season approaches, they say their cranberry chèvre has overtaken chives as a bestseller.

Getting festive herself, Karen Bennett says her evening snack now consists of chèvre, crackers and eggnog — all while dreaming about a goat-filled future. The family plans for goat cheddar, gouda and cheese curds, and goat milk if the market demands.

And coming from a farming family, Karen Bennett looks forward to passing it on to the next generation.

"My grandson is five years old, and he says he's going to be a cheeseman when he grows up."

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