May 18 2010

An island whey of life

This is Burden Creek.

This is Burden Creek.

By Kristin Hackler

This is Burden Creek.

Not 150 years ago this area was known as Exchange Landing, and Exchange Plantation grew vast fields of long-staple cotton; the original source of sea island cotton. In early July of 1864, it was also the furthest point that a Federal expedition under Brigadier General John P. Hatch was able to make it on to Johns Island during the Civil War.

Today, Kipp Valentine still finds buttons, buckles, and bits of Civil War paraphernalia when he’s plowing the fields around Burden Creek Dairy. “One of the largest Civil War military operations took place here,” said Kipp as he stood at the end of a short wooden dock, looking out over the quiet waters of the creek at low tide. Behind him, a rustle of muted bells, distant bleating and stomping hooves remind him that it’s getting close to 5:30 – time to milk the goats.

Burden Creek Dairy, under the ownership of Katherine and Kipp Valentine, has been making goat’s milk cheese, or chevré, for the past four years; but that’s not really when the story of Burden Creek cheese began. It began on the Valentine’s wedding day, when a friend arrived with a very unusual wedding present: goats.

“We kept them!” smiled Katherine Valentine. “We started breeding them and kept the ones we liked.”

From a mixed bag of Nubian, Alpine and LaMancha goats, the Valentines bred their milking goats for gentle personalities, summer heat tolerance and, of course, quality of milk and butterfat content. While Nubians have excellent butterfat content and therefore perfect milk for making cheese, said Katherine, their personalities are a little lacking. “The Alpines are much friendlier,” said Katherine, “and they tend to be healthier.”

The next step was coming up with the equipment to create a proper cheese making facility. Through a variety of state school auctions and restaurant equipment supply sales, the Valentines pieced together a cheese making facility to rival that of any farmstead cheese producer in Europe.

The main cheese making room is completely equipped with triple sinks, stainless steel counters, floor drains and hanging hooks for bundles of fresh cheese to drain. Through the window and down the hall is the milking facility separated by the tank room, where up to 300 gallons of fresh goat’s milk can be pasteurized, chilled and stored. In the milking room, a professional platform allows the goats to stand comfortably while the milking machines are hooked up, and two minutes later they’re clattering back down the ramp, bleating for their dinner.

“We built the facility so you can see all of the rooms from the house,” said Kipp, showing how the wide windows in each room line up perfectly so that someone sitting in the living room of the house could peek through the window and check on anyone in the milking room, tank room or cheese making room. This is especially important as the Valentines have two young children – four-year-old Aurelia and two-year-old Benjamin – with another on the way.

With their current herd of 18 milking goats, the Valentines are able to produce about 15 pounds of cheese a day, and with fresh chevre ready-to-eat after about two days of draining, there’s always fresh cheese around the Valentine homestead.

Although Burden Creek Dairy began with simple, pure goat’s milk cheese, the Valentines began experimenting with different herbs and on meeting Maria Denaro of Tiverton Farms, a dried herb farm located in Goose Creek, Katherine and Kipp began adding herbs d’ provence and cracked black pepper. Today, their selection includes six herbal combinations including seasonal fruit (now its strawberries, but they will start making blueberry chevré once their blueberry plants mature at the end of May), sea salt, Italian and a spiced fig spread which is exclusive to Newton Farms in Freshfield Village.

“Sue Mohle from Newton Farms arrived at our front door not long after we opened and ordered the spiced fig spread for the store,” said Katherine. “Three days later she called back and ordered two times that amount. It’s all we can do to keep up!” she smiled. And it’s a great problem to have as the regular orders just about guarantee that the Valentines will be able to keep turning over new product and maybe one day in the future, expanding to different types of cheese.

“I’m thinking about making a feta,” said Katherine, “but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Burden Creek Dairy is located on Exchange Landing Road just off of Plowground Road on Johns Island. The farm is open on Sundays at 4:30 p.m. for walkthroughs or visits.

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