The woman: Amelia Sweethardt, second-generation owner of Pure Luck Farm & Dairy.
The mission: Make a happy home for 72 dairy goats, and craft artisan cheese for all of Hill Country.
The commitment: “This farm was my mother’s dream. It’s our home.”
Top 3 ways she’ll change your life:
- Participate in Austin’s proud culture of handmade local food, and hop on board the new artisan cheese movement while you’re at it.
- Family values are the secret ingredient.
- What’s a meal without cheese?
In sum: Amelia Sweethardt and her sisters grew up on this farm. Today, she’s raising her son to scoop curd and tend the land, too. This is about more than just cheese. This is an affirmation of family values and the importance of small farms. Make room in your refrigerator.
Behind the scenes
It is 12:14 p.m., and I am fending off the friendly advances of an Alpine goat named Fabuloso. With his squiggly beard and intense stare – not to mention the comely female awaiting his return a few paces off – he is something like the goat version of The Most Interesting Man in the World. He once ate a tin can… just for sport.
But he doesn’t rule the roost at Pure Luck Farm & Dairy. About 70 milking goats are the real stars out here in Dripping Springs, roaming in packs of 20 or 30 around the sprawling acreage of the family dairy farm. They start their day with a 5 a.m. milking (an early start is one of the secrets of highly effective people; why not goats?) then drift off to see what kind of mischief they can stir up. Their guardian, Lucy, a big polar bear of a dog, is never far away.
“The ladies,” as they are referred to here at Pure Luck, are bright, friendly – sometimes overly friendly – and occasionally, real brats.
“I remember my sister and I chasing two goats around the yard for an hour and a half as teenagers,” says Amelia Sweethardt, one of Pure Luck’s second-generation owners. “Sometimes, they can be just awful.”
She smiles broadly as she says it.
Gone to goats
Sweethardt’s mother, Sara Sweetser, bought the property in 1979 to raise her family. She and husband Denny would raise four girls there, Amelia and her sisters. It was Sara who had an affinity for goats, and decided to try the family hand at a small dairy operation. She also registered the property as one of the first organic farms in Texas.
As a happy result, Amelia and her sisters grew up chasing goats, pulling weeds, and scooping curd. And in a rare instance of cross-generational symmetry, those are the very same memories their children will share.
A photo of Sweethardt and husband Ben’s son, June, is front and center on the family fridge. It’s the usual spot for a prized childhood photo. What’s unusual is that in it, three-year-old June is flipping bleu cheese.
Rhapsody in bleu (or paprika)
The first time Sweethardt scooped curd unsupervised, it was a disaster. She was in high school, a friend was over, and she forgot to catch the long strings of liquidy byproduct. She did not see a future in cheese-making.
Today, she can hardly contain her enthusiasm for it. As she shows off her latest bit of experimentation – a mahon in the style of Spain’s Menorca island – she pulls out a large glossy photo book of Spanish cheeses to show us the comparison. She’ll visit the motherland this fall, when she travels to Spain for the Pyrenees cheese festival. (There is a thriving subculture afoot, and as someone who sometimes garnishes cheese with cheese, I’m glad to hear it.)
She points out that part of what is so bewitching about artisan cheese – and really, much of the handmade foodstuffs at farmers markets and stores like Whole Foods – is how beautiful it looks. As she waxes poetic on the subject of wooden molds, she is meticulously unwrapping and cutting wheels of bleu and mahon, With the mahon’s dusting of paprika and beveled mold, and the bleu cheese’s pebbled grey rind and dramatic marbling, I have to agree: This cheese is a piece of art.
Pure Luck is a farmstead, which means that all of the cheese they make comes from milk from their own herd, right on the property. “It’s the utmost attention to quality,” says Sweethardt.
Goats thrive on consistency; and less stress means more milk (and arguably, of better quality).
“We want to support them in being as happy and as natural as possible,” says Sweethardt. “We built them a barn, but they choose to sleep under the trees. We want them to be who they are.”
She walks me past that same barn, which “the ladies” are currently diligently tearing down – their favorite group activity. “It’s big business this year,” laughs Sweethardt. So at least it’s serving a purpose.
“They outnumber us, they run the show, and they need a lot of attention,” she shrugs. “And they are so funny.”
Further proof: Mom knows best
From start to finish – milking to market – it takes four days to make Chevre, a French-style mild crumbly cheese that should be eaten immediately. It takes just an afternoon to prepare the farm’s wildly popular “Hopelessly Bleu,” but that takes two months to mature. And across a narrow road, on the terraced fields beyond the goat’s territory, Sweethardt and her family grow organic thyme, rosemary, and sage for sale at select Central Market and Whole Foods locations.
All of this is still a family affair, with the bulk of the work done by six people. From their home on the farm property, Sweethardt and her husband oversee the cheese-making, day-to-day operations, and deliveries; her sisters and their families are involved in the farmers markets and around the property.
“This was all my mother’s dream. For us, this land is a deep sense of place. It’s valuable for everybody in the family to have the opportunity to work here,” Sweethardt says.
We’re meandering back to the house under a high noon sun, and she stops to pluck peaches from a line of trees at the edge of the herb fields.
“I think that’s why my mother did this,” she says. “We learned to work. We learned that we could support ourselves.”
“This is our home,” she says.
Visit purelucktexas.com for information on Pure Luck’s cheeses, where to buy, and the farm and family history. Stay connected on their Facebook page.
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