by Mallory Moad
Good things come in small packages, and few people know the truth of this old saying more than Joel and Margie Weber. They’re the founders/owners/operators of Rocky Oaks Goat Creamery in Clovis, producers of a variety of unique, hand-crafted artisan goat cheeses. It’s home to a modest-sized herd of registered Nubian milking goats – just sixteen of these floppy-eared beauties – along with six hard working dogs and a crew of not-so-industrious cats. Trust me, this is a happy place.
Margie had worked as a nurse for forty years, a profession that, while worthwhile, can also be stressful. After her father was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, she decided it was time for a career change, possibly something with more happy endings. Margie and Joel have a long history with the dairy industry and goats (She was raised on a family-owned cow dairy farm in Riverside County, and they have owned goats as pets in the past), so the choice was made to return to a farming lifestyle. “Once I decided I wanted goats, Joel said I had to do something with them,” Margie says. “I have always loved cheese, so the logical thing to do was make cheese with their milk.”
And so it began. In 2011 the couple embarked on an adventure that included education, research, travel, and networking. Joel took over the business side, dealing with policies and a myriad of required forms. Margie attended a class in cheese making at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where she learned the basics, and a dairy produce workshop in Vermont where she learned about food safety and regulations. “We visited several small scale cheese making sites to determine what would work for us, and I read books on goat care, cheese making, and business.” The American Cheese Society and California Dairy Food Advisory Board have been valuable sources of information and guidance. The first goats were purchased in 2013, followed by land in 2015. Eventually Margie began to make small batches of cheese, some of which “wasn’t very good,” so it was shared with her chickens (not connoisseurs but always appreciative). In September, 2018, Rocky Oaks Goat Creamery went into full-time production.
The goats at Rocky Oaks Goat Creamery are treated as valuable employees, not as a primary source of a crucial ingredient. Named after country western singers (Reba, Krystal, Miranda) and princesses (Diana, Fergie) they wear stylish personalized collars and their photos prominently featured on the dairy’s website. Margie’s nursing skills have proven a valuable asset in caring for them, providing first aid to injured animals, administering injections, and assistance in the delivery of kids. “Nursing requires caring for people while maintaining a herd requires caring for livestock.” And speaking of the herd’s offspring, female kids eventually become milkers. The males go to live on the Webers’s home property or are sold. However, extreme care is taken to make sure they never become someone’s dinner. Joel says there are regular customers who frequently purchase goats for use as natural weed control or as pets.
Happy goats and artisan cheese aren’t the only things to feel good about at Rocky Oaks Goat Creamery. Margie prefers to keep the operation as local as possible and has established a working relationship with California State University, Fresno. The Food Science, Ag Business, and Animal Science departments provide interns who work at the dairy, gaining worthwhile hands-on experience in cheese making and herd management.Not everyone who works there has come through the intern program, however. Rhiannon Stack was first introduced to Rocky Oaks Goat Creamery by her friend, Phoebe (who is Margie and Joel’s daughter-in-law). With a passion for cooking, a fascination with food science, and love of animals, Rhiannon started spending time at the dairy learning about the process of making cheese and hanging out with the goats. Her enthusiasm for learning and positive energy were a perfect fit, and Rhiannon eventually became an employee. She has served as Cheese Maker for a little over a year.
A registered dietitian who served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Uganda for two years, Rhiannon says she is committed to “engaging others in not just achieving a healthy lifestyle but also enjoying the quality of that life.” She appreciates the welcoming, charming environment of Rocky Oaks Goat Creamery, saying “It’s hard to let a bad day get you down when you begin and end it by seeing all of the faces of the animals. They are amazing therapists.” She describes her relationship with Margie as empowering: “Working with her has not only been cathartic for me but also provides opportunities to be more creative with ingredients.”
Joel and Margie have chosen to limit the size of the creamery for a very important reason. They understand that high-quality, hand-crafted cheese can only meet their standards if made in small batches with careful attention paid to each step of the process. They have no desire to place their product in retail outlets but have chosen to sell at the Vineyard Farmers’ Market in Fresno on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. Their inventory regularly sells out, which doesn’t come as a surprise. People have become concerned about the quality of food and the ethics behind its production. We prefer fresh, local, and clean and want to be informed about where, and how, what we eat is produced. One hundred percent of the milk used in Rocky Oaks Goat Creamery cheese comes from their herd. The goats are milked on-site in a sparkling clean milking room. All eight varieties of cheese contain no additives, preservatives, or colors. Not only that, it’s absolutely delicious. I’ve tasted it. I know what I’m talking about. This is not the faux feta you find in grocery stores. When it comes to locally produced, high-quality, hand-crafted cheese, Margie says “We’re the only game in town.” I’m good with that.
The story of the success of Rocky Oaks Goat Creamery is about persistence, hard work, and drive. It is also about love, respect, and a belief in one’s work. “We enjoy sharing this unique, hand-crafted goat cheese with people in our community who recognize quality, freshness, and true passion,” Margie says. “We’re pleased as long as the product lives up to the high standards we’ve set, the customers are enjoying the cheese, and the goats are happy.”
Is this one of those happy endings Margie Weber envisioned? I think she went one better. She’s got a happy-every-day.
My name is Mallory Moad, and I’m happy, too.
Visit Rocky Oaks Goat Creamery online at www.rockyoaksgoatcreamery.com or on Facebook. You can sample cheeses and purchase your favorites at the Vineyard Farmers Market in Fresno, on the corner of Shaw and Blackstone, every Saturday from 7 a.m. until noon and on Wednesdays from 3-6 p.m.