I had the privilege to visit Winter Winds on my trip to the Grand Tetons and the moment I step foot on the farm, was washed with the bright 8am Idaho sun, and the warmth that Mark and Lacey shown on me. They were transparent about their motives to make cheese, the process of cheese making, and any questions we had. Their love for their animals, thoughtfulness to maximize goat happiness, connect with the local community, and provide minimally processed, no additive goat cheese makes this cheese a winner!
Where to Buy:
My only issue is that I’ll have to wait until the next time I’m in Victor, ID to get it!
Vertical Harvest - 155 W Simpson Ave., Jackson, WY
Aspens Market - 4015 W Lake Creek Dr., Wilson, WY
Mangy Moose Cellars & Grocery - 3295 Village Dr., Teton Village, WY
Barrels and Bins - 36 South Main St., Driggs, ID
Jackson Whole Grocer - 1155 US-89, Jackson, WY
Pearl St. Market - 40 W. Pearl Ave., Jackson, WY
Boise Co-op - 2350 N. Eagle Rd., Meridian ID & 888 W. Fort St., Boise, ID
Trio an American Bistro - 45 S. Glenwood St., Jackson, WY
Local - 55 N Cache St., Jackson, WY
Wild Sage - at The Rusty Parrot - 175 N. Jackson St., Jackson, WY
Hand Fire Pizza - 120 N. Cache St., Jackson, WY
Badger Creek Cafe - 110 N. Main St., Tetonia, ID
Warbirds Cafe - 253 Warbird Ln., Driggs, ID
Teton Valley Farmers Market, Driggs City Center, Fridays 9-1
Jackson Hole People's Market, Wednesdays 4-7pm, a the base of Snow King
Jackson Hole Farmers Market, Saturdays, 8am-noon, on the Town Square
At the core of their cheeses, Winter Winds Farm goat cheese are made out of milk from their 49 milked goats. The only other things added to the cheeses are heat, cultures, rennet, salt, water and any flavors i.e. smoked applewood cheese is placed on top of a smoker where apple bark is burned below it; herb chevre is coated in lavender and thyme from a local lavender farm. As I will describe below, the cultures are added to break down fats and lactose and the remnants help release an enzyme naturally occurring in milk that helps bond together milk to create solid curds. The goats are fed with locally grown, high quality alfalfa, molasses, popped corn and grain. I was curious about the type of feed and asked Farmer Mark why the goats are fed feed as opposed to grazing grass. He explained that although goats like to forge (it keeps them happy), they’re not pasture raised animals and it is not necessarily the best for them to always eat grass, bushes and rough tree bark (although the latter two are their favorite!).
When I visited Winter Winds farms in October, 2020, they gave me a tour showcasing their facilities, cheese vault, and of course, goats! They showed us that the process of making artisan goat cheese is a combination of science and art. We start with the goats: they are brought in to the milk machine room every morning and evening- usually following a leader as they are herd animals- which is into a small 8 by 30 ft room where a metal shelf, waist high, runs along the length of the wall. At the end of the room a small door opens at the entrance to the shelf where goat #1 steps in and leads the way for 7 other goats to follow along the shelf. After 8 goats have filed into the room, one of the farmers attaches the milking machine tubes to the goat utters. At first, I voiced my concerns with these machines as I’ve seen them in dairy factory farm pictures and they look harmful to the animal. However, after Mark and Lacey explained that the milkers are designed well with a pulsate membrane inside to mock the human milking like motion as best as it can, I came to better terms with the machine. Even for this small farm, it is not feasible to hand milk 49 goats, two times a day, everyday. I still have reserves about this technology, however, I understand that it is needed to create their products in a timely, affordable manner.
After the milk is collected, it is either put into a bulk tank in an otherwise empty room to be pasteurized if aging less than 60 days, or collected to age if set to age over 60 days. They follow USDA standards that require the milk to be pasteurized at 145 degrees for 30 minutes, with the air at 150 degrees- a temperature that is high enough to kill bacteria, but low enough to not kill everything.
After pasteurization, cultures are added to the milk and let to sit. Then they stir it in so that the bacteria breaks down the fats and lactose. After that, they add remnant and let that sit for 30-40 minutes- this helps release enzymes naturally occurring in milk to create bonds that help solidify the milk. This creates “curd” which is scraped off the top of the milk. The leftover liquid, whey, is shared with 4-5 local pig farmers to add to their feed!
The curd is then put in molds and depending on the type of cheese they’re creating, have different next steps. For the gouda, they take it out and put water in the molds to make it more watery. For the Teton Tomme, they put it in a cloth and drain it on a table, then let it sit in a mixture of salt and water for 10-20 hours. As the cheeses sit out, air works with cheese to create a rind to protect the cheese. If they want, cheese makers allow mold to grow on the rind which adds an earthiness flavor and extra protection for the cheese.
The cheeses are then stored in a cave (or I like to call “vault”) at 55 degrees so that they can keep and sell their cheese year round (although some are only available in the summer and fall).
Winter Winds is owned by husband and wife, Mark and Jessica, who moved out to Idaho to purchase Winter Winds from the previous owners because of their love for goats, cheese, sustainable agriculture and nutrition! Their purpose is to provide people of the Teton Valley locally-sourced, small-batch goat cheese, education about goats and cheese, and to build meaningful relationships with their customers. One way they strive to do so is through small scale events and farm tours (of which I was fortunate to participate in and can speak truth to all of the above information!). Mark and Jessica are also joined by Lacey, and another hand, who help work full time on the farm to milk the goats, except during the winter.
These farmers acknowledge that making cheese is science, but also an art and know that for different times of years, different feed for the goats, etc, call for different “cooking” methods. I really appreciate how they opened up about their business model and told me that honestly, if Mark’s partner, Jessica, didn’t have a full time job as a nonprofit executive, they wouldn’t be able to support themselves. Their profits from cheese pay for the property itself, but doesn’t cover many livelihood expenses. They are also able to survive because Jackson Hole, ID is one of the highest per capita income cities in the U.S., thus there is a market for this high value product- especially because people want to be connected to their farmers. Despite Jackson Hole being an anomaly, Mark noted that Teton valley is a great model for how people everywhere can come together as a community and support our local farmers.