BELGRADE—The medallions of breaded artisan chevre arrive crisp in a golden salty crust, with an oozy, tangy filling and a side of tomato jam.
It’s popular dish at a restaurant known for blending worldly fare with Montana ingredients. And the key ingredient of this simple delicacy, would you believe, comes from Belgrade?
Amaltheia Organic Dairy is carving a name out for itself in the world of artisan cheese. Its products have won multiple prizes from the American Cheese Society. They’ve been featured on the Food Network. And they’re selling well in grocery stores and restaurants.
“It’s a good product,” said chef Eric Trager of Bridger Creek Backcountry restaurant in Red Lodge.
“The chevre is pretty sharp, has kind of a sour flavor and it tends to be a little grainy. It’s great for dips or spread. We like to blend it with heavy cream and make a good sauce for pork or beef.”
Amaltheia, gets its name from the nymph of Greek mythology who raised Zeus on goat’s milk, though its spelling is slightly different.
Grateful, Zeus broke the horn from a goat’s head and presented it to Amaltheia as a gift, promising that its possessor would have an abundance of everything desired. The mythical horn is the original cornucopia.
The business has been a horn of plenty for Amaltheia owners Melvyn and Sue Brown, who bought their first goats a decade ago to launch an enterprise neither knew much about.
The couple now produces about 2,000 pounds of goat cheese weekly, according to the background story on the company’s Web site, http://www.amaltheiadairy.com. They operate the business with the help of their son, Nathan.
When the Browns got into the dairy business, Melvyn was looking for a new line of work. He was a cattleman from England, skilled in embryo transplants. His prowess earned him a job on a ranch in Guatemala in the late 1970s, where his employer ran cattle on a heavily guarded compound in the middle of a civil war.
That’s where he met his wife, Sue, a Michigander teaching at an American school in Guatemala. Sue now teaches in Bozeman Public Schools.
The couple moved to the United States in 1981. Melvyn was doing genetic work in Colorado. That’s when his cattle life ended abruptly.
“A cow kicked me and broke my leg below the knee,” Brown said.
His right leg could never again withstand the stresses of working with large animals.
Goats turned out to be a good replacement.
The couple tends to about 480, mostly Alpines, Saanens and LaManchas. The first two breeds are heavy milkers; the latter produces milk rich in butter fat.
Twice daily, Melvyn Brown milks half the herd; the other half are mostly young replacements that aren’t in production. Each milking goat turns out about three-fourths of a gallon daily.
It takes four days minimum to make cheese from that milk. Aged cheeses take longer.
Amaltheia makes ricotta and ricotta salata, a grateable, dry salted chess that’s dense, sharp and tangy.
Americans think of ricotta as being a soft, spreadable cheese used as a filling in baked pasta dishes. But the word ricotta means recooked and applies to several different types of cheese. In Italy, the cheese would often be made from sheep’s milk, but goat’s milk is an easy substitute.
Amaltheia also makes an award-winning feta, which landed the company a feature of the Food Network.
The dairy makes a lot of chevre, a French goat cheese that takes on a many different characteristics.
And Amaltheia is working on a camembert and aged sharp cheddar. Goat’s milk makes a very flavorful cheddar cheese, Brown said.
“Basically. our chefs that have been with us forever, they’re asking for an aged cheese,” Brown said.
Retail sales have been good for Amaltheia. The cheese sells in 45 different markets and should soon be found in national health food giant Whole Foods.
However, restaurants have been the company’s primary market since its creation. Amaltheia custom makes cheese to restaurant specifications for several chefs who belong to a culinary cooperative.
“It’s on my menu every month,” said Carl Kurokawa, chef at Juliano’s in Billings. “You can put it in salads, roll it in nuts or whatever, use it in a dip. It’s a good cheese. I think I’ve served it with snails, with salads. You know goat cheese sauces.
“It’s an excellent product and its localness makes it that much better.”
The dairy also gets its share of customers with dietary concerns. Goat cheese has increased in popularity in the United States for the last few years for several reasons, not the least of which is the cheese’s agreeability with some people who are lactose intolerant.
All mammals’ milk contains lactose, which the human digestive system breaks down with the enzyme lactase, but one in 10 Americans can’t digest dairy products. If that digestion doesn’t happen, gas, bloating and diarrhea soon do.
Some lactose intolerant people do better with goat cheese because fat molecule chains in goat’s milk are shorter than the molecule chains in cow’s milk, which makes them easier to digest.
“All babies drink goat’s milk,” Brown said, “all mammals.”
He’s even been approached by men wanting goat’s milk for rescued forest animals. The milk doesn’t taste too different. Its high vitamin A content makes it much whiter in color than cow’s milk, but Amaltheia isn’t set up for milk sales.
“People call me all the time for milk, but we’re only licensed for cheese,” Brown said.
If they could sell milk, they probably would. Not much goes to waste at Amaltheia Dairy. The Browns have found a use for just about everything.
“I was definitely turned on because it is local and they do use sustainable practices,” Trager said.
The Browns don’t even discard their whey, which is significant because the natural byproduct of cheese making has become a problem for a society that eats a lot of cheese, but hasn’t much use for the high-vitamin, high-protein liquid that separates from milk when the latter is curdled.
Large cheese dairies struggle to get rid of the byproduct, which contains a lot of water and needs processing to be put to human food use.
Amaltheia feeds its whey to pigs, which has produced some pretty tasty pork sold at Bozeman Food Cooperative and some other local shops.
Whey-fed pork has been around for centuries. In Parma, Italy, sheep whey produced while making Parmesan cheese is fed to pigs, which are the source of authentic dry-cured prosciutto.
Restaurants are showing interest in Amaltheia’s pigs. The pig and goat manure are keeping the Brown’s organic pastures green.
Melvyn hasn’t yet found a good use for the squeal, but friends say it won’t take him long.
Contact Tom Lutey email@example.com or 657-1288.