THE DANCING GOAT: AN EGG AND MILK BOUTIQUEPam Lunn, a friendly woman with a blond ponytail who’s a self-described “refugee from corporate America,” is quick to brag about her eggs and goat milk. “We have the best eggs in the world,” she says. “No hormones, no antibiotics–once you get used to them, you can’t go back to store bought. “ In soft pastel hues, eggs from a cross of Aracauna hens (a South American breed) and Americauna hens (a similar breed originating in the U.S.) are prettier than the norm, too.
The Dancing Goat also sells petite eggs from bantam hens, even tinier quail eggs and, until recently, duck eggs (coyotes polished off the last of Lunn’s ducks and she’s decided it’s not economical to replace them).
But it’s goat milk, of course, that The Dancing Goat is really about. A cadre of loyal customers shows up every week to pick up their supply of goat milk, yogurt, kefir (a fermented milk drink) and cheese. It all comes from Lunn’s farm near Odessa, where she’s been raising goats since the first four “does” arrived March 1, 2001 (“the day my life changed”). Recently she faced the sad prospect of putting down ailing 13 year old Esmerelda, the last of them. Of course, there’s always a new generation coming along. Though farm visits are discouraged, Lunn occasionally shows off irresistibly cute newborn goats at the St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market.
Pet Consumption?All of these products are promoted with the puzzling message, “For pet consumption only.” That’s because the milk is “raw,” meaning unpasteurized, and as such cannot be sold legally in Florida for human consumption. Twenty eight states in the US do allow raw milk sales, as well as most countries in Europe.
Health authorities say pasteurization is necessary to prevent transmission of dangerous bacteria such as E. coli and listeria. Raw milk advocates counter that pasteurization also destroys beneficial enzymes and “good” bacteria that contribute to flavor, and that outbreaks of foodborne illness are more often associated with industrial farming than with family farms.
By and large, customers are drawn by scientific evidence that goat milk is closer in its properties to human milk, making it easier for our bodies to metabolize minerals and other nutrients. Lunn’s customers rely on her assurances that the farm maintains scrupulously sanitary conditions.
While she’s tending the goats, her husband (formerly a chef) makes two kinds of cheese. The process for feta and chevre is similar: After the goat milk is heated with a culture, rennet is added to firm the curds. The whey is drained and the cheeses hung to drain for 12 to 24 hours. The difference in flavor comes from the type of culture—lipase gives feta its sharpness—and the fact that the feta is brined while the chevre is not.
Goats have the reputation of being indiscriminate eaters, but Lunn says hers have dainty habits, refusing to eat anything off the ground. Instead, they feast on grains such as oats, corn, barley, sunflower seeds and sprouts. To a couple who’s stopped by to ask about the feasibility of raising a goat or chicken on their own, Lunn explains, “You need at least two. Otherwise, they won’t be happy.”
When she’s not running her farm or making goat-milk soap with exotic aromas like sandalwood and Rooibos, Lunn takes her goats and chickens to shows, where the goats are judged on their milking capacity and hens like her Mille Fleurs are, one hopes, judged on their gorgeous plumage. She also serves as a mentor to 4H and FFA students and is an active member of the Florida Association of Farmers Markets.
For more on The Dancing Goat, visit www.thedancinggoat.net.
Toni Lydecker is a food journalist whose most recent cookbook is Piatto Unico: When One Course Makes a Real Italian Meal (fall 2011). She writes an Italian food blog called Tavola Talk (www.tavolatalk.com).