Quillisascut Cheese Company™ is a small family farm near the rural town of Rice in Northeastern Washington State, and is owned by Rick and Lora Lea Misterly. The 36 acre farm is located at the base of the Huckleberry Mountain range, just off the Columbia River near the town of Rice. The cheese production grew out of a love for country living and desire for homemade cheese. Lora Lea was raised on a farm in central Washington where her family had a small dairy and her mother made farm style cheese and butter. That cheese was the inspiration behind the cheese now being made at Quillisascut™.
The business began in 1987 and has grown over the years to the present size with 37 milking goats .
“We believe that our desire to remain small as well as the nature of our surroundings is well represented in our cheese.”
In The Beginning…
We bought our land, 26 acres, in 1981.Then in 1994 we purchased an adjoining 10 acres making the total 36 acres of land. The first thing we did was put in a well so we would have water. I suppose our dream of farming was what moved us. I was 25 years old and Rick was 28, but the direction our farm would take was more like a seed that we carried and when we planted it we didn’t know what it would look like. ( sort of like having planted a flower seed that we only knew was a flower, not whether it was a rose or a hollyhock) We brought with us our enthusiasm for the adventure which must have moved all of us in the west.
I was raised on a farm in Leavenworth, Wa. My parents milked cows and sold milk and eggs. My Mom made cheese with the summer milk surplus. I remember the taste of fresh curds, real creamed cottage cheese and butter, it is a taste that isn’t duplicated in anything found at the local grocer. Cheese making seemed a natural part of my life as a child, it is familiar, staying home and making a living with our animals.
When we moved to our new land we brought with us a milking Alpine doe named Taffy, her month old daughter named Sasha and 2 week old kids from my Mom’s goat, Weenza and Artie. Since we didn’t have any electricity yet, I would set the milk to make a soft cheese, in my outdoor kitchen. We would store it in a sealed plastic bucket and drop it from a rope down in to our well, there it would stay nice and cool, (while the summer temperatures soared into the 90′s) The process of turning milk in to cheese is really simple and captivating. Trying to make all of our own food, it was fun to experiment with new recipes to make different types of cheese, a hobby that took off .
In 1985 we started seriously considering starting a cheese business, we would read about other small farmstead cheese operations that were making a go, so a new seed was planted. Along with all our other dreams, our house was beginning to be a reality, and our herd of goats had grown to 5 milking does. I was committed to turning their milk in to cheese.
Then in March of 1986 I took a 4 day long cheese making short course at WSU. It opened my eyes to a whole new level in the world of cheese, more of the technical aspects that helped to answer questions that I had come up against. On March 5th 1987, we gained our state license to sell cheese and our new business began. I think that Rick and I have been really lucky to have the ability to work together on the same dream.
Our dream has always been a holistic one of an integrated farm. I try to look at our farm as a work in progress with many different parts, while others might see it as a cheese “goat cheese” place. I love making cheese and I love all different types of cheese, it seems there is an incredible number of cheese out there to be discovered and my big way of discovery is through books and experimentation.
Right now we have about 60 goats and we will be milking around 35 this next lactation (period of milking) We always keep some of the doelings each year as replacement milkers for the future. They are bred in the early fall to freshen (have their kids) in the early months of the year. We have held our herd at this size for close to 7 years and it seems like the right size for our farm . Always the quality of life for us and our farm is being judged and weighed. At this level there is sanity for us and the business is manageable.
The goats always have access to the out doors, though they act like they would melt if they were rained upon! There is about 25 acres of pasture that they graze on, native and new planted grass. We supplement their browsing with Alfalfa hay, the best quality we can find around here, and they are given whole barley and oats while they are being milked. We try to purchase our feeds directly from other local farms, as all the land we have is in pasture, garden, and wild space.
The hay is grown by a farm, with little more then sweat from the farmer and the guys who put it in our barn. There are no added hormones or antibiotics in the feed it is whole feed right from the earth. As far as herd health, we strive to keep the herd healthy . The first line of defense is using homeopathic medicine. We were lucky that our Veterinarian, decided to train in Homeopathic about the same time we wanted to implement it in our herd. If there is a serious problem that we must use an antibiotic, like life or death for one of our girls, we will use them, but that is very seldom.
I make about 5000 pounds of cheese a year. The cheese does change through out the year . The flavors of the milk change with the diet of the goats, the season and temp. all play a part, even the facility where I make the cheese has it’s impact as the seasons change. The milk changes through out the year , since the goats are all on the same schedule in their lactation, the milk is changing for all of them. When they first freshen the milk is rich and creamy as the summer progresses the milk seems to have a higher water content that slowly condenses into fall and winter milk that is higher in fats and solids. Where more of the pronounced goat like flavors come through because of the fatty acids in goat milk. The cheese I make is trying to give an honest reflection of all that. That is one of the biggest features of this cheese. I want it to be an honest representation of this place. I want the cheese to be real with rustic nuances. Even when it is mild I want there to be lots of flavor.
I started out wanting to make a cheese that was like something I could buy at the store, except for the homemade cottage cheese like my Mom made. So that put it some where around Tillamook™ and Jarlsberg™. Lucky for me Rick always ate the cheese and said it was good, like something he tried in Greece or some other exotic local. At some point I realized that there is a lot of industrialized cheese being made, what there is a shortage of is simple honest farm made cheese.
When I started making cheese using the Manchego recipe, I thought it really clicked with the milk from our animals and so I have stuck with it, modified a little to make it fit with our farm and production. We call it curado to reflect that Early Spanish influence and separate it from the industrial import.
I want to make goat milk cheese that utilize the flavors of goat milk and cow milk cheese that best represent our rich Jersey cows milk. Many people have been inspirations, but mostly on the eating end ,Thierry Rautereau from Rover’s has always been super enthusiastic. Our businesses are about the same age and we started selling him cheese in the very beginning.
Whenever you make something to sell there are many influences that shift around the production and help create what is being done, it is really guided by the market. If there isn’t a buyer for it, then I can’t do it , except for our own consumption. But we are lucky that the market has grown up for all different cheese as our business has grown. So many people have been really supportive, buying the cheese helping get the word out. Even our neighbors are great in supporting our farm goals, which is a big thing now, with new people moving to the country for the pristine beauty. They might not like being next door to a goat farm.
I am always experimenting. This is my Practice. Making cheese everyday things come up and so adjustments are made. A big thing is observation and it is going on at so many levels. I pay attention to the way things smell, the way things look, the way things feel to my hands, how they taste. Then I use my knowledge to control the information coming in. I think that is where the craftsmanship comes in to play.
A problem I see for small cheese producers is government regulation, in this case for pasteurization, there is a move to require all cheese milk be pasteurized through out the world. Lucky for the cheese lovers out there who want raw milk cheese there is an action to not let this happen. It would make cheese that is a true reflection of the land be banned. You can find more information on this through the American Cheese Society, I think the Chefs Collaborative 2000, and Slow Foods are all working on this.