Sixteen goats of many shapes and colors clamored up the wooden bridge leading to the dairy parlor and then curiously watched as Brit Pfann, co-owner of Celebrity Dairy, prepared them for milking.
It was evening, and the goats were ready for evening milking. Fleming Pfann says, “they are creatures of habit.”
Celebrity Dairy is located in the Chatham County community of Silk Hope, not far from Siler City. The dairy also features a charming bed and breakfast where guests can enjoy the calm surroundings of the 330 acres.
Brit and Fleming Pfann, owners of Celebrity Dairy, are known for their hospitality and goat cheese, known as chèvre. Guests enjoy eating freshly baked biscuits made with goat cheese, various jams and jellys with goat cheese spread, scotch eggs and omelets (from their free-range chickens) stuffed with caramelized onions and goat cheese.
The Pfanns credit North Carolina Cooperative Extension with helping make their small-scale operation a success. The farm includes 60 goats, 20 acres of actual pasture and chèvre, said Fleming. Small-scale farming takes a lot of work, and includes marketing cheese through direct sales.
And Cooperative Extension has benefited from the Pfann's support. As local leaders in sustainable agriculture, they have opened their operation for farm tours and have supported local farmers' markets, says Debbie Roos, Chatham County agricultural agent. Fleming serves on both the county's advisory leadership group and on Roos's sustainable agriculture advisory committee.
“Fleming is just a real supporter of Extension,” says Roos.
The Pfanns have been living for the past 16 years on land left to Fleming by her late father. When the couple first moved on the land, they lived in a mobile home and began to fix up the cabin. The cabin, dating to the 1800s, had no indoor plumbing.
The dairy started with a couple of brush-eating goats. “The farm hadn’t been farmed for 30 years and was turning into forest,” said Brit. “Fleming got a few goats to eat the brush.”
“One was a milk goat, so I had to learn to milk from a neighbor,” said Fleming. “She convinced me that I should drink the milk, so I got some more goats.”
“The goats multiplied, and two people can only drink so much milk,” said Brit. “So, Fleming started making cheese and eventually there was not enough room in the fridge in the little mobile home.”
“I told myself this has got to stop, I can’t even prepare a real meal here, there are gallons of goat milk everywhere,” said Fleming.
“Fleming started taking the cheese to the Carrboro Farmer’s Market and started selling the cheese,” said Brit.
The Pfanns needed a license to sell cheese, and they found the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to be quite helpful. They also had to find equipment that was the correct size for a small-scale farm operation.
“We stumbled across a whole bunch of equipment in Arizona,” said Brit. “And we built a building for it.”
The cheese-making technique they have perfected is French farmstead, which creates chèvre, and their 60 Alpine and Saanen goats graze and browse on about 20 acres. Their chèvre flavors are many: Montrachet (plain, herb coated, au poivre), Serendipity (plain, herbed, sweet), Mold-Ripened (silk hope, brie, and cloud) and occasional cameo appearances of feta and dried Serendipity.
The Pfanns have used their acreage wisely, and the word is out about Celebrity Dairy. “I call myself a cheese ambassador,” said Fleming. “I’ll talk to anyone.”
“We’ve had open houses, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s farm tours, and thousands of people have come through,” said John Bonitz, Fleming’s son and manager of the inn.
The inn itself hosts all sorts of celebrations, including weddings, receptions and retreats, as well as a third Sunday of each month dinner, hosted by the Pfanns, John Bonitz and a visiting chef from the area.
Acclimating people to goat cheese was a gradual process. And the farmers’ market helped because it was their first contact with selling the cheese. Celebrity Dairy cheese is sold to nearby restaurants, and in a few grocery stores, such as A Southern Season, Whole Foods and Weaver Street Market.
Now, Celebrity Dairy has an excellent market and plenty of room for its goats, cheese and guests. “We’re real busy selling cheese,” said Brit.