Whatever Floats Your Goat

Em Zember is living her dream of operating a goat dairy

“I started with two in 2000,” says Em Zember, as we watch eight attention-seeking goats waiting to be milked. We’re standing in an airy barn situated on the property best known by Islanders as the headquarters of the Great Canadian Soap Company. Zember is hopeful that in time it’ll become just as well known as the location of Oldfield’s Dairy, which specializes in creating high-end goat’s milk products with a particular focus on cheese. The dairy is also the only licensed producer of bottled goat’s milk on PEI.

“We have over a hundred at the moment,” Zember tells me of the cute, hairy goats that are peeping their heads through the wooden fences beside us. “If I ever need a reality check or my spirits to be lifted, I just head out to the barn and mingle with my goats and what is really important in life becomes clear.”

The family-run business now relies on 48 milkers for all of their operations. Prior to opening the dairy, Zember and her husband, David, were able to sustain their soap-making business with 13 milkers.

Goats get milked daily at Oldfield’s Dairy//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

Located on Route 6, along the stretch between Brackley and Oyster Bed Bridge, the Great Canadian Soap Company has become a favourite destination for both visitors and Islanders since it opened in 2005. Today, in addition to a soap shop, the property houses an ice cream parlour that serves goat’s milk ice cream, as well as other goat’s milk treats including grilled cheese sandwiches and milkshakes. In the soap shop, customers can sample freshly made goat’s milk feta before purchasing some to take home, along with a variety of other cheeses including a cheddar, a Carrot Top Anne (cream cheese with PEI carrot cake preserves) and a Red Top Islander (cream cheese with PEI red pepper jelly preserves). And for the purist, there’s always bottled goat’s milk.

“Our fresh cheese doesn’t have that goaty taste, because the milk we use is so fresh,” Zember tells me when I ask her what she would want to convey to those that may be wary about trying Oldfield’s cheeses. The health benefits of goat’s milk and its derivatives are also a strong selling point.

Carrot Top Anne with red pepper jelly and mint leaves//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

While less familiar on PEI and in Canada generally, goat’s milk is the most commonly consumed animal dairy on the planet. In several ways, it’s a better choice than cow’s milk. Goat’s milk is lower in lactose (a milk sugar that many humans have trouble digesting) and the type of lactose it contains is more digestible, so those who have trouble consuming cow’s milk are often able to enjoy goat’s milk without issue.

While goat’s milk has about the same amount of fat as cow’s milk, the fat molecules are smaller, making goat’s milk easier to digest as well. It’s also less allergenic than cow’s milk, because the type of protein it contains is different. Goat’s milk is also higher in that oh-so-coveted mineral, calcium, as well as magnesium and medium-chain fatty acids (these are good!), and lower in cholesterol.

“So we had the two goats and every year to get more milk you have to breed them so then you get more and more goats as you go and David, my husband, he’s like ‘you can’t keep all these goats’, because he opens the fridge and all there is is goat’s milk,” Zember says, explaining how the couple first embarked on their goat’s milk adventures. At the time the couple was running a bed and breakfast. Every morning they hosted kids’ activities, with a focus on nineteenth century skills, such as candle making and soap making, the latter with goat’s milk, of course.

“People wanted to buy [the soap], so then we started selling it,” says Zember. “We opened the shop in 2005.”

At the same time, she also explored what would be involved in making and selling goat’s milk cheese, as that was where her true passion was. “It was just way too costly,” says Zember of her dream to own a dairy plant.

Undeterred, she and David focused their energies on their newly-established handmade soap company. Over the following nine years, with the help of their children, they built a thriving business as well as plenty of goat-loving admirers who enjoyed interacting with these naturally curious and social ruminators at the farm.

Balterdash, the billy goat//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

In 2012, Zember revisited her dream of having a dairy plant on the property and determined it was feasible. Two years later, having jumped through countless hoops and filled out mountains of paperwork, Oldfield’s Dairy was born. Over the past three years, Zember has focussed on creating an array of high quality goat’s milk cheeses.

“Most of my cheese-making is trial and error. I read books and YouTube’s a great resource,” Zember tells me, laughing. Her efforts have paid off, with Oldfield’s cheeses placing at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto in 2014, 2015 and 2016 (the Fair takes place each November, so the 2017 judging has yet to take place). For Zember, winning second place with her feta during the first year in business was a great affirmation that their cheese stacked up to what other cheesemakers across the nation were producing.

While making high quality goat’s milk products is a part of Zember’s mission, it’s evident from the moment one arrives on the farm and is greeted by happy goats hanging out in the front paddock that this family business is about more than making a profit.

“I often tell people to go and thank the goats for the ice cream before leaving. The world has gotten so fast paced now, we need to stay busy all the time to keep up and the same goes for our food,” Zember says, noting that people often grab a quick bite without any thought to where the food came from. “I want to make the experience here a little more real and maybe they will think before grabbing their next bite to eat.”

 

Photo Credit: Shannon Courtney/Salty

About Shannon Courtney

Shannon oversees all content creation for Salty and may be ‘slightly’ obsessed with proper apostrophe usage. When she’s not writing about food, she’s either cooking, eating, talking, or thinking about it. Her food adventures have included milking a Jersey cow in Australia, almost overdosing on maple syrup in Prince Edward County, and studying local food systems in Vermont as part of her Master’s thesis research. Shannon is also a holistic-nutritionist-in-training and strongly believes you CAN make friends with salad.

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