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For this South Hall cheesemaker, farmsteading is ‘the whole package’
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Andrea Bergdoll visits a few of her goats Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, at her Flowery Branch farmstead. Bergdoll makes and sells small-batch cheeses made from her Nigerian Dwarf goat's milk under the brand Lake Lanier Goat Cheese. . - photo by Scott Rogers

On a 15-acre farmstead bordering Lake Lanier in Flowery Branch, a herd of Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats lends itself to small-batch cheeses purveyed by Andrea Bergdoll, owner of Lake Lanier Farm and Dairy.

A native of Pennsylvania, Bergdoll grew up surrounded by dairy farmland and raised lambs, rabbits and a horse through 4-H. But it was her three now-adult children, whom she shares with her husband, Andy, that spurred Bergdoll’s farmsteading journey.

“I really wanted my kids to experience what I grew up with. So we got a goat, and you can’t get one — you have to get two.”

Bergdoll brought home a pair of pregnant goats in 2011, and their kids were born the following spring.

The Bergdolls moved to Flowery Branch in early 2018, purchasing the first plot of land they looked at — though it was one of 45 properties on their initial list.

“I’d call Hall County and say, ‘OK, this is the property, how many goats can I have?’” Bergdoll said. “We hit the ground running.”

The Bergdolls’ home and barn were designed and built with a cheese-making operation in mind, though her sights were set on the process long before Georgia drifted onto their radar, having eased her way into cheese-making for friends and family while back in Pennsylvania.

“I love to cook, love to have great food with friends and family — so it all goes together,” Bergdoll said.

Today, Bergdoll sells her cheese exclusively at the Flowery Branch Farmers Market from May through September, offering several varieties, both aged and fresh. 

There’s “Betty,” a bloomy rind cheese — similar to Brie — named for the farm’s first goat, dusted with ash and aged two to four weeks, and “Cotton Ball,” a hard, soft-ripened, nutty-flavored cheese that, aged over two to four weeks, boasts a bluish geotrichum rind indicative of complex flavor.

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Andrea Bergdoll makes and sells small-batch cheeses made from her Nigerian Dwarf goat's milk under the brand Lake Lanier Goat Cheese. - photo by Scott Rogers

An aged “Knucksie” gouda is named for the Bergdolls’ friend and neighbor, the late Phil Niekro. Aged no less than 61 days and boasting a buttery flavor and somewhat open texture, the cheese’s proceeds go to Edmondson Telford Child Advocacy Center in Gainesville, of which Niekro was a strong supporter.

For fresh cheese, Bergdoll purveys feta — a pickled curd with a mild, tangy flavor enhanced by a brine solution — and chevre — a classically smooth, creamy cheese with a grassy flavor and citrus aftertaste. In season, connoisseurs may find Bergdoll’s chevre married with local honey (honey chevre), a medley of rosemary, thyme, savory, fennel seed, basil, lavender and marjoram (herb chevre), strawberry in spring or fig and a generous dollop of preserves in late summer (seasonal chevre).

“The pastures,” Bergdoll said, “are what really drive the growth of the business.”

In the pastures, the goats graze “a healthy mix of high-protein forage” — including chicory, crimson and red clover and alfalfa and, in spring, oats and ryegrass.

What nourishment the goats don’t receive from grazing the pastures, Bergdoll supplements with an organic goat feed sourced from New Country Organics in Waynesboro, Virginia.

“My priority is the health and wellbeing of the goats. … It’s all nutritionally balanced for them,” she said.

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Andrea Bergdoll visits a few of her goats Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, at her Flowery Branch farmstead. Bergdoll makes and sells small-batch cheeses made from her Nigerian Dwarf goats' milk under the brand Lake Lanier Goat Cheese. - photo by Scott Rogers
‘It’s not baking, but it is science’

Currently, the farm is in the midst of its breeding season, which begins in October. The kids will be born in April, staying with their mother for one month before commencing the month-long weaning process in which mothers and kids are separated at night so the mothers can be milked in the morning before rejoining their young bucklings and doelings in the pastures.

“By the time (the kids) are 8 weeks old, they are more than ready, eating and foraging (on their own),” Bergdoll said.

As a Grade A dairy, Bergdoll cannot milk the goats by hand, but rather employs three A-standard milking machines complete with vacuum pumps and a pulsator. 

The process does not hurt the goats, Bergdoll said, and the milk produced is typically very sweet. This year’s production exceeded 100 gallons of milk, Bergdoll said.

Although the smallest of the dairy goats, Nigerian Dwarfs have the highest butter fat content, according to Bergdoll, meaning what they lack in production quantity, they make up for in quality, making them the perfect contenders for small-batch cheese-making.

After milking, the milk is pasteurized — a combination of heat and time forming a custard-like gel, or curd — and must be made into cheese within three days, which is equal parts art and precision.

“It’s not baking, but it is science,” Bergdoll said. “You get the milk and you add a culture to it, or a bacteria, and that transforms the milk into feta, chevre (or) gouda.”

Two gallons of milk will yield about six pounds of chevre — or about three pounds of feta  — within 24-48 hours. Part of making feta, according to Bergdoll, is pulling out the “watery” part of the milk — the whey protein — to produce a harder, firmer cheese.

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Curds and whey separate Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, at cheese maker Andrea Bergdoll's Flowery Branch farmstead. Bergdoll makes and sells small-batch cheeses made from her Nigerian Dwarf goat's milk under the brand Lake Lanier Goat Cheese. - photo by Scott Rogers

Gouda, aged a minimum of 60 days, contains even less whey than feta and yields about two and a half pounds for every two gallons of milk. 

Once it’s ready to savor, Bergdoll recommends leaving cheese out for 30 minutes before cutting; bringing it to room temperature will release the aroma and complement the flavor.

For Bergdoll, who runs the entire operation single-handedly, farmsteading is about more than slow living; it’s about the preservation of farmland amidst industrialization.

“It’s killing me to see all of these properties being shredded,” she said. “I know people have to live somewhere, but geez. It’s sad; so many farmers are just stopping. It’s a lot of work, it is expensive, (but) there are tax breaks to being a farmer — Hall County’s been phenomenal with that. It’s sad to see the farms being let go.”

Five times the size of Vermont, which houses 28 goat dairies, Georgia has fewer than 10 goat dairies. To Bergdoll’s knowledge, Lake Lanier Farm and Dairy is the only Grade A goat dairy in all of Hall County.

She’s perplexed by the rising scarcity of farms and what this may hold for the future of the industry. She has a hard enough time securing hay as it is, she said, and doesn’t have enough land — or the equipment — to grow and cut her own.

Things have gotten more expensive since she first started farmsteading, too; a bale of hay that used to put her out $5 is now $8.50, and feed that was once $16 a bag now runs $39.

“There’s a reason it’s $7 for a 3-ounce container of cheese,” Bergdoll said.

Among the things Bergdoll loves most about cheese-making, aside from the creative outlet it affords, is sharing the work of her hands with others, especially those who may be apprehensive about trying goat cheese.

“I couldn’t tell you how many of my children’s friends have eaten my ricotta lasagna and they love it, or the kids that come in and want to learn how to milk a goat. I like the making, the education, the sharing, the people who’ve never had goat cheese (and say), ‘No, I’m not going to try it,’ and then they try it and they love it. It’s the whole package.”

For more on Lake Lanier Farm and Dairy, visit lakelaniergoatcheese.com.
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Andrea Bergdoll visits a few of her goats Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, at her Flowery Branch farmstead. Bergdoll makes and sells small-batch cheeses made from her Nigerian Dwarf goat's milk under the brand Lake Lanier Goat Cheese. - photo by Scott Rogers