2012-09-20 / Life in Leelanau

NORTHPORT'S GOT YOUR GOATS


GOATS GATHER, seemingly to pose, at Idyll Farms creamery in Northport. Below, Idyll Farms manager Madeleine Vedel leans on a timber beam at the farm’s new buck house. GOATS GATHER, seemingly to pose, at Idyll Farms creamery in Northport. Below, Idyll Farms manager Madeleine Vedel leans on a timber beam at the farm’s new buck house. When cheesemaker Madeleine Vedel calls the tribe of goats from the barn to the pasture of Idyll Farms in Leelanau Township, they come running.

“Breet. Breet,” she says. “We’re finally getting a little greener in the pasture. It was quite brown because of the lack of rain.”

Vedel manages Idyll Farms creamery, now under construction on Peterson Park Road, with hopes of producing world class goat cheese there.

It is a project of Idyll Holdings, a company owned by Mark Spitznagel, who spent much of his childhood in Northport and attended Northport School. Spitznagel and his wife, Amy, split their time between homes in Los Angeles and Northport.

“It’s been over a year in the planning,” said Vedel, who has spent the last 18 years in France, most recently studying cheese making. “Some of Mark’s most-cherished childhood memories are of this area. So he wanted to give something back.”

Spitznagel is one of the most successful investors in the country. He is founder, owner and chief investment officer of Universa Investments, L.P. which accurately predicted and was able to grow during the 2008 stock market crash.

The farm was formerly owned by the Probst family, and before that owned by the Martinson family — and before that by a Native American family, going back well over 150 years. The dairy barn was built in the mid-19th century.

“We see Idyll as a 150-year-old dairy farm that we are continuing,” Mark Spitznagel said.

Once an initial investment is recouped, proceeds from the farm operation will be distributed to local organizations such as the Leelanau Conservancy, Vedel said.


TWO LARGE cupolas will be placed over the main structure of the creamery at Idyll Farms in Leelanau Township. TWO LARGE cupolas will be placed over the main structure of the creamery at Idyll Farms in Leelanau Township. Local construction crews were busy this week building a formal milking parlor for what Vedel said will be a tribe of 150 goats. Currently there are about 14 female breeding goats on the farm and 13 “babies,” or kids. Two bucks are kept in a separate pen awaiting breeding season, which takes place next month.

The female goats are French Alpine and Saanen, all from Michigan. One of the bucks is from downstate and the other was brought in from the Carolinas. Alpines are believed to be the first animal domesticated by man. Saanen represent one of the largest and calmest of the goat breeds.

They were playful and friendly in the pasture, with one nudging this Enterprise reporter in the rear end while another tore pages from her notebook.

“Depending on the goat’s age, they will produce from a pint to 1 1/2 gallons of milk per day,” Vedel said.

While local contractors work on the milking parlor, production rooms and creamery aging cave, the farm manager has been busy milking does and experimenting with cheeses.

“I’m getting to know the milk and exploring what’s possible,” she said.

Next spring, the farm will be a busy place with the arrival of kids. Vedel said the farm will be open to the public while they are bottle feeding the new offspring.

This year, the Spitznagel children named the goats. Martha, a gentle Saanen, is the leader of the group. Tinkerbelle, a brown, black and white Alpine, is among the most playful in the group.

Next spring, the kids’ names will all begin with the same letter in the alphabet, a method used in France to help keep track of their age.

The completed milking parlor will have multiple stations with automatic machines similar to those used on dairy farms. Visitors will be able to view the cheese-making process in its different stages from behind glass, ensuring the most sterile production conditions, Vedel said.

Interesting, goat milk is lower in calories than cow’s milk and is favored by those with lactose intolerance as it is more easily digested.

As the volume of milk begins to grow, the first cheese started will be varieties that require more time to age.

“Our tommes, like a pecorino or swiss, will take from two to six months to age,” Vedel said. “We’ll make those first and allow them to age. Then we’ll go to more fresh cheese.”

Fresh chevre, which takes as little as a few days to move from goat to table, will also be available along with yogurt and caramel.

With completion of the creamery, Leelanau County’s reputation as a destination for “foodies” will be enhanced with another locally grown specialty.

One local restaurant has lined up to use Iydll Farm’s riccota in cheesecake while others hope to incorporate other cheeses into their menus.

“We already have the wine in Leelanau County, now we’ll have our (organic) cheese which will be nourished from the land,” Vedel said. “

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