It’s an idyllic setting, nestled on 80 woodsy acres where Dragoon Creek meets the Little Spokane River – the kind of picturesque panorama that deserves to be on postcards.
Lon and Becky Jasper call this little slice of heaven Crescent Farm, and the couple share the greenery and scenery with the occasional whitetail deer, a handful of steers, a few sheep and, in particular, a herd of Nubian goats.
The goats star in this real-life “FarmVille.” Their daily 20 or so gallons of fresh, rich milk are turned into a variety of products by the Chattaroy Cheese Co., housed in a classic farmhouse-shaped creamery.
“I’ve had goats for a very long time,” cheesemaker Becky Jasper said. “And I’ve always been fascinated by making cheese and even took some classes. I used to experiment with it in my kitchen. One year I just went cheese-mad, and it led to all this.”
All this is an array of hand-made, artisanal cheeses that starts with a creamy, tangy chevre that Becky Jasper turns out during the natural reproductive cycle of her goats: spring through fall.
“One of the attractions to making goat cheese was that it’s a seasonal thing,” she said. “When our kids were in school, it was attractive to be able to take winters off. It’s still attractive now that they’re away at school, but it’s hard to remember that you have the winter off when you’re putting in 14-hour days in June.”
As the season winds down for 2013, the Jaspers will hold an open house at the farm on Sunday. Cheese lovers can see just where their food comes from – a novel experience for some.
“I’m always kind of surprised that there are people who have never been on a farm,” Becky Jasper said. “They can look around, take a walk down by the river. We have Bistro Box coming out and they make some incredible sandwiches featuring our cheese.
“We probably won’t be actually making cheese at the time because we want to talk with people, but they can see where we make it.”
The Jaspers are proud of the farm, and they’re conscientious caretakers of the land.
“We try to keep things as green as we can,” Becky Jasper said. “We want to take care of the riparian environment, so we keep our livestock away from the water so there’s no contamination. Even our packaging is 100 percent biodegradable.”
Jasper’s centerpiece is her chevre, which she forms into traditional crottin molds and finishes in a variety of mouthwatering flavors: a locally grown lavender-spice mixture, a truffle salt, cracked peppercorns, chipotle pepper or smoked paprika.
“Chevre is really the gold standard of goat’s milk cheese,” Becky Jasper said. “In a lot of ways, it’s similar to cream cheese from cow’s milk. It’s so versatile. It’s spreadable like cream cheese, but at the same time you can crumble it on a salad.”
The finishing flavors have evolved over time.
The smoked paprika finish, for example, came from a trip to Santa Fe and a stop at The Spanish Table, a market that specializes in products from Spain.
“We tasted some smoked paprika that were just incredible – I thought paprika was just this reddish stuff you sprinkled on deviled eggs to give them some color,” Lon Jasper said. “We looked at each other and just said ‘We have to put this on our cheese!’ ”
In addition to chevre, Becky Jasper also makes a traditional feta, as well as goat’s milk Havarti and cheddar. She recently began producing a salty Welsh cheese called Caerphilly.
“It’s something I make in small amounts so far and we sell it as fast as I can make it,” she said. “It’s a cheese that Welsh miners would take down into the mines to have for lunch. It’s a little salty because they needed it to replace some of the salt in their system from all that hard work.
“I need to find a better name for it, though. Right now I’m calling it Miners Cheese.”
Chattaroy Cheese is a mainstay at area farmers markets, and shoppers are encouraged to taste before buying. The cheese is available at several area groceries, including the Main Market Co-op, Spokane Public Market, Petunias Marketplace, Rocket Market and Huckleberry’s Natural Market.
“I think that’s going to be our next phase: getting our cheese into more commercial markets,” Becky Jasper said. “We’re beginning to be featured in some area restaurants, and that’s wonderful.”
Along the way, there have been some creative additions to the production line. And a few subtractions.
“This is a pretty labor-intensive operation,” she said. “Some of the cheeses we’ve offered are just too labor-intensive to continue. We were offering a hand-pulled mozzarella, but it just takes too much of my time to do that whole operation. Instead, I’ve gone to a pressed mozzarella. Same cheese, but just a different method of preparation.”
The couple make cheese exclusively from their own goats’ milk, but there is room for expansion.
“We could begin producing cheese from outside milk,” she said. “We’re licensed as a provider as well as a producer, so that’s a possibility.”
Lon Jasper readily admits to sneaking into the cheese “cave” on a regular basis for a late-night snack. “I never get tired of eating it,” he says.
It’s the same with the rest of the family. Someone’s always raiding the pantry.
“Our son came home from college and I’m sure he was starving to death,” he laughed. “But he came in and grabbed some truffle chevre. He tossed it in a pan, melted it, added a few herbs and tossed it with some pasta. It was the best alfredo sauce I’ve ever tasted.”
The cheesemaker prefers to keep it simple.
“Our garden has really been neglected because we’ve been working so hard making cheese,” Becky Jasper said. “But we do have a plant that really produces a lot of cucumbers and we’ve been eating a lot of them. I love to crumble cheese on my fresh vegetables. It doesn’t get better than that.”