Food

How This Bulacan Farm Shifted from Raising Goats to Making French-Inspired Heritage Cheese

Blackbird Farms produces Crottin de Chauvignol, Pouligny Saint Pierre, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, and more delectable goat cheese delights. 
IMAGE BLACKBIRD FARMS
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He could have been a doctor like his grandmother wanted. He could have gone corporate like many do after graduating from college. Instead, he became a fromagere.

The journey began, quite accidentally, when he began a goat business as part of his thesis in college where he took entrepreneurial management. “My family has a lot of land in the province and we have an agricultural background. We have chickens, ducks, pigs, and cows—so I thought [raising goats] would be a good idea,” says Rico de Guzman, owner and chief fromagere of Blackbird Farms, a local fromagerie that specializes in French-inspired goat cheese. 

How Goats and Crows Started an Accidental Cheese Journey

The farm got its name from the large number of crows that live in the area. “Blackbird just seemed to be a name that fits,” he says.

But cheesemaking wasn’t the initial goal. “I decided that raising goats was a good idea since a lot of people consume goats. That’s why I initially went into this business,” Rico explains. “But the thing with taking care of goats is that female goats produce a lot of milk when they have babies. We need to milk them before they end up with a sickness called mastitis.”

The result of too much milk left Rico wondering what to do with the excess. “I was thinking maybe yogurt, maybe kesong puti… that’s where the rabbit hole began. I started researching ways to make use of the milk and ended up making French-style cheeses,” he says. 

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How Trial and Error Led to Heritage French Cheeses

The process wasn’t easy. “There were a lot of lost cheeses, hundreds of liters of milk lost,” Rico admits. The learning curve was steep, but something he overcame by much trial and error. “There are guides that you can read, but they don’t really teach the nuances, you have to learn that as you go along. And frankly, a lot of people do not want to put out their secrets,” he says. 

While the farm was officially up and running in 2011, it took about three years and a few false starts before Rico was able to make really presentable cheeses. Currently, Blackbird Farms produces three French-inspired goat cheeses: Crottin de Chauvignol, Pouligny Saint Pierre, and Sainte-Maure de Touraine.

In France, these three cheeses are considered heritage products of the country, and secrets to creating these cheeses are closely guarded. The French are very particular about what can be considered a French goat cheese and only those made in France are considered to be genuine. “One of the varieties I make, the Crottin de Chavignol, is a very popular cheese in France, [so instead of saying that I make a Crottin de Chavignol], I say [I make a] Crottin de Chavignol-style cheese.  

What Really Good Goat Cheese Is and What It Is Not 

Rico has, however, learned enough to give a quick introduction to goat cheese. “It’s actually easier to tell you what isn’t goat cheese,” he laughs. “Goat cheese isn’t cow cheese. Goat cheese isn’t kesong pu­ti. Neither is it a flavorless or mild-flavored cheese, like what we find locally.”

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“There are easily 100 varieties of goat cheese all over the world so it is actually one of the most popular cheeses in the world, though not many of these varieties are available in the Philippines.”

Another thing that makes Blackbird Farm cheeses interesting is the buckiness of the cheese, or what makes it pungent. The milk of the goat changes depending on whether or not there is a male goat (or buck) nearby. The pungent smell and stronger, more complex taste make for an interesting note.

Why You Should Try the Hard and Pungent ‘Old Goat’

Aside from those three cheeses, Rico also makes a hard, pungent goat cheese called Belper Knolle, which Blackbird Farms call Old Goat. “We call it Old Goat because it’s a really, really aged goat cheese,” says Rico.

The cheese, covered all over in garlic, pepper, and salt, looks like a large truffle and it’s aged for months. “This [current] batch I have was put in the aging space in 2018. It’s great to have over pastas and pizzas.”

“There was some experimentation with the mildness of the cheese since not a lot of people here like strong-flavored cheeses,” Rico says. “A lot of people here prefer the milder tasting cheeses with a bit of a complex aftertaste. You’d be hard-pressed to find people who actually like the hard-hitting flavors of some goat cheeses.”

If you like strong cheeses, you could consume the Old Goat cheese on its own, but the best (and most popular) cheese that Blackbird Farms makes is the Crottin de Chavignol. It’s a slightly nutty, subtle cheese that ages gracefully, adding to its complexity. 

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“Some associations in France say that the Croittin, the Sainte-Maure, and the Pouligny are table-ready by two weeks, but to me, the flavor really begins to come out after several months of aging,” says Rico. “Most of our goat cheese have a specific flavor profile. It has a nutty creaminess to it. Sometimes there’s a hint of sweetness, which is really brought out by a bit of honey, for example. 

Why Happy Goats Make Delicious Cheese

This labor of love extends to more than just the cheese-making. The goats get their share of love as well. “A happy goat will produce a lot of milk,” says Rico, whose 50 goats are living idyllically in Bulacan. “You can’t have them in an area that’s noisy or stressful. Ideally, they have to have enough space to walk around and graze every now and then.” 

Not only do his goats live the good life, but they also only eat the best fresh grass and super-premium soy milk. “Soy milk provides them with protein and calcium which helps them produce a lot of milk continuously.”

Farm life seems to fit Rico’s lifestyle. “Even back then, [I thought] I would like farm life and this seems to be the direction that the entrepreneurial market is heading anyway. I read about how agriculture is the future, it’s a sunrise industry, so [goats] seemed like a good idea,” he says.

Rico’s goats produce so much milk that he’s decided to expand his business to include an apothecary line, using goat’s milk as a primary ingredient. Soon, he will be coming out with his goat milk body lotion along with other interesting items. 

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Blackbird Farm cheeses can be ordered through its Instagram page, @blackbirdfarmsph, and cheese-lovers should watch out for cheese drops since its cheeses are only made in small batches. Plans have begun to start offering cheeses in a charcuterie box, but Rico isn’t stopping there. He is always looking for more tips and tricks to the creation and aging process. “Up to this day, I’m still learning,” he says.

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