With 50 acres to roam overlooking a picturesque creek, the goats at Terrell Creek Farm have a pretty good life.
But even on the sunniest days, farmers Lesley and Barry Million never have trouble herding their goats back home. “They know where the food is,” Lesley says. “They don't get too far from us, either, because they are very bonded to people.”
Lesley grew up north of Springfield, Missouri, on a hobby cattle farm. Even as a kid, she knew she wanted her own farm someday. Her dream came true in 2006, when she and Barry purchased land just 30 minutes southeast of Springfield. Originally, their plan was to become more self-sufficient and sustainably farm as much of their own meat, eggs, dairy and produce as possible. Tending to goats provided a way for Lesley and Barry to get their own goat milk and make cheese. “Being self-sufficient when it comes to food is still very important to us,” Lesley says.
The couple first purchased Nubian goats, as their milk has a higher butterfat content than other full-size breeds, allowing for a greater cheese yield. The other reason? Their sheer cuteness and admirable personalities. “I like their floppy ears and the variety of colors they come in,” Lesley says. “They're also 'people' goats and are very friendly.”
Lesley and Barry later added a few Alpine goats to their herd, which has now grown to include a few Nubian-Alpine crosses as well. “I like the vigor of the Nubian-Alpine cross,” Lesley says.
At first, cheesemaking was just a fun pastime for the couple; a classic French-style fresh chèvre started them down the path to commercial cheesemaking. After sharing their homemade chèvre with friends, the couple received rave reviews. Thanks to encouraging feedback and a desire to turn their hobby into a livelihood, the Millions secured a license and began selling their goat cheese at local farmers’ markets in 2012.
Today, Terrell Creek produces about 300 pounds of goat’s milk cheeses weekly for commercial sale, ranging from that same delicious fresh chèvre to aged, pressed Big Bluff Tomme, a slicing cheese that won Best of Show at the Missouri State Fair in 2016.
Although the farm has grown significantly, Lesley and Barry have stayed true to their sustainable values. They use rotational grazing and foraging to feed the goats, and only rely on grain to supplement the goats’ diets. Instead of using chemicals, the couple reaches for herbs and essential oils to help keep the goats healthy. They use the same care when it comes to making their cheeses, relying on fresh and natural ingredients.
The cheesemaking process begins in the milking parlor, where Lesley and her team can milk four goats at a time on the milking stanchion. Immediately after retrieving the milk, they transfer it to a 30-gallon bulk tank that keeps it just below 40°F. Once the tank fills up, a pump transports the milk from the milking parlor to the creamery and into a cheese vat. According to Lesley, they yield enough goat milk to make cheese about every three days, or every other day in the spring and summer.
At the creamery, Lesley finishes up the cheesemaking process: After the milk ripens, rennet is added to coagulate and form curds. For firmer cheeses, like the Big Bluff Tomme, Lesley adds extra rennet.
From here, the cheesemaking process diverts depending on the cheese type. For traditional chèvre, the curd sets overnight and is then scooped into draining bags. However, if Feta is being made, the curd is cut and stirred before being placed into molds. Chèvre typically ages for two or three weeks, while other cheeses, like the Jackie Blue, a smooth yet crumbly blue cheese, ages for as long as six months. Before letting cheeses age, different bacteria cultures are added depending on the variety of cheese.
Lesley learned most of what she now knows about cheesemaking from online classes focused on dairy sanitation through the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, reading books and talking to other cheesemakers. Lesley is also an American Cheese Society member and has twice attended its annual conference.
Through her networking, she’s brushed shoulders with cheesemakers like Veronica Baetje, formerly of Baetje Farms in Bloomsdale, Missouri, whose cheeses have won national and international awards, and other famous cheesemakers, like Ricki Carroll from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. and Gianaclis Caldwell, a cheesemaker and writer. But according to the couple, they learned the most through hands-on experience and trial and error. “It's a strange combination of art and science,” Lesley says.
As much as she loves cheesemaking, Lesley's real passion is her goats, which she lovingly refers to as “the girls.” After quickly scanning the herd, your eyes see shades of amber, black and white, and spotted patterns. The goats love to rest in their open-air shelter, especially during a rainy day. “Goats melt if they get wet,” Lesley jokes.
Next door to the milking parlor, creamery and shelter is the kidding barn. Here, baby goats act like playful puppies. In a separate stall is the birthing area. When it’s nice outside, the “kids” roam in the kid pin. Terrell Creek even accepts a select number of volunteers to play with the goats, and most leave with the same love for the animals as Lesley.
“The business is partly justification for me to have goats,” Lesley says with a laugh. “We allow people to come and help feed the baby goats and play with them because it’s a fun thing to do; people want to do it and it helps us out to have some extra hands at times. I just love goats. I like cheese, too, but goats are my first love.”
If you've spent time in southwest Missouri, there's a good chance you've already tried Terrell Creek’s cheese. Many restaurants proudly name-drop the farm on their menus, including Farmers Gastropub, Gilardi’s Ristorante, Scotch & Soda and Progress in Springfield and Harvest Restaurant in Rogersville. At The Order in Springfield, the bacon, onion and Terrell Creek Farm goat cheese rangoons never lose their spot on the menu, even during seasonal changes. And Terrell Creek’s chèvre is the star ingredient in Derby Deli's Local Goat Salad, which also includes arugula, dates, walnuts, Applewood-smoked bacon and house vinaigrette.
And restaurants aren’t the only local partnerships Terrell Creek has forged. The Millions deliver leftover whey from the creamery to Circle B Ranch in nearby Seymour to feed to their hogs. In exchange, Terrell Creek receives pork products, which are then used in products like the Hog Heaven, a flavored chèvre with bacon, chives and garlic. They also lease the creamery to Adrian Buff, a cheesemaker who studied in Switzerland. Buff is in the early stages of starting his own business, Grison Dairy & Creamery, in Ava, Missouri.
However, the most beautiful and delicious fruits of their local partnerships come to life at the monthly cheese nights on the farm. From May to October, Terrell Creek Farm hosts buffet-style farm dinners featuring live music, soups, meats, salads, vegetable dishes and desserts like goat cheese ice cream. But the cheeseboards are the main attraction, featuring pops of colorful ingredients that put even the most beautiful still-life paintings to shame.
Lesley, who majored in art education in college, is the artist behind the boards. “Cheeseboards are a fun way to express my creativity,” she says. “We also feel it’s important for people to come to the farm and actually see where their food comes from and how it is produced.”
For Lesley, curating the cheeseboards is a fun scavenger hunt. A few weeks before the event, she scopes out what’s in season at the local farmers’ markets. She loves using nuts and preserves from Fairhaven Farm; bread from The Artisan's Oven and B + B Boulangerie in Springfield; cured meats from GrandView & HillSide Bison in Mountain Grove and Circle B Ranch; and vegetables she pickles from Urban Roots Farm and Millsap Farm in Springfield, plus many other local and regional products.
No two boards are ever the same, and thanks to Lesley’s approach of using local and seasonal ingredients, each cheese night is an event you can only experience on the farm. The cheeseboards are as fresh as it gets.
“After we started hosting the cheese nights, we found that they were a good way for us to recharge and stay passionate,” Lesley says. “It’s very satisfying when you see your customers having a good time and they tell you how much they appreciate you and what you do. It reminds us of why we do it.”
In Springfield, you can find Terrell Creek Farm’s cheeses at Farmers Market of the Ozarks, MaMa Jean’s Natural Market, Brown Derby International Wine Center, Lucky's Market, Millsap Farms and Urban Roots' Farmstand. The farm’s cheeses are also sold at Webb City Farmers’ Market in Webb City; Ozark Farmers’ Market in Ozark; Richard's Brothers Grocery in West Plains; and The Little Farm Store near Seymour.
Terrell Creek Farm, 508 Fordland Hills Drive, Fordland, Missouri, terrellcreekfarm.com