July 26, 2017 by Anthony B. Barthel

People are more and more looking to know where their food is coming from and we took a tour of Yerba Santa goat dairy to see just where their wonderful goat cheese comes from. While the obvious answer to the question is the 72 goats that enjoy a tranquil life in among the rolling hills and beautiful grasslands that make up the farm, it’s more than just that including three generations of experience.

Yerba Santa’s goat cheese can be found at Lake County’s Certified Farmers Markets as well as in several other places including a farmers’ market as far away as San Francisco. The experience of visiting Javier and Elodie Salmon started specifically coming across Javier picking fresh herbs from their garden to include in some of their Queso Cremas, a creamy spreadable goat cheese made from 100% goat’s milk and yogurt cultures which is a wonderful treat that is an alternative to sour cream. You can get yours with or without the herbs and it’s wise to try both variants.

As we spoke Javier cleansed and ground the herbs while student travelers packed up the wonderful cheeses. Javier is the second of three generations in this business having learned the trade from his father in Peru.

Like all sorts of dairies, one that specializes in goat’s milk sees long days and both Javier and Elodie are the core of the operation. Elodie had just finished milking the goats and was scrubbing down the milking station, talking about the process of turning the milk into the cheese that is so popular at the markets.

For their cheeses the ingredients lists are very, very short. They have Queso fresco, which is similar to feta cheese; Queso Crema, similar to sour cream and then Queso Cabrero, a raw milk product aged 60-90 days. For the special treat, you can get the Queso Cabrero dipped in Javier’s own home-made wine. Lastly, the youngest Salmon cheese maker, Jaime, puts a sweet side to their products with his Natilla, a Peruvian dessert sauce made with goat’s milk that has a wonderful caramel-like taste to it. Sea salt and yogurt cultures plus goat’s milk is the extent of the ingredients in Queso Fresco.

The farming lifestyle has a definite appeal to people including two individuals who were working at the dairy during our visit; world travelers Johnny and Sierra. Like many youthful vagabonds the pair is spending their youth acquiring experiences instead of things and have traveled to places all over. They met in Mexico during their travels and were working their way up the coast when they ran into Javier in San Francisco.

The appeal of working on a farm doing the hard work required appealed to their sense of adventure so they’re here now spending some time gaining this experience and helping the business. These are not the first people in their age bracket doing this job and they are more typical of millennials who are looking to add experience and adventure to their resumes.

Who could blame these adventurers for the wonderful experience they’re gathering as they packed the cheese along with the Salmon children and recalled places they had been.

Meanwhile, Javier talked of his family’s experience in producing goat cheese which is something you’ll find in his native Peru and which has become increasingly popular in the United States.

Surprisingly, many people who are traditionally lactose intolerant can enjoy goat cheese, which also has a lower fat content than cow’s milk cheese. It also tends to be lower in sodium.

For the Salmon’s goats, it’s a great life with a beautiful pasture that they encourage people to come visit. Surrounded by rolling hills of lush green the 72 goats that provide the milk for the cheese can produce from about April through December.

Also sharing time in this pastural setting are two dogs, chickens and even a cat named Lucky who does a superb job maintaining who gets to stay on the farm and who gets eaten. Keeping the critters out is an important part of his job.

Javier and Elodie Salmon are two of the many individuals that make up the tapestry of Lake County. With a lifetime of experience in making cheese along with some very fun nights with Javier at the guitar, life on the farm is all about a passion for quality in a rural, authentic setting.

Even if you can’t get by to visit them on your next Lake County getaway several of the wineries in the area stock Yerba Santa and Bodega goat cheeses as do the farmers’ markets, where you might run into Elodie as she proudly offers samples of their wonderful cheeses. Arrive early because Yerba Santa goat cheeses are very, very popular and you’ll enjoy bringing some along to one of the beautiful picnic spots or wineries as you visit Lake County.