By Sarah Hedger
While Happy Acres Family Farm is becoming renowned for their fresh goat cheese products, there is a story behind it of passion, sustainability, and family. When people find their calling in life, great things happen and the world around them benefits, be it a product or service. There is no better example than Stephanie Simonin.
Happy Acres Family Farm is located on 56 certified organic acres that border the Salinas River off Templeton Road in Templeton. This beautiful farm provides a home not only to Stephanie’s family, but her parents and a whole lot of happy goats as well. Stephanie’s roots run deep in farming and ranching from her parents who grow certified organic produce to her husband raising cattle.
Stephanie and her family conducted their own research and learned from other farmers how to produce the best milk that in turn produces the best cheese. I recently read a quote that stated, “Great cheese starts with great milk. It’s possible to make bad cheese out of good milk, but it’s impossible to make good cheese out of bad milk.” Their goat milk is a result of grazing on pasture that has a nutritional breakdown parallel to that of New Zealand, as well as feeding on the highest grade hay their nutritionist recommends. Yes, the goats have their own nutritionist. As much as the thought of this may make some people smile, it holds great importance when one understands the direct relationship to quality and flavor of the end product. That is why the flavor of real farmstead cheese will have noticeable seasonable variations as the nutrient content of the pasture changes.
Stephanie is not only a local but also a graduate of Cal Poly. She has been involved with horses, cows, farming, and now goats, most of her life. She got her first goat, Stella (the model for their company logo), a few years back, and Stella still leads the now 100+ goats responsible for the cheese created at Happy Acres. After using Stella’s milk for her own family, Stephanie noticed her son’s symptom of a perpetual running nose immediately cleared up when he began consuming goat milk instead of cow milk. She started researching the endless benefits of goat milk products. While much of the world drinks goat milk, it has taken America longer to realize its benefits. While many people have allergies to milk or an inability to digest properly the large protein molecules in cow milk, goat milk provides a lower fat, higher protein, higher calcium alternative with more bioavailable Vitamin A. Goats and their milk have an extremely close pH to humans, resulting in nutrients being more easily absorbed, be it from fresh goat cheese or goat’s milk lotion. Goat cheese can also be frozen, as it doesn’t break down or denature, compared with cow cheese. Current research is being conducted that correlates the benefits of goat milk to reversing autism.
And then there is the flavor. Fresh goat cheese has an undeniable flavor that is creating a well worn path between the pastures at Happy Acres and some of the best chefs on the Central Coast. McPhee’s Grill in Templeton was the first to include Happy Acres’ fresh farmstead cheese on their menu, and many others have followed as the flavor is amazingly fresh and delicious. Looking at the resume of restaurants and chefs who use Happy Acres’ cheese is a great way to finding some of the best in the area: besides McPhee’s Grill, there are The Range, 15degrees C, Villa Creek, Black Cat Bistro, Artisan, Bistro Laurent, Dining with Andre, the Paso Robles Inn, Chef Jeffrey Scott, and others as the list continues to grow.
The goats at Happy Acres graze in the sunshine while Stephanie and her mother Laurie carry out the production of their cheeses. Stephanie milks the goats twice a day while Laurie is the gifted cheese maker. She attended a Mennonite cheese school in Texas to educate herself on how to make the best artisan cheeses possible. Happy Acres also took the extra step to pasteurize their milk in-house, differentiating themselves as an authentic producer of farmstead cheese. While establishing the production usually takes several years, the momentum and the passion behind Happy Acres enabled them to complete it in less than two years. The entire process is knit together by a total of four women, with the men providing support and assistance. While Stephanie milks and Laurie makes the cheese, her sister and her best friend assist selling at farmer’s markets and their on-site, farm stand.
While goats tend to be eco-friendly, reflected by the amount it takes to feed eight goats compared to one cow, Happy Acres extends the sustainability by feeding the whey by-product from the cheese-making directly to their (happy) pigs.
Stephanie and her lovely herd of goats (they all have names) remind us happiness comes when we follow our dreams. Aside from the restaurants listed above, you can find Happy Acres’ cheese at Cambria, Templeton, and Baywood Park farmer’s markets as well as Nature’s Touch Nursery and Harvest in Templeton. Happy Acres recently completed their own farm stand with wood from a retired barn, open on weekends. For more information or to order Happy Acres’ cheese, contact their dairy phone at 434-7580.
Sarah Hedger studied nutrition at Cal Poly before switching to business. She works to promote sustainability and believes we have amazing resources in our backyards.