Local goat cheese dairy becomes eighth AVOG member farm
By Hal Walter
A quest to find a clean source of fresh local goat milk for her children led Nicole Pope on her journey to establishing one of Southern Colorado’s most notable goat-cheese dairies.
Her state-licensed Sunflower Valley has been supplying goat milk shares and specialty chevre goat cheese since 2010. This year Sunflower Valley is adding fresh eggs and a limited amount of fresh produce to its offerings through Arkansas Valley Organic Growers.
“Being introduced to AVOG and being able to work with the group has really opened up a lot of doors for us and it’s been a very positive experience,” says Nicole. “I’ve learned a lot about the local food community, and made a lot of connections with local growers for the produce I add into my flavored cheeses.”
Sunflower Valley’s 13 milking does produce up to eight gallons of milk per day. Of the eight milk shares offered by the farm, four are currently available to the public. About 80 percent of the milk goes into the production of the farm’s cheeses, popular with chefs at restaurants such as Broadmoor’s Charles Court and Bon Appetit at Colorado College.
Nicole and her husband moved to Pueblo County in 2004 following a nationwide search for a place to make a home and raise a family.
“The countryside was really green that year,” says Nicole. “I really liked that it was rural while still close enough to town.”
When Nicole’s daughter Gabby, now 4, was young it became clear she could not tolerate cow milk, so Nicole set out to find a clean source of goat milk. Nicole, a former fashion model who grew up on a farm with goats and other animals in Washington state, eventually realized that to get the high-quality milk she wanted she needed to have her own goats.
Two goats led to more goats, and this eventually developed into a small mixed herd of La Mancha crosses, Nigerian Dwarf and Nubian Alpine breeds, as well as automated milking equipment and a commercial kitchen.
“The goats are very full of personality each individual one has its own character,” says Nicole.
Now in its third year of production, Sunflower Valley produces more than 30 different flavors of chevre, ranging from the classic “Herbs de Provence” to the whimsical “Tipsy Cranberry.” The cheese is made daily and stores well in the freezer for nearly year-round availability.
“It’s known for being mild flavored and creamy,” Nicole says. “We have very-high quality standards and five-star restaurant chefs have really appreciated it.”
Sunflower Valley’s milk goats are raised naturally and fed locally grown organic hay, supplemented by herbs, kelp and minerals. The farm operates without chemical pesticides or herbicides, soy products, antibiotics or other drugs.
A stickler for quality control, Nicole insists on running the entire operation on her own, and actually won’t even eat most other brands of goat cheeses. The goats produce 10 months of the year, with the highest milk production from March to August. At minimum, her daily work schedule runs from 4 to 11:30 a.m. and then 4 to 7 p.m.
Following the arrival of Nicole’s second child, son Erik in 2010, the family underwent testing and it was learned that she and both children have Lyme disease, apparently from unidentified bug bites. Lyme disease is considered rare in Colorado, but many experts believe it’s more prevalent than thought, and perhaps spread by insects other than ticks. Lyme is the fastest-growing vector-borne disease in the country.
With the diagnoses, the milk goats have become even more important to the family. Since Lyme disease disrupts digestive processes, all three family members are on a dietary program that excludes cow milk, gluten and other difficult-to-digest foods. Working on the farm allows Nicole the flexibility to face challenges presented by her children’s illness as well as her own symptoms that include pain, fatigue, muscle weakness and migraines. It also allows her the time to take her children to their speech, occupational therapy and doctor appointments.
“When they are having bad days I wouldn’t be able to keep a steady job in town because of their illness and mine,” she says.
To help offset medical expenses, Nicole has cooked up a special chevre cheese flavor this year — Key Lyme Pie. All sales from this cheese flavor will go directly to Gabby’s Hope, a fundraiser set up for her daughter.
For more information about Sunflower Valley visit: www.sunflowervalleygourmetchevreheese.com