The first I ever heard of Dream Catcher Ranchito’s goat cheese was an email sent to me by a friend who tried it as a free sample.
Goat cheese is nothing revolutionary, and normally people don’t bother to write home about free samples — usually they just take the tiny cup of kombucha or ham or vegan hot dogs, hoover it down, say “hmm not bad” and promptly forget what it was called. But people remembered this cheese.
This cheese was so good I received emails, texts and glowing eyewitness accounts about it. It was creamy, they said. And decadent. And different.
All of Dream Catcher Ranchito’s goat products are made by the two hands of Mary Ann Andrews, the goatmistress and cheesemaster of Dream Catcher Ranchito, a sprawling property off Veterans Memorial Highway, a bit over the rio and through the chamisa but still only about 15 minutes from downtown. It is a multifaceted place; the main house is actually a retreat, rentable for groups, complete with a meditative stone labyrinth in the back that Andrews built herself. Across from that is another kind of retreat and another kind of labyrinth: the zigzaggy maze of pens where the goats live.
Almost every goat at Dream Catcher Ranchito is a lady goat, all of which are in some state of current pregnancy, recent pregnancy or forthcoming pregnancy. Andrews sells some of the kids, but she is actively trying to increase her herd so she keeps the best of the lot. Andrews is extremely fond of her goats, which rush up to greet her as she walks by, their velvety lips nuzzling her hands through the fences, looking for the treats she normally has for them.
Andrews, in a former life, worked in finance. The plot of land she calls “Dream Catcher Ranchito” was supposed to be the eden of her retirement, where she would, idyllically enough, raise Alpacas for wool. And this she did do, until, as she put it, “the bottom dropped out of the market” and she realized she needed to switch to a different ruminant. She began with only a few goats, raising them for meat, but she didn’t like that aspect of the business and decided to raise them as dairy goats.
“I wish I would have discovered goats first,” Andrews says. “They’re so personable, they’re so loving, they’re so smart.”
Andrews began her dairy business, oddly enough, with an unusual product: yogurt for dogs. Andrews has a dog herself, and the idea for dog yogurt emerged after a trip to the dog park, where a quick survey of the other dog parents told her they all wanted a raw probiotic yogurt product they could give to their pets. So Andrews obliged, and her raw goat yogurt (and raw goat milk) are available in many of Santa Fe’s more upscale pet stores, like Tullivers, The Critters & Me, Paws Plaza and via Marty’s Meals, as well as Boofy’s in Albuquerque.
Then Andrews figured that if puppies liked it, people probably would, too. So she ramped up production, jumped through all the hoops of pasteurization and commercial food licensing, and began producting yogurt (and other products) for the humans who formerly had been relegated to goat yogurt envy, even possibly being driven to purchasing a bottle or two of their pets’ yogurt for themselves.
Andrews currently makes yogurt in two strains: Greek yogurt and Bulgarian yogurt, which she describes as more “lively,” made from a somewhat more tart strain of probiotics.
“You’re going to find it’s a little tangy,” Andrews says. “It has no salt, no sugar, no additives. The Bulgarian culture … is the highest probiotics of any culture out there.”
Andrews attributes the particularly luscious character of her goat cheese to the breed of goats she raises, nubian goats, recognizable by their long, floppy, dog-like ears. According to Andrews, the milk yield is lower per goat, but the fat content is higher, resulting in richer, creamier, deeply satisfying cheeses and naturally sweeter milk.
The rock star product is the marinated feta cheese, thick salted feta drizzled with olive oil and herbs. Unlike a lot of commercially-available feta, Andrews’ feta has a a softness to it, a lack of astringency that makes it less of a pucker and more of a tingle in the mouth, like a combination of feta and cream cheese. She also sells the feta unadorned (“plain” doesn’t seem like the right word for it), as well as chevre, ricotta and even a version of queso fresco.
“This cheese is amazing,” says Andrews of her queso fresco. “It doesn’t melt, you can slice it, you can grill it, it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with.”
Andrews also sells goat milk by the quart or the gallon, which, according to Andrews (and a million sources on the internet, which you can believe or not as you like) is both the closest possible milk to human milk that you can get without actually hitting up your mother every morning and is more easily digested by people who are lactose intolerant.
Andrews’ goat products, though new, have already begun to pop up all over town, at La Montañita Co-op in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, as well as at Kaune’s, and a handful of higher-end restaurants like State Capital Kitchen, La Boca, El Mesón, Radish & Rye, Joseph’s Culinary Table, Tabla de Los Santos, Casa Nova, and the restaurants at Sunrise Springs and Ojo Caliente. If you’re lucky enough to get a free sample (at one of the above-mentioned grocery stores, most likely) tell your friends so they, too, can get their goat.