James Ranch - Our Grass fed, Raw Milk Cheese Source October 17 2015
The Miracle of Grass Transformed into Delicious Cheese.
If you love our Ponjoo (gluten free cheese bread), you'll love it even more when you learn how amazing James Ranch is. James Ranch is a family farm in Durango that provides us with our Mature Belford 100% grassfed, raw cow's milk cheese. This cheese is a big reason the Ponjoo is so delicious.
I, Susanna, was lucky enough to spend an afternoon on the farm in October 2015. Phil, the resident cheese apprentice (to the left), gave me a tour of the cheese making area, and I got to meet the very special lady cows who make it all happen. (All the photos here except the family photo above were taken by me on my tour.)
The ranch has an incredible warm, welcoming, and peaceful feel. It's clear the animals are loved and well cared for, and this must be one of the reasons the cheese as flavorful, creamy and rich as it is.
The other reason is GRASS. Dairy, in its natural state, is a seasonal product.
The dairy hosts an active milking herd of 30 cows - all named! - mostly Jersey breed. (This is Mimi to the right). They are milked only once a day in an open, New Zealand style open air dairy barn. This outdoor barn makes it easier to keep everything dry and clean.
It also allows the calves to see their mothers being milked from an enclosed "waiting area" in front of the barn. It's calming for the cows and lets the calves know it is a safe place to hang out, as they will when they become part of the milking herd. (The female calves are left with their mothers for 10 weeks after birth, much longer than you will find in conventional operations).
The cows are rotated on pasture twice a day eating fresh grass . They're only milked April through November when there is green grass to eat. During the winter they dry off and get break from milking and eat hay.
All the milk that goes into the cheese making is powered by the sun and grass. It also puts the wonderfulness of cheese in a broader perspective. Cheese allows us to eat the rich milk from fresh grass all year while respecting the diet and natural rhythms of the cows that provide it.
Dan and Becca James (second generation James ranchers) run the dairy side of the operation. They focus on the health of the cows and the flavor of the cheese. Maximum milk production is not the goal here. These cows produce about 3 gallons each per day during the height of the season and more like 2 gals per day in the Fall - though Fall milk is super rich. By contrast grain fed, conventional more factory like operations can get cows to produce around 11 gal per day! This accounts for a large amount of the price difference.
Maximum nutrition and flavor from healthy animals and land is the goal at James Ranch. Luckily that also makes for amazing milk to turn into cheese! (That's me with Lupe above).
Isn't it so cool how ingredients can connect us to a larger community? This is one story behind the cheese bread.
Going Beyond Organic - In their own words:
At the James Ranch we are “Going Beyond Organic”. As with many organic farms, we do not use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, added hormones, or feed animal by-products in the raising of the food we sell. But we are doing so much more and want you to know about it.
- We make decisions holistically, meaning we consider how our decisions affect the land, ecosystems, animals (both wild and domestic), families, communities, customers, and future generations.
- We consciously contribute to open space and the pastoral beauty that enhances our community.
We feel predators have a place in this natural world and their role in maintaining balance in our ecosystems is welcomed and appreciated.
We continue to build wildlife habitat.
We know the value of wetlands and manage our livestock so that we enhance and protect these areas. By emulating nature and copying the grazing patterns of the vast herds eons ago, our grasses respond in wetlands and uplands.
We monitor our water and soil quality knowing that proper livestock management can actually improve the health of our soil and water systems.
We practice low-stress livestock handling and keep our livestock quiet and moving in their most natural fashion.
We practice natural animal husbandry. This means that we calve with the grass in the spring when the weather is conducive to little ones starting their lives.
We practice rotational grazing which grazes pastures at appropriate intervals for land/pasture improvement. This builds topsoil in watersheds and grasses which naturally out-compete noxious weeds.
We do not feed our cattle or dairy cows grain, a very unnatural food for ruminants (like cattle) whose stomachs are designed to digest grass.
James Ranch Mission Statement
The integrity and distinction of the James Ranch is to be preserved for future generations by developing financially viable agricultural and related enterprises that sustain a profitable livelihood for the families directly involved, while improving the land, and encouraging the use of all resources, natural and human, to their highest and best potential.