Artisan Profile: Coonridge Organic Goat Cheese

At 8,000 feet above sea level, Pie Town, N.M., sits atop the Continental Divide, about 85 miles west of Socorro. You would be hard-pressed to find a more out-of-the-way place, except that in the 1920s, Clyde Norman baked great apple pies, and people flocked to the town for his wares. In 1982, with pies as a successful example, Nancy Nathanya Coonridge established her goat cheese dairy in the high desert country. This sustainable operation has no electrical or telephone wires-solar energy provides the power and phone. And yet, despite conditions some would consider inconvenient, the place truly makes the cheese.

This high-desert, rim-rock environment of piñon and juniper forests contains a wealth of plants that goats love to browse. The Alpine, Nubian and LaMancha goats forage for food year-around and are completely free-range; no fences exist. Maremma guard dogs are employed to ward off predators. The dogs, an ancient breed from the Italian Alps, were developed specifically to face wolves; with the re-introduction of wolves in New Mexico, the Maremmas are essential. Sometimes the goats decide they don’t want to return for milking; in 1984, the herd disappeared and was never found! Today, Nancy tracks them with radio telemetry.

In this amazing place, the notion of terroir or “taste of place” becomes quite focused. Everything the goats eat, except for some organic hay in winter, is what they find on their daily journeys into the high desert country. These wild, natural, organic plants include mesquite, piñon nuts, mountain mahogany, four-winged salt bush and wild buckwheat. The resulting milk is a cornucopia of unique flavors, resinous one day, flowery the next, a palate of complex aromas and tastes. Nancy produces 18 varieties of the fresh, certified organic, soft chèvre. Because they lack refrigeration, she packs the chèvre in either sunflower or olive oil that adds flavor and preserves the cheese. Once or twice a week, Nancy makes a five-hour trip to Albuquerque to store the cheese. And it works! So stop in Pie Town and order apple pie with some spicy Coonridge chèvre.

Coonridge Organic Goat Cheese

• 47 Coonridge Dairy, Pie Town NM 87827
• Cheesemaking established: 1981
• Visitors: No.
• Telephone: 888/410-8433
• On premises retail, Internet and mail order sales.