Denver-based MAD Greens, which last year switched to locally grown lettuce, is continuing its quest to offer guests the best local fare with the addition of goat cheese from Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy in nearby Longmont, Colo., as the 11-unit chain’s exclusive chevre.
As a business reporter in 2007, I had a chance to visit Haystack Mountain at a time of transition — founder Jim Schott was preparing to retire, the company had just won a $50,000 grant from Whole Foods and the retailer had added the company’s award-winning goat’s milk cheese to its shelves. Not long afterward, Haystack Mountain realized that its goats couldn’t make enough milk to supply the growing demand. Creating a patchwork of suppliers would prove expensive and labor intensive, as trucks would need to be cleaned between each delivery, and the company would open itself up to consistency issues, said sales and marketing director John Scaggs.
Instead, the company approached dairy operators at Skyline Correctional Center in Canon City, where prisoners care for the animals, and persuaded them to add a goat-dairy operation to supply the needed milk. “Jim was retiring and we needed a milk source and a home for our herd, and the perfect symbiotic relationship developed.” Today, Skyline is the exclusive goat’s milk producer and Haystack Mountain focuses all its efforts on making award-winning cheeses.
I spoke with Scaggs this week about the goats, the cheese and the company’s growth.
On goat’s milk vs. cow’s milk
The most fundamental difference is that goat’s milk tends to have a nice tangy, citrusy flavor, and it has a lot more personality than cow’s milk, in my humblest of opinions. Nutritionally, people are really turning to goat’s milk a lot more because it’s easier to digest. The fat globules, the way the fat comes together in goat’s milk, are a lot smaller so we’re able to digest it a lot easier. It’s a lot more similar to human milk than cow’s milk.
On raw vs. pasteurized (Haystack Mountain makes both)
In the U.S., the FDA requires you to age raw milk cheeses for at least 60 days; if there is an issue, it will be known before the 60 days are up. There’s an array of very specific tests done at critical control points to ensure safety. There are certain types of fresh cheeses that are designed to be eaten immediately after they’re produced, so those have to be made with pasteurized milk.
Basically, the fats and proteins in milk are very delicate and the more delicately we can handle them, the more clean and delicate flavors we’ll be able to get from them. Heating is tough, so not pasteurizing yields more complex, more dynamic flavors that are more true to the milk’s original form.
On the new deal with MAD Greens
It’s definitely a new thing for us to work with a multi-unit restaurant like this. We’ve been working with independent restaurants since Jim Scott would make the cheese and go door-to-door in the late 1980s, but those were restaurants with one or two locations. This is certainly the biggest restaurant customer from a volume perspective.
We met the MAD Greens people at the Shamrock Foods Show, and Shamrock is the distribution partner making all this happen. Sometimes we hear that the distributor can be a wedge between the producers and the end clients, but Shamrock has been a wonderful partner. We’re a cheese producer, we’re not in the logistics business, so they’ve been the lynchpin making all this happen.
When we first started talking to MAD Greens, we said there’s no way we’ll be able to match the price they were paying on the cheese they were buying out of California. They understand that, and that it’s worth it for the local, premium product made by hand. They’re not just talking about that — they’re really doing it.
Image credit: Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy