Please view an excerpt from an
interview of Karen Catapano for the Foodie Tour 2009.
here to view!
Cherchez La Chevre
Vox Magazine July 2006
By Gavin Menu
A culinary renaissance of sorts is
taking place in America, fed by the growing ranks of family
farmers and artisan cheese makers whose products, made from the
very best goat, sheep and cow's milk, could soon give the
corporate cheese giants and their frozen milk stocks a run for
European dairy farmers have scoffed at the notion of
American-made cheese, an industry that has been restricted over
the years, in part by strong federal regulations outlawing the
use of fresh, unpasteurized milk in the making of dairy
products. The government allows only aged cheeses (which
sit in resting tanks for a minimum of
60 days) to be made with unpasteurized milk.
But an industry that has been kept at bay by the United States
Department of Agriculture, and by the lobbying efforts in
Washington on the behalf of corporate dairy farmers, is enjoying
its most productive boom to date. A part of that boom is a small
but growing farm on Long Island's North Fork: the Catapano Dairy
Farm in Peconic, owned by Michael Catapano, a doctor turned
cheese maker, and his wife, Karen.
In 2001, a decision to buy 15 goats
for the Catapano family farm spawned what has fast become one of
the most well-known and respected cheese-making operations in
the country. Last summer, Catapano Dairy Farm won a
prestigious award at the American Cheese Society's annual
competition in Louisville, Kentucky for its fresh chevre.
This year, the Catapanos moved seven
miles up Route 48 to a larger lot, where construction is
underway on an 8,200 square foot barn to house their suddenly
booming cheese business. What was once a herd of 18 goats
has grown to 80, and a chevre known locally for its fresh and
creamy consistency has suddenly become popular nationwide.
As the goat herd has grown, so has
the inventory of equipment. The Catapanos' goats are now milked
by a machine that pumps directly to a stainless steel holding
tank, where the milk is held until the pasteurization process
begins 48 hours late. Catapano said that while it used to
take someone all day to milk 10 or 20 animals, the new machine
milks all 80 goats in just under an hour.
But regardless of fancy machinery,
according to Catapano the secret to any good cheese is having
well fed and happy animals that actually enjoy being milked.
"All my goats are friendly," he said. "They get fed great food
and they have no stress."
The pasteurization process requires
heating the milk by shooting steam through the walls of a 200
gallon stainless steel vat, bringing the milk's temperature to
145 degrees Fahrenheit, where it stays for approximately 30
minutes. "That is probably the most regulated stage of the
process," Catapano said, noting that an official from the
Department of Agriculture visits the farm once every two weeks
to examine his operation.
After the milk is cooled to 90
degrees by cold water running through the wall of the vat, it's
transferred to another stainless steel container where the
pasteurization process begins. Added to the milk is what
is known as "culture," which, Catapano said, is "essentially a
nice word for bacteria."
The culture changes the milk into
cheese by eating lactose and lowering the ph level, for a chevre,
to a 5 on a scale of 1 to 14, which places near the acidic end
of the scale.
According to Catapano, different
types of cultures produce different kinds of cheese, all with
distinct flavors. What that means, in essence, is that as
long as the milk is of the highest quality, it is actually the
culture that makes a true artisanal cheese. After the
culture is added, Catapano adds an enzyme called rennet to the
cheese, which helps with its curdling process. Originally taken
from the plants and different kinds of funguses and yeasts.
Once the rennet is in, the cheese
sits for at least 24 hours at a temperature around 70 degrees.
It is then scooped into cheesecloth where whey, a by product,
drains into buckets. After an additional 24 hours in the
cloth, the chevre is mixed with salt and is ready to be packaged
and sold for $21 a pound, with a shelf life of approximately
three weeks. This was the recipe for Catapano's award
winning chevre. Although, he added, "the cheese we won with was
about 4 or 5 days old."
Catapano said that the process for
each of his artisanal cheese varies, but that their quality lies
not in the process, but in his thriving and healthy goatherd. He
said that he and his wife, a former nurse and pharmaceuticals
saleswoman, are thriving with the business's growth as well.
"It is a better life that she's ever
had, and I enjoy it a lot too," said Catapano who still
practices at the Wainscott Walk-in Medical Center when he is not
working as a cheesemaker. "And we even made some profit last
Catapano added that considering all
the important aspects of his venture-from caring for the animals
to having state-of-the-art equipment to watching over every
detail of the actual cheese making-the real challenge is staying
true to the artisanal process. He summed it up by saying, "I
think 'artisan' means you're doing the best of everything."
Getting Their Goats
A Doctor's Life
By Lorraine Dusky
Creamy, moist and mildly tart, it is the best chevre I have ever
tasted. The cheese is made in wine country, on the North Fork,
at the tip of Long Island, New York, and it is absolutely
superb. In fact, it is an award winner.
Michael Catapano, M.D., and his wife Karen, run a goat farm and
dairy where he, the cheesemaker, annually produces between 5,000
and 6,000 pounds of cheese from the milk of his goats - much of
it chevre, as well as tangy little blocks of feta, blue cheese
and cheddar, and tasty yogurt. That is in addition to being a
primary care physician at the Wainscott Walk-In Medical Care
clinic, which treats everything from nagging colds to broken
The dairy is more than just a
simple hobby. "I work seven days a week - four days at the
clinic, three days here - and this is very labor intensive," Dr. Catapano says. Often, after
putting in a full day at the clinic, he comes home and works
until midnight, raising the goats and making the cheese sold
under the label Catapano Dairy Farm.
Although the Catapanos took over
the dairy only in early 2003, they were able to break even in
2004. In summer 2005, they received a first place award for
their chevre from the American Cheese Society, besting producers
who'd been making cheese for more than 30 years.
"In the late '50s, my father had a
vegetable farm on Long Island, where I grew up," says Dr.
Catapano. "And his father raised goats on the east side of Mount
Vesuvius in a little town called Ottaviano. And so did his
father before him. But having my own farm one day was the
farthest thing from my mind. Do you want the whole story?"
Indeed I do. Dr. Catapano's career
followed a focus path, up to a point: Georgetown University
School of Medicine and stints at Duke University, in the Public
Health Service in Montana and at Denver General Hospital. Nary a
thought of farming. In time, he came home to Long Island and
eventually became chair of Emergency Medicine at Southampton
Hospital in the late '90s. The hospital, however, was soon
plagued by a huge deficit, and he says that meant more of his
time was devoted to political maneuvering and less to medicine.
He met Karen, a nurse, at Southampton, and when the wellness
program she was running was eliminated, so was a job she
enjoyed. Both left the hospital.
Dr. Catapano found his way to the
Wainscott Walk-In Medical Care Clinic, where the workload varies
between primary and episodic care and acute emergencies that
don't require a hospital, such as setting broken bones, or
suturing wounds. Because he and the other doctor there, Blake
Kerr, M.D. take almost no insurance except Medicare and
Medicaid, no one is telling them how to manage the care they
dispense, something that had frustrated Dr. Catapano previously.
He was happy at the clinic, but
Karen began dreaming of having horses, which she had as a girl,
and there they were, living near the abundant farms and
vineyards of eastern Long Island. Wasn't there someway they
could get back to the land? Live a different life?
Through a friend, they heard about
a goat dairy for sale - all of one acre, with 18 animals. "It
was a dream at first," notes Dr. Catapano. "Could we make it
work?" His wife says he went along with the idea for her sake.
But what, exactly, did they know about goats? Or about making
cheese? The answer is simple: nothing.
They learned some things from the
farm's previous owner, and they found a woman in upstate New
York who let them visit her goat farm for a week. There they
took a crash course in raiding goats - and creating delectable
These days, it seems the doc is an
old hand. He and Karen moved to a new five acre farm this past
winter so they could expand the herd and milking process. They
now have 89 goats, a llama inherited from Dr. Catapano's father,
a quarter horse, six playful cocker spaniels eager for
attention, one rescue farm dog and 10 pedigreed Ragdoll cats.
Assisted by a family that lives with them, the Catapano's get
the work done: breeding the Ragdolls and the Cocker Spaniels for
sale and tending the goats, all of whom have names like Eve and
Abigail. Bucolic, it is. Easy, it is not.
The goats have to be milked twice a
day, and during their first six weeks or so, the kids are
bottled fed twice a day (with their mother's milk) as well. A
lot of family members and friends get involved in this - hey,
it's fun to bottle feed a kid! The goats stop producing milk in
the fall, and the dairy shuts down during the winter. But that
is when Dr. Catapano takes seminars in cheese making from
artisans in Vermont and elsewhere.
The milk must be pasteurized before
the various cultures and enzymes that create different varieties
are added. The cheese is packaged on site and either sold direct
to the customer at the dairy or targeted for numerous upscale
cheese shops, vineyards, farmers markets and restaurants on Long
Initially, Karen marketed the
cheese - as did those consumers who asked their local purveyors
to carry it. Now the dairy can barely keep up with the demand.
In fact, the Catapanos had to turn down an order from a large
specialty food shop because they couldn't produce the quantity
desired. The cheese is that good.
The kids are born in early spring,
and Dr. Catapano says that this is the one time when his
doctoring skills converge with tending goats. "I deliver the
babies - in the middle of the night, whenever. And I act as my
own vet for minor medical problems."
A tour of the farm includes the
building housing the various vats and equipment for the
cheese/yogurt operation, and indeed 13 bags of chevre in the
making are hanging up and oozing whey. They invite touching.
"Nope. Not without plastic gloves," says the cheese maker. To
ensure that they cheese meets certain guidelines, state
inspectors visit every couple of weeks.
Dr. Catapano seems so much in his
element that one wonders which one of his two jobs he likes
better. There is no hesitation when he answers: "I am a doctor
first - but not in a hospital anymore. I enjoy taking care of
people, helping people who depend on me with no one looking over
enjoy this, too," he adds. "I like being able to make something
good that people come back for."
A Cheese Company Ages
by Eileen M Duffy
Catapano stands in her in-laws greenhouse holding a baby goat
and a soda bottle filled with fresh goat's milk. Through a
rubber nipple the Nubian kid greedily sucks down the contents
until the stark white liquid drips down its chin.
greenhouse smells of the ripe odor of goat cheese, familiar to
anyone who has spread chevre on a piece of bread or chopped feta
for a Greek salad.
In separate pens, female goats
are in various stages of gestation and
motherhood. Pint-sized kids wander
around, following Karen and passing in and out of the pens
through the slats in the fences. If another mother's kid enters
a pen, the doe will nose him out. Only her babies are
allowed to nurse.
This year Karen and her husband
Michael will oversee the births of close to 100 kids. They will
keep some and sell the others to other dairies, ending up with
96 goats in their herd - the maximum allowed by the town - in
the dairy they are building in the back of their new home on
Route 48, know locally as the North Road, in Peconic. The number
suits Michael. Any more goats and the upkeep would render his
cheese-making operation uneconomical, he said.
The new building, which will house
the goats (they can take colder temperatures but hate the rain),
the cheese-making equipment, and a temperature controlled room
for the aging cheese, is a big step up from the farm's former
quarters a few miles west.
In 2003, the Catapanos bought an
existing farm, fulfilling Karen's passion for animals and
Michael's curiosity about making cheese. What started out as a
hobby with 25 to 30 goats soon took on a life of its own. By the
next year, after Michael took courses with some of the best
cheese makers in the state and Karen researched raising and
keeping goats, the farm was profitable and their products were
It was time to move.
And now in the spring, work crews
have cleared the land on the five acres behind a large house to
erect the steel barn. Behind the barn, the herd of goats,
separated from the males, play around Karen and climb on top of
her when she bends down to pet them.
"They will jump on you," she said.
"They're very friendly."
The new facility will double the
Catapano's production, provide more parking, and allow Karen
more workspace to make skin care products from the goat's milk.
Aside from selling all they make,
the Catapano's cheese was recognized by the American Cheese
Society when their fresh chevre was named best in the country.
For Michael, who is known around
the farm as the Cheese Whiz, (Karen is the Dairy Queen), this
means he has been doing the right thing and will continue to
provide the goats with the best quality food, keep the dairy
spotless and sell everything as fresh as possible.
"Everyone thinks goats will eat
anything," he said. "But they are actually very picky
eaters. Once it goes on the ground, they wont touch it."
To accommodate these gourmands, the Catapano's buy alfalfa from
a woman upstate who grows her own. "It's nice quality hay," says
Michael. "It looks good enough to eat."
He plans to build a feeding station
that will keep the hay off the ground and minimize waste. As it
is, the couple goes through about 450 pounds of alfalfa each
day, close to 10 pounds per goat.
Goat's milk, he said, takes on
"off" flavors very easily. And in the wild, as the food changes
with the season, goat's milk will taste differently at different
times of the year. By feeding the goats the same thing all he
time, the cheese's taste will be consistent. In the dairy,
cleanliness is monitored by state inspectors, and the farm stand
in front of the new barn ensures the cheese is sold at the
height of freshness.
"We always sell within days," says
Michael. "No more than a week. If it's aged more than that it
will have a different taste." Michael compared his cheese
with what people buy in the supermarket: "Cheese in the grocery
store is made with powered milk and frozen curd, which gives it
a longer shelf life." But these ingredients also
compromise the range of tastes.
This summer the selection at
Catapano will grow as Michael experiments with new varieties. He
will make the soft fresh chevre, feta and yogurt that have been
popular and try to make aged cheeses like cheddar, blue, and a
provolone type that will take a year to be ready.
To make mold-ripened cheese, like
the blue, Michael buys the mold, which comes in two different
types, differentiated mostly by color. To distribute the veins
throughout the cheese he pokes holes using a knitting needle to
give the mold the oxygen it needs to grow. New York State
requires that the cheese age for at least 60 days. The longer it
ages, the pungent it gets, but Michael likes to keep the center
soft and buttery.
Back in the greenhouse, the
Catapanos are still waiting for three more does to have their
kids. The first of the year were born on Valentine's Day, after
a mating season that spanned September and October. The kids
will keep coming until the middle of April and then the first
two months of milk goes to the babies. The mothers will
continue to produce milk for the next six months.
New females can get pregnant as
yearlings, but will not become efficient milkers until they are
2 or 3 years old. After that their productivity will last five
to six years. Goats live 12 to 15 years.
"They love to get milked," said
Karen. "They eat while it is going on, and it is very relaxing
She plans to get an automatic
milking machine from a woman upstate, because the repetitive
motion gets hard on the hands.
Michael surveyed the work taking
over his new backyard. In addition to his career as a doctor in
a walk in clinic on the south Fork, he and Karen are busy
feeding the new goats twice a day, tending to births, and
landscaping the grounds surrounding their dairy.
never move again." he said.
Catapano Dairy Farm, formerly in
Mattituck, has opened at 33705 Rte. 48 in Peconic on the
North Fork. At the new site, visitors will be able to watch
cheese being made. The farm, which won first place for best
goat cheese from the American Cheese Society, sells plain
chevre, the soft goat cheese, as well as one made with
locally raised garlic and another made with lemon-pepper,
particularly good with Semillon and Chardonnay wines from
local vineyards. They also sell three other goat cheeses:
feta, Cheddar and a blue called Peconic Mist.
A wine friendly picnic special
oft wo cheeses, a box of
crackers and a generous square of goats' milk fudge is $20.00. The farm is open
from 9am to 6pm daily.
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