While the majority of us are in the depths of the cold, dark winter, and dreaming of warm, sunny escapes, ACS’s only Hawaiian member is enjoying the season. Surfing Goat Dairy, located in Kula, HI, continues to be as busy as ever during the winter: enjoying the benefits of being in a tourist location, while also working around the difficulties of being a dairy on an island where drought has hit hard.
Surfing Goat Dairy was started 14 years ago by husband-wife team Thomas and Eva Kafsack. Before moving to Hawaii, Thomas owned one of Germany’s biggest software companies and Eva was a high school teacher. Thomas and Eva lived on the island of Sylt, off the coast of Germany in the North Sea, where there was a goat dairy that had a herd of around 150 Saanens. The goats grazed on pastures that gave an incredible flavor to the cheese. When Thomas and Eva moved to Hawaii, they decided “if we cannot find anything like that, then we have to do it ourselves,” says Thomas. And Surfing Goat Dairy was born.
Thomas’ and Eva’s original plan was to build a bed and breakfast in Hawaii and to have the goat dairy as more of an attraction. They were lucky to buy 42 acres of prime land on Maui when prices were at a low point. Since they weren’t able to build the bed and breakfast immediately, they set up their goat dairy first. Eva worked on goat farms in Germany, Austria, and France, learning the craft. Since Surfing Goat Diary opened, they have had double-digit growth most years, and the idea of a bed and breakfast fell to the wayside.
Surfing Goat Diary currently has 149 goats – Saanens, French Alpines, and La Manchas. The goats feed on a lot of different brush on the farm, including cactus, grass, and weeds. “This gives a lot of wonderful flavor to the milk, and therefore to the cheeses too… We put all our milks together, so it gives us a wonderful, creamy, not ‘goaty’, goat milk, and that’s what people like,” says Thomas. Since they make cheese every day, there’s no need to store the milk, and sometimes during full milk production, they make cheese twice a day.
The variety of cheeses and products made at Surfing Goat Dairy is astounding. There are a total of 31 types and flavors of cheese. In the “Aloha Cheese Line,” there are fresh chevres with flavors like horseradish, Maui lavender, fresh garlic chives, and fresh mangoes. Surfing Goat Dairy also produces quark, and makes a fruit quark every day. Their most famous quark is lilikoi (passion fruit). Thomas says, “People are crazy for that one.” There is an entire freezer devoted to lilikoi quark base. Surfing Goat Dairy also has a “Paradise Cheese Line” with aged cheeses, marinated in oil or ripened/aged in cheese wax. One of these cheeses is called BBQ and is cold smoked with local Kiawe wood, a relative of mesquite. They also have a cheese that is aged with smoked Macadamia nut shells in 100% Hawaiian Macadamia nut oil. Surfing Goat Dairy’s “Luxurious Shark Bite Line” is called such because, Thomas explains, “The price of these cheeses take a bit out of your wallet… They are probably the most expensive goat cheeses in the world.” This line includes Oyster, a chevre with gourmet smoked oysters, Perigord, a chevre with black truffles from Perigord, and Midas Touch, a chevre with 23 carat gold flakes.
Surfing Goat Dairy’s best-selling cheese is called Maui Secret. It’s a fresh cheese that is drained a bit more, then marinated in an olive oil, with garlic, fresh lemon zest, fresh thyme, and Sicilian olives. “This gives a wonderful flavor to the cheese,” says Thomas, “and a lot of restaurants and hotels are buying this too, because they realize their wine sales are so much better with the cheese.” Thomas recommends a nice Pinot Noir or Cabernet with the Maui Secret.
Thomas creates many cheeses with local ingredients. In addition to the lilikoi quark and the cheese with smoked Macadamia nut shells, there’s also Mango Supreme, made with fresh mangoes, and Mandalay, made with local apple bananas (and yes, for those unaware, there’s a type of banana called the apple banana).
The cheeses are just the beginning of Surfing Goat Dairy. There are also goat milk soaps in 26 different scents. There are also goat cheese truffles, which account for close to 20% of the company’s revenue. There are about 40 different flavors, such as Kona Coffee, Lilikoi, Pink Peppercorn, Toasted Coconut, and Black Mission Fig. The farm sells the truffles to a lot of the hotels and shops in the area, who use them for amenities or events. Surfing Goat Dairy substitutes the butter and heavy cream with their goat cheese. “Goat cheese can carry a flavor so much better than butter of cream can, which is why we’re winning blind taste tests,” says Thomas. “When someone tastes them, they are hooked.” A recent order of truffles to the Hyatt had employees rushing to prepare 940 boxes.
More products are in the works as well. Ocean Vodka, a local organic vodka distillery, is planning to have Surfing Goat Dairy truffles made for them with their vodka. Ocean Vodka is also going into rum production, and will be having truffles made with rum. Thomas jokes, “But for these, we have to have a warning label! Don’t drive after the consumption of two truffles.”
Beyond Surfing Goat Dairy’s cheeses, truffles, and soaps, they are also a large part of the agri-tourism industry in Hawaii. “Without it, we couldn’t exist here,” says Thomas. The farm offers 3 main tours: The Casual Tour, a 25 minute tour where people can feed the goats, see where the goats are milked, and take a peek through windows to see cheesemaking or truffle making. The Casual Tour is $10 for adults and $7 for kids (of the two-legged variety, adds Thomas). Last year, Surfing Goat Dairy offered slightly less than 15,000 of the Casual Tour. “A lot of people haven’t had any interaction with goats, so they love it,” says Thomas.
The second tour offered by Surfing Goat Dairy is the Evening Chores & Milking Tours, which are 1 hr. tours at 3:30 pm. On this tour, guests are able to feed the goats, then hand feed a goat. “This is always fun,” says Thomas. “We have a lot of visitors from Japan, China, and Korea, and they’ve never done this or seen this, but you have to tell them to stop because they’ll milk the whole goat.” After this, all the goats are brought out for more interaction with the guests before a big cheese tasting at the end.
On Saturdays, the farm offers the Grand Dairy Tour, which are usually 2 ½ hours long (except when Thomas is the guide, then it’s always an hour longer). This tour is the same as the Evening Chores & Milking Tours, plus they bring out the milking herd and teach guests about cheesemaking, with one of their cheesemakers showing the process. The third part of the Grand Dairy Tour is a grand cheese tasting where guests try around 20 different cheeses made at Surfing Goat Dairy, along with olives, crackers, and other accoutrements. Guests also get to try cheesecake and truffles.
In addition to these tours, Surfing Goat Dairy does a lot of corporate events, including barbeques and food events for employees that are top performers at their company. There are many tour companies from the cruise ships that come to the farm as well.
Not everything is easy for a goat dairy on a tropical island, however. “We have to be very careful because we have a hurricane season,” says Thomas. “Fortunately, in these 14 years, all hurricanes went by without hitting us. But this would have a very bad impact here.” Currently, the climate trouble is coming from an increasing drought situation. When Thomas and Eva bought their property, the average yearly rainfall was 15 inches. In the last 5 years, they’ve had less than 3 inches per year. The farm combats this with an underground irrigation system on all of their pastures, an expensive option. Thomas comments, “But on the other hand, it was our decision to live in the dry area here because we don’t have problems like some on the wet side of the island.”
Another issue for Surfing Goat Dairy is looking ahead with inventory. Everything they need comes to them by boat (hay from Washington, grain from Oregon, packaging material from the US or Taiwan). “We have to plan 3-4 months ahead. What we need, how many, and then we order everything by the pallet,” says Thomas. “That gives you a whole different perspective.” A quarter of their barn is devoted to supplies and ingredients.
Along those same lines, the cost of shipping is difficult for Surfing Goat Dairy. By the time a bale of hay is delivered to their feed room, the cost has increased 6 times the original price due to shipping. With no hay or grain produced on the island, it is something the farm has to take into account. Surfing Goat Dairy also ships to the mainland, which makes their cheeses more expensive. Around 10% of their cheeses go to customers on the mainland.
As the company expands, the Surfing Goat Dairy family keeps expanding as well. They now have 4 cheesemakers besides Eva and Thomas, several people who help with the milking, and others at various jobs for a total of 23 employees. The farm also does internships and apprenticeships. On average, there are 4 apprentices who work for a full year, learning through the full cycle of breeding, birthing, raising the kids, and learning to make cheese. The selection process is intense, and Surfing Goat Dairy is currently booked until the end of 2015. Internships are typically 6 months long. The exception is for an intern that comes from the Ag University in Tulouse, France for 3 months during a break between semesters, a longstanding partnership the farm has had with the university. Surfing Goat Dairy also participates with the State Department, where they work with underdeveloped countries and send apprentices to the farm. The farm has hosted 2 apprentices from Romania and 1 from Ecuador. “Everyone lives here on the farm and we do dinners together, so every other evening we have food made by either Eva or me or the apprentices, which means sometimes we have very different cuisine,” says Thomas. “We’ve had a lot of very nice experiences.”
For those in Hawaii, Surfing Goat Dairy’s products can be found at all three Whole Foods Market stores on the islands, several health food stores, many fantastic restaurants, and nearly every hotel on Maui, O’ahu, in Honolulu, and Waikiki. The farm has built a strong partnership with local restaurants, hotels, and shops. “It’s a wonderful relationship we have with our customers. We recommend restaurants and they recommend us for tours. They all mention our name on the menu list, and all the concierges have our flyers about the cheeses and tours.”
And what about the name, Surfing Goat Dairy? Obviously, Maui is well-known for surfing. But Sylt, the island that Thomas and Eva moved from, is also the last stop on the Professional Windsurfers Association’s World Windsurfing Tour. They have also gotten to know a number of surfers who live on Maui, which has contributed to a lot of old, worn boards decorating the farm. And, as Thomas says, “Our goats are surfing here, but only on land. They hate water.”