Pascal Destandau and Eric Smith have been making cheese for only 4 years. Theirs is a somewhat familiar story: they quit their corporate jobs (in pharmaceuticals and architecture, respectively) to pursue a path more meaningful. They describe this decisive moment as their small leap — a Pugs Leap, more accurately — into a truer path that would uphold their respect of the earth, their belief in feeding yourself from local sources — or even better, from food that you make yourself —and their love of cheese. Their farm is in Healdburg, California, in Sonoma County, where they're currently milking 27 goats. By hand. They made the switch to milking by hand last year. It's takes more time, but without a machine, they're using less energy, less water, and fewer chemicals. And since "agitation is the enemy of goat milk," to quote Eric Smith, this ensures a gentler handling of the milk and clean, sweet milky flavors. Goat milk is delicate, made up of more fragile protein chains than sheep or cow milk, and too much agitation releases goaty flavors.
So concerned are they, in fact, with this gentle handling, that they cool the milk in buckets and transport it directly to their cheese room. Theirs is a true farmstead operation. All of the milk comes from their farm. They bottle feed their goats. Pugs Leap produces about 5,000 pounds of cheese per year. The goats (primarily Saanen and a few Toggenburg) are out on pasture year-round. Their diet is supplemented with organic alfalfa and organic grain mix. The farm never uses pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. You'll find Pugs Leap only at a scattering of farmer's markets and only on certain days, but the cheese itself will turn you into one of its fervent followers. What's just as remarkable as the story behind the cheese is its taste. Clean and sweet, like the best goat milk cheeses should be, and even the aged versions have a unique, albeit paradoxical, freshness.
• You can find more information on Pugs Leap on their Facebook page or by watching the trailer for the new documentary film, Leap of Faith, about the farm. • Look for Pugs Leap cheese at the Healdsburg and Grand Lake Oakland farmer's markets on Saturdays, the Stonestown San Francisco farmer's market on Sundays, and the Marin Civic Center farmer's market on Thursdays. The four various cheeses range in prices. Petit Marcel is about $6 for a 3 oz. piece, Pave is $15 for a 7-9 oz. piece, Bouche is $8 for a 5-7 oz. piece, and their Tomme cheese is $28.80/lb. Prices are subject to change, since all cheese is made by hand and sizes vary from week to week. Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a Cheesemonger and the Director of the Cheese Course at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City. She is currently an assistant chef on The Martha Stewart Show. (Images: Nora Singley and Pugs Leap Farm)