POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 26, 2011
Christi Heinen-Sears loves hanging out with kids. It’s not surprising, then, for the tour guide and saleswoman at Surfing Goat Dairy to spend her lunch breaks in the pasture.
IF YOU Go …Surfing Goat Dairy
>> Address: 3651 Omaopio Road, Kula, Maui >> Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays
>> Free samples: A selection of four cheeses is offered to all visitors.
>> Information: Call 878-2870, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.surfinggoatdairy.com
>> Special events: Weddings, parties and corporate events can be arranged.
Tours >> Casual Tour: Twenty minutes long, held every 30 minutes. Includes visit with all the farm’s animals, explanation of milking process and peek inside the cheese-making facility. Cost: $10, $7 for ages 2 to 12
>> Evening Chores and Milking Tour: Sixty minutes, at 3:15 p.m. daily except Sunday. Visitors help with chores and learn how cheese is made. Reservations suggested. Cost: $15, $12 children.
>> Grand Dairy Tour: Two hours, held at 9 a.m. Saturday. Includes leading a herd from the pasture, feeding, milking, playing with kids and learning about making cheese. Cost: $25, including tasting of more than 20 cheeses. Reservations required.
>> Upcountry BBQ: Buffet lunch and tour runs 21⁄2 hours. Call for dates. Cost: $50, $25 ages 3 through 9, free for children under 3. Reservations required.
One day in March she noticed a doe standing off to the side, all by herself with her head down. “As I got closer,” Heinen-Sears said, “I saw that she was cleaning her baby, which had just been born. Another baby was coming.”
Thrilled, Heinen-Sears called the office, but before anyone could join her, she found herself playing midwife. “The second baby was a girl. I wiped her face and saw her take her first breath. It was one of the most incredible experiences in my life!”
That’s how many people describe their visit to Surfing Goat Dairy, founded by Thomas and Eva Kafsack, natives of Hamburg, Germany.
In 1999 they purchased a 42-acre parcel in Upcountry Maui that was covered with trash, rocks, cactus and kiawe. It had no running water, electricity, roads or buildings, and friends and family worried the couple had paid a pretty penny for property that wouldn’t amount to much.
Twelve years later Surfing Goat Dairy is one of Maui’s top attractions — a picturesque sight with 16 green pastures, a barn, a retail shop and a facility where 20,000 pounds of gourmet cheese is made every year.
The Kafsacks started the dairy as a second career. Thomas owned a computer software company. Eva was a high school teacher. They visited Maui for the first time in 1986, fell in love with it and dreamed of retiring there.
Over the years, they visited Maui frequently, all the while pondering what they could do when they made the move. Since Thomas is a talented chef, they first thought of opening a restaurant, but, recognizing the challenges of that, they began looking instead into what restaurants need. Artisanal cheese topped the list.
“Whenever Thomas and Eva came to Maui, they missed the wonderful fresh cheeses that were readily available in Germany,” Heinen-Sears said. “They researched goat dairies in Hawaii and found two — both on the Big Island, none on Maui.”
The Kafsacks had found their niche. Thomas sold his software company and Eva quit teaching. They knew nothing about goats but were eager to learn. While Thomas was busy figuring out financing, clearing the Maui property and overseeing construction, Eva visited farms and dairies in Germany, Austria and France to learn how to care for goats, run a dairy and make gourmet cheese.
In 2000 the couple bought 34 does, 11 yearlings and three bucks from one of the Big Island dairies, which was shutting down. Surfing Goat Dairy opened in 2002 and has been flourishing ever since.
Every year from late December through early January, late February through March, and May through June, the dairy celebrates the birth of some 180 kids. It has between 100 and 250 goats at any given time; the rest are sold to customers wanting pets, studs, living lawn mowers and small milking herds.
About 80 does are milked at Surfing Goat Dairy every day, twice a day, yielding an average of 30 gallons of milk. One gallon of milk makes two pounds of cheese. “Goat’s milk has 45 percent less fat, 42 percent less cholesterol and 30 percent fewer calories than cow’s milk,” Heinen-Sears said. “The protein and fat molecules are smaller, meaning goat’s milk and the cheese made from it are easier to digest. Even people who are lactose intolerant can eat goat cheese with no problem.”
Cheese is made daily at Surfing Goat Dairy. Thomas is constantly experimenting with ingredients, and the menu is adjusted as he comes up with new creations. Over the years, 18 of the dairy’s cheeses have won national awards.
Among its 31 varieties are Udderly Delicious, a plain salted chevre that was served at President Barack Obama’s inauguration dinner in 2009; Purple Rain, made with Maui-grown lavender; and It’s Not Sushi, flavored with tuna and wasabi. There are curry and apple bananas in Mandalay; smoked salmon and green peppercorns in Alaskan Delight; and jalapeños, artichokes, lime juice and cilantro in Ole!
MacGoatNut is ripened and aged for three months with smoked macadamia nut shells, then packed with whole macadamia nuts in pure Hawaiian macadamia nut oil. The three cheeses in the premium Shark Bites line feature Perigord truffles, smoked oysters and 23-karat gold flakes.
Surfing Goat Dairy also offers goat cheese truffles in 13 flavors; lilikoi, Kona coffee and cinnamon/chipotle are favorites. Its goat milk soaps come in 21 scents, including coconut, mango, pineapple and plumeria. Some of the herbs and fruits used in the products are grown on site.
If ever there was a place to lure visitors from the beach, Heinen-Sears says Surfing Goat Dairy is it. “Both adults and children will enjoy their visit with us,” she said. “They can interact closely with the goats, learn about them and taste amazing cheeses that are made right where they’re eating it. The dairy is a beautiful, inspiring, magical place.”
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu freelance writer whose features have won many Society of American Travel Writers awards.