Tucked away in the back roads of Ste. Genevieve County is Baetje Farms, a French-inspired artisan goat cheese dairy and creamery.
Veronica and Steve Baetje, along with a couple of employees and a handful of part-time helpers produce award-winning artisan goat cheeses in a barn built in 1912.
Baetje Farms offers several varieties of their goat cheese. Their signature cheese is the Bloomsdale, a Super Gold winner of the World Cheese Awards, 2012-2014. The Miette has a buttery/creamery consistency and has the flavor of a sweet very yeasty bread dough. The Fleur de la Vallee is a mix of goat and sheep milk which melts in your mouth with full bodied flavor notes reminiscent of toasted bread with butter, meaty bacon and eggs, and faint notes of toasted onion. Coeur du Clos smells of mushrooms. Amoureux is a newer cheese to the farm made from a goat and sheep milk blend, smooth and satiny with buttery grassy notes.
An award winning Coeur de la Crème is also sold in garlic and chive, cranberry and orange, plain, herb de provence, three pepper, dark chocolate raspberry (seasonal), pumpkin walnut, and cranberry and cinnamon. These are made in a heart shape to symbolize the love of cheese making. Marinated Aged Feta is available steeped in herbs, peppercorns, and garlic blended in Greek grape seed and extra virgin olive oil.
The farm is currently working with Schnucks on an experimental cheese that is still in development. They are now getting feedback and are hoping to have it in all 86 stores by the holidays.
There are many misconceptions of goat cheese including that it is one type of cheese. Anything that can be made from cow milk can be made from goat, sheep, or buffalo milk as well. Goat cheese is thought of as a fancier cheese but Veronica started her journey making cheddar from her first goat named Cookie.
Veronica said that she does not make cheddar goat cheese because it is such a common cheese. She likes the French influences and due to her heritage and the French culture around the area it made sense for her to choose to make French-style cheeses.
“I didn’t want to make something like cheddar cheese of goat milk or Colby,” Veronica said. “I really fell in love with French cheeses.”
When Veronica studied at the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese she took their advanced-cheese making course. While she was there they brought instructors in from different parts of France. She would go to bed with a French cheese book. As she'd flip through it she would pick out which cheeses she would want to make when she opened up her cheese farm.
Back then it was a dream but now her reality is flying to London to judge the World Cheese Awards in November and traveling to the South East Corner by Geneva Switzerland to interview interns for the next year. Baetje Farms has the honor of hosting interns from France each summer.
Veronica said that it has been really great to have the interns, they are excited and have their own knowledge so they try different things when they come.
Baetje Farms recently took first and second place at the American Cheese Society Awards. This is just one of more than 60 awards they have won since adding their first cheese plant in 2006. However, this award was particularly exciting for the business and for one specific employee.
“This was significant because Kelly (Junge) made that cheese without anybody’s assistance from beginning to end,” Veronica said. “They don’t give those things away, they are earned.”
Veronica said that Kelly is the best employee she has ever had. Saying that she is very hard working, thorough, and doesn’t leave anything undone.
Junge has been working at the farm for two and a half years. She started out pumping milk in the mornings and worked her way up to being Veronica’s protégé. The life of a cheese maker and goat farmer makes for some long days. Starting at 4 a.m. with the first milking Junge has been known to put in 12 to 14 hour days.
“It is a lot of work and I am still learning a lot,” Junge said. “Sometimes my body aches by the end of the day.”
Although the work is hard and the days are long it is easy to see that everyone working there loves what they do including the 100 workers who do very little throughout the day but the process would be nothing without them. Baetje Farms has 100 Saanen dairy goats including the “kids” who can’t produce yet and four bucks, who only contribute once a year when it is time to “kid,” or give birth to offspring and “freshen up” the females’ milk production.
“They are barn queens out there,” Veronica said. “You have to push them to go out and enjoy the nice day or else they will lounge in front of the fan until the next feeding.”
Veronica said that happy goats are more productive and are easier to work with so they make sure they are well taken care of. This includes having free range of inside the barn as well as a large pasture area outside. Goats at Baetje Farms enjoy a natural antibiotic-free whole grain ration twice a day, organic mineral supplements, local hay, and an endless supply of filtered spring water. They also on occasion will get a tea supplement.
“In the winter or when they (goats) are having problems I will give them a tea supplement,” Veronica said.
It is almost breeding season on the farm sparked by a combination of daylight shortening and temperatures beginning to drop. The goats could be seen having a lot of discussions and tail wagging from across the fences.
Veronica said they have about 80 babies per year and that they are a small production, adding that some farms have a couple thousand babies a year. The workers try to let the goats have natural births but are always close by in case they are having a hard time.
If a goat needs medical attention proper processes are taken afterward to make sure the milk isn’t contaminated by any of the medicines given. Baetje Farms takes the same precautions when they purchase milk from other farms.
One of the companies the farm purchased goat milk from in the past was feeding their goats silage. Veronica explained that this is usually an acceptable form of feed and does not harm the goats but when making cheese it adds a bacteria which makes the harder cheeses expand and blow up.
Veronica said she had to throw out some of their cheese because they were exploding due to the goats being fed the silage. This is why they visit the farms and make sure they are up to the high standards of their own company before purchasing outside products.
“It all started out wanting to produce our own food,” Veronica said. “I would prefer to keep it small and to let someone who is focusing on milk and not on cheese-making to produce the extra goat milk.”
Having a smaller operation allows Baetje Farms to give their goats more individualized care and keep them healthier. They never anticipated that the business would have an international connection but once they connected with the dairy school in France everything took an interesting leap.
Veronica said that traveling and experiencing the different cultures has been a highlight for her.
Baetje Farms cheeses can be purchased at stores across the United States including some Whole Foods, Schnucks, and farmers market locations. For a full list of locations visit www.baetjefarms.com