What’s the secret to making really great tasting cheese?

“Happy, healthy animals that get to spend a lot of time in the pasture grazing,” says India Loevner, owner of Pittsburgh-based Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy.

The handcrafted farmstead cheese maker just picked up its first national award for its “Hootenanny” goat’s milk Gouda at the American Cheese Society competition held in Denver last week.

The awards are “the Oscars of cheese” says Loevner, who credits her whole team, especially cheesemaker Matt Rychorcewicz, with developing the cheese that earned Goat Rodeo a second place finish at the annual judging competition.

The award-winning Gouda is made from spring and summer goat’s milk and features notes of hickory nuts and wild flowers. “It’s definitely a collaboration coming up with the recipe,” says Loevner, noting that the “terroir” is influential in cheesemaking. The terroir describes the notion that wherever animals are grazing gives a distinct flavor. “In this case, our goats are eating plants and flowers specific to this part of Pennsylvania,” says Loevner.

Photos by Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy
Photos by Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy.

Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy is a 130-acre family-owned farm located in Indiana Township near Pittsburgh in northern Allegheny County. The farm is home to a herd of more than 140 Alpine and Nubian dairy goats. It also brings in cow’s milk from a partnering farm to make a variety of fresh and aged cheese using traditional techniques for artisan cheese production.

The American Cheese Society (ACS) judging and competition is the largest event of its kind and takes place each year in conjunction with its annual cheese making conference where makers join together to focus on the craft of making quality cheese.

Loevner and her team are particularly excited about the news that next year’s ACS conference along with the judging and competition will be held in Pittsburgh.

“It’s a wonderful recognition of how far the food scene has progressed here in Pittsburgh that they chose the city to have their next conference,” says Loevner.

Goat Rodeo is hoping to participate in next year’s event with some special events at the farm, in addition to once again entering their cheeses in the competition.

Hootenanny Gouda is available locally at Whole Foods, Stamoolis Bros., East End Food Co-Op, and Giant Eagle Market District. It can also be found at many restaurants in western Pennsylvania. Check their website for more details.

Goat Rodeo's Allegheny County Farm. Photo by Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy.
Goat Rodeo’s Allegheny County Farm. Photo by Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy.
Goat Rodeo’s Allegheny County Farm. Photo by Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy.

Tom O'Connor is a photographer and writer currently based in Pittsburgh.