Tess on the Town: Paonia dairy

Meet Nelly, a vision in white with piercing wide-set eyes. She likes hiking in the mountains.

And Mocha’s Girl, a chocolate-colored beauty with a wild side. She enjoys walking in fields of Colorado wildflowers.

And Uno, she’s easy on the eyes and loves the smell of freshly cut alfalfa.

These are the ladies of Avalanche Cheese Co. Instead of naming employees of the month, owner Wendy Mitchell, recognizes individual goats prized by the staff for their milk production and overall sweet demeanor.

They are among the 200-plus Nubian, Alpine and Saanen goats living on the Avalanche 130-acre farm and dairy in Paonia.

Nelly produces 12 pounds of milk a day in peak summertime and Uno, despite having only one working teat, gives a gallon and a half a day.

The free-range goats spend their days running and grazing the pastures, and eating until their bellies bulge. For the next two months Mitchell and her staff will be busy on the farm as kidding season starts.

The goats of Avalanche produce the milk for Mitchell’s creamery in Basalt, where she and head cheese maker, Kevin McCullen, produce hand-crafted artisan goat cheese for restaurants, specialty stores and farmers markets in western Colorado.

After 20 years as a chef, Mitchell wanted to get closer to the sod and became interested in cheese making.

She sold her restaurant in Houston and spent a year in England, where she learned the craft of cheese making.

McCullen joined Avalanche in 2009 after working for four years at Aspen’s Little Nell, where he concentrated his efforts of making cheese and sausages.

The award-winning cheese Avalanche makes ranges from pasteurized soft creamy cheeses to aged cheddars.

Here are a few Avalanche creations.

■ Chevre, a milk, creamy fresh goat milk cheese.

■ Lamborn bloomers, a soft-ripened Robiola style cheese, aged just over a month, silky and balanced.

■ Goat cheddar, aged for six to 12 months, it’s a cheese made in the style of tradition British cheddars with goat milk.

■ Midnight blue, a goat milk blue cheese aged for two to four months.

■ Cabra Blanca, aged semi-soft goat cheese with a lacy pate and hint of citrus.

■ Various chevre spreads seasoned with garlic, organic basil, white truffle oil and lemon.

Avalanche is working toward certified organic status — a long and laborious process — but in the meantime, they make a product that is hormone and chemical free. No pesticides of chemical fertilizers are used on the farm.

Most of the retail outlets that sell Avalanche cheese are in the Roaring Fork and North Fork valleys, and at any Whole Foods markets.

In Grand Junction, Avalanche cheese is sold at Wild West Steaks & Seafoods, next to Crossroads Wine & Spirits, at 24 and Patterson roads.

When I visit my sister-in-law in Paonia, Avalanche farmstead cheese is often on the table and is always the hit of the party.

Next time I venture out that way, I’m going to take one of the farm tours Avalanche offers by appointment. They’ll even throw in breakfast, lunch or dinner at your request.

To make it a day, Mitchell suggests your party take a bicycle tour of the area and start off or end up at the farm. On your bike ride, explore the local wineries and end the day with an al fresco sunset dinner at the farm. They set up tables on the lawn in the shadow of Mount Lamborn, with a view of Uno, Mocha’s Girl, Nelly and the rest of the gang grazing in the pasture.

To arrange a visit, or to order cheese, go to avalanchecheese.com.

BURGER UPDATE: A good source informs me that Five Guys Burgers is indeed planning to open a restaurant in Grand Junction. More to come.

QUOTE: “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese” — Charles de Gaulle

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