Goat Cheese Anyone?

In this month’s Business North, I have several articles covering a wide range of topics from a local goat cheese maker, to an off the beaten path bulk food store and an in-depth look at the man behind the Evergreen Country Shopper. I thought I’d share the goat cheese story first, because well, who doesn’t love pics of cute little goats? I haven’t had a chance to spend time on the actual farm. But, the diligent reporter in me did find time to test the product. Good stuff Maynard. The cheese is awesome. And, I love that the farm is in Herbster–a personal favorite spot of mine, especially since my hubby and I keep buying land over in that neck of Bayfield County.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy the article. And, the next time you are in the area, you consider picking up some of this artisan goat cheese that you just won’t find in the aisles of any big chain. Happy eating!

Local Cheese Makers Partner Up to Provide Artisan Cheeses from the North Woods

Photo Courtesy: Mary Dougherty
Photo Courtesy: Mary Dougherty

47-year cook Michael Stanitis knew he didn’t want to be a chef forever.  But, he wasn’t exactly sure what he did want to do with his life. He knew he loved goats. And, he knew he loved goat cheese. So, eight years ago he began a journey on his Herbster homestead that today has resulted in a successful artisan cheese line.

“It just kind of happened,” he explains of his Sassy Nanny cheese line. “While I was still working, I got a few goats and started messing around with making cheese.”

It is a huge leap to go from making cheese in your backyard to becoming a licensed cheese producer. In the State of Wisconsin, you need at least three licenses including a cheese maker license, a dairy producer license and last but not least a cheese plant license. While Stanitis was confident about the first achieving the first two licenses, building a state certified cheese plant just wasn’t in his budget.

“It would have cost more than my house to build the cheese plant on my own,” he explains.

It was about this time that he met nearby farmer Fred Faye, who was also interested in making cheese—only using sheep’s milk. Faye, who lives on an old dairy farm, had the barn structure that could be converted for the facility. He also had the desire to make the investment. After much debate, the two decided to share costs on the facility but operate their businesses separately. This was three years ago.

University of Wisconsin-Extension Bayfield and Ashland Counties Agriculture Agent Jason Fischbach says these types of partnerships aren’t uncommon among farmers in northwest Wisconsin. “One of the goals of our agricultural development efforts in the Chequamegon Bay area is to foster networking and collaboration among our agricultural entrepreneurs.  By working together, these entrepreneurs are able to share resources, lower production costs, and access markets more effectively.” He goes on to say, “Our region has a long history of farmers working together and today is no different.”

So far, this partnership seems to be one more success story of two farmers working together to create a value-added product. Today, Stanitis says his business is doing well. This year he’s on track to produce and sell about 4,000 pounds of goat cheese. He focuses on the local market—and by local he means within about 100-miles of his Herbster farm. He extends a bit further south into Eau Claire. And, while he’s been asked to provide goat cheese in the Twin Cities, he’s hesitant to break into that market.

“I’m a strong believer in the local food movement,” he explains. “There are goat cheese producers closer to the Twin Cities than I that should really be in that market versus me.”

Photo Courtesy: Mary Dougherty
Photo Courtesy: Mary Dougherty

He currently focuses on distribution in regional food co-ops including Whole Foods in Duluth and the Chequamegon Food Co-Op in Ashland, along with various local markets. You’ll also find him at local Farmer’s Markets on the weekends. Right now, he’s selling everything he makes minus a small winter stash that ensures his regulars can purchase in the off months.

He sells a variety of cheeses that are primarily fresh pasturized cheeses. Lake Effect, which is a fresh spreadable cheese and Cabra Fresco, which is similar to queso fresco, are his most popular.

“I think people like the Lake Effect because it is fresh, soft and versatile,” he says. “It has  great flavor but not so much the aged goaty flavor that people associate with goat cheese.”

He’s also slowly entering the aged, raw cheese world with a variety of cheeses including a red wine washed rind Winey Kid and Finit Su La Paille which is a classic French-style moldy rind aged soft cheese.

The herd, which is 35 goats strong, is a herd he’s built from the ground up. In terms of what makes a good goat, Stanitis says he has a different breeding program that some farmers. “My goats don’t have to set world records in production. They just need to provide a steady production during  the lactation season and be in good body condition.”

As the goats reproduce, he keeps back the kids from the mom’s who have served him well while placing other goats with families in the region that want a couple quarter of milk for their family.

Despite his success, Stanitis recognizes he needs to make some changes to enjoy long-term sustainability. He currently produces the cheese and milks his herd of 35 goats daily, entirely on his own. Long term, he hopes to grow his herd to 45 goats to have a little more cushion in his day-to-day business operations.

“I always knew this would be hard work but this is really not sustainable,” he says. At 47-years old, he knows he can’t keep up the 12-hour work day, 7-days per week forever.

In a perfect world, Stanitis dreams of a couple that is interested in starting a goat dairy farm in the area that he could buy direct from.  “I would be all behind that,” he says. “I’d help them get set-up. But unfortunately, it is not that easy to find people in that.”

So for now, Stanitis continues to milk goats, make cheese and distribute it. Despite the hard work, he says he wouldn’t trade it for anything. “I still can’t believe how great this has been. I’m fortunate because people want to support me and I produce a great product.”

To learn more about Sassy Nanny or find additional locations you can purchase Sassy Nanny cheese, please visit their website.

So much to be thankful for…

jacobThis year, it is easy for me to give thanks. I’ve enjoyed a year that is full of blessings, including the birth of Jacob of Moon Lake. It is amazing to me how someone so little can insert so much energy and wisdom into one’s life, along with an awesome sense of gratitude to those around me.

He taught me, prior to being born, that I should slow down and be present in the moment. There is nothing wrong with an afternoon nap. And, ice cream for dinner is totally acceptable… on occasion. Too often, and he dealt me a blow of heartburn so bad I was quickly reminded that everything in life is better in moderation.

Since his birth, he has taught me to expect the unexpected. Material things don’t matter—especially when attempting to wear clean clothes to work. Sometimes the best things in life are really, really difficult (aka 2 am feedings). A simple smile can literally light up an entire room. And, there is nothing more powerful than the grasp of a hand or the hint of a smile meant just for you. Once again, human connection conquers all.

It is an awesome responsibility to know that you are responsible for someone’s life. At times, overwhelming. But, it is in these moments where I realize I am far from alone. In addition to being blessed with an amazing son, I am blessed to be surrounded by a village of kind, caring, compassionate friends, family, colleagues and mere acquaintances (also known as Facebook moms) and of course my soul mate. It is these people who never hesitate to lend a helping hand, hug, or simple words of encouragement.

This past year, time and time again, people have found time in their busy schedules to help me. And this thanksgiving, I want to say Thank You. Thanks for being a part of this tumultuous, exhilarating, exciting, ever changing journey of motherhood. I have no idea where the next 20, 30, 40 years will take me… heck I don’t know where tomorrow will take me. But, I do know it’ll all be ok thanks to the amazing people I am blessed to have in my life.

So to everyone who has or will be part of my journey, Thank You! I wish you nothing but a lifetime of unexpected experiences that bring joy to your life!

Happy Thanksgiving!

What makes a great cup of coffee? A Bayfield roaster just might have the answer…

What makes a great cup of coffee? Is it the quality of the bean or the company you share it with? I’ve recently become a coffee snob after discovering the difference in quality a cup of coffee made with freshly ground beans can bring to one’s morning. Since caffeine plays such a critical part of my morning, I also started to play with roasting my own beans at home to see if I could create the perfect morning brew. While the end result is not as great as the pros, it certainly beats a burned cup of ground coffee from our local gas station.

I’m finding, though, that part of the joy of that morning (or afternoon) brew comes by sharing it with someone special. Perhaps that someone special is yourself, alone on your deck listening to the loons sing before your newborn wakes up and life takes a sudden turn into the unknown. Or, perhaps it is catching up with a long-time friend that you rarely spend time with. I am now convinced that whoever or however you enjoy that cup of coffee matters. And, I’m not alone. So often, the local coffee shop is the core of a community.

This past month, I had the opportunity to chat with Big Water Coffee owner Danielle Ewalt about her venture in Bayfield. She and her husband Jon took a leap of faith and invested their lives in Bayfield. So far, it is paying off. While we have yet to meet in person, I hope to meet them someday when my adventures take me to Bayfield. In the meantime, here is the piece I wrote about them, along with some fabulous photos by Hannah that ran in the October issue of Business North Magazine. Enjoy!

 Beating the Odds in Bayfield

Photo Courtesy: Stonehouse Photography
Photo Courtesy: Stonehouse Photography

Once named the Best Little Town in the Midwest by the Chicago Tribune, Bayfield swells with tourists from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Given the sparkling blue lake, quality shops, gourmet food and quaint Bed and Breakfasts, it is easy to see why this is town is a hot spot for tourists and businesses alike during peak tourism season. But, come off-peak times, the town paints a different picture. With a population of just over 500, many businesses recognize year-round sustainability is a pipe dream and turn off their lights.

Big Water Coffee on Main Street is one of several exceptions to the rule. But, achieving this goal didn’t come easy and remains a constant work in progress—something owners Jon and Danielle Ewalt thrive on.

As for how they became owners of the coffee shop on Main Street, Danielle claims it was “serendipitous.” The couple, who was in their mid 20’s, dreamed of opening up a café somewhere in Wisconsin. As they were exploring small towns to possibly build in, they found themselves in front of a for sale sign in Bayfield on a crisp October day. “We had never been to Bayfield before but we had heard it was a cool progressive place,” Danielle Ewalt says. “After seeing the shop we did some research and ultimately decided this was the place for us.”

By February, they were living their dream of operating a coffee shop in small town Wisconsin. “John and I love food and drink. That’s how people connect with each other,” explains Ewalt. “We love the coffee shop because it is a gathering spot for everyone. Anyone can come and enjoy a $2 cup of coffee and feel welcome.”

Despite their passion for community, keeping their doors open hasn’t been easy. “We had no experience in food service,” says Ewalt. “We’ve made a lot of changes since we first opened. It has been a steep learning curve.”

For example, the couple no longer offers made to order food, instead focusing on being really good at what they do—making quality coffee drinks. They’ve also learned to scale their business up and down, going anywhere from 6-8 full time staff during slow times to 15+ during the busy summer months.

Photo Courtesy: Stonehouse Photography
Photo Courtesy: Stonehouse Photography

Jon, who is a self-taught roaster, has spent years perfecting his craft. He’s shadowed roasters he respects and cupped endless cups of coffee to learn how to get the best flavor from the beans. The couple has also learned that when it comes to quality coffee, freshness counts. “Our freshness differentiates us from other coffees in the area.” This includes encouraging folks to recognize coffee is perishable and stamping their package with a roasted on date. “A lot of companies don’t do this because they don’t want coffee to be seen as a perishable product, but we recognize that’s what makes our product different.”

As they have worked through the kinks of being self-taught business owners, Ewalt says a welcoming community has made the entire experience worthwhile. “You really get what you give in this community,” she says. “Once people realized we weren’t leaving in a year, they found no reason not to invest in us. It really is a supportive community.”

It takes more than a supportive community to remain profitable year-round, though. As a result, the Ewalts have spent the past few years focusing on how they could grow their business during off-peak times. As the only local coffee roaster in the region, the couple saw an opportunity to expand their wholesale business.  To accomplish this, the couple invested in new packaging that includes a UPC code, which is easier for other business to handle. They also hired a full-time wholesale rep, with an ultimate goal of balancing out the extreme seasonality doing business in Bayfield brings to them.

Despite this growth mode, the couple remains committed to community. They find ways to give back to their community—whether it is donating free coffee to local non-profits or serving on the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce.  In fact, their coffee shop is just an extension of the community—a spot for folks to sip a perfectly brewed drink, break bread (their bakery items are fabulous) and come together.

Bayfield Chamber of Commerce Director David Eades says having this type of business open year-round is key to bringing a community together. “Having a year round coffee shop is vital to the life of a small town – or any town. Not only does it serve as place to energize with a cup of coffee and a scone before you head out on your daily adventure, be it sailing, kayaking, skiing, hiking, or just going shopping, it also serves as a gathering and meeting place for the locals to discuss the pressing issues of the day. The coffee shop serves as an anchor business for the visitor as well as the resident as they begin their day and is an integral part of life in a small town.”

 To learn more about Big Water Coffee, visit their website here.

Berry Picking, Bare Feet, and Three Strange Men in an Ambulance

Prior to an unsettling event last week that caught me completely off-guard, I had the opportunity to take advantage of yet another great past-time in my neck of the woods—berry picking.

IMG_1280The wild blueberries in Bayfield County are bountiful this summer. And, thanks to having a husband who spends most of his time driving the back roads of the county checking timber sales, he’s my perfect investigator for finding the best, secret berry hot spots around. This year was no exception.

Last year I purchased a blueberry rake from Williams Sonoma. I thought this might expedite the extraction process of the miniscule royal blue gems. FYI: It doesn’t work on wild blueberries.

I only lasted 45-minutes in the early morning sun before Baby Boy Probst informed me enough was enough. But, it was long enough to harvest enough berries to make a great batch of blueberry muffins and enjoy several breakfasts of berries and yogurt. As I packed up my car, I had every intention of returning to enjoy another harvest well before the season ended. Unfortunately, this won’t be the case.

A few days later I sat in the doctor’s office and was informed I should start taking it easy. Despite my best efforts to lie low, I was dealt another surprise last Thursday when my blood pressure shot up for reasons unbeknownst to me. Within an hour I was in my doctor’s office. She immediately had me admitted to MMC. While I was never in serious danger, there was certainly an immediacy I was not expecting. My hubby soon arrived at which time I was informed it might be go time… and that they were starting a magnesium drip in my arm and sending me via ambulance to Duluth.

Other than listening in on the Second Grade Tours I coordinate for the hospital, I’ve never spent time in or around an ambulance. I can honestly say it wasn’t on my top 10 list of things to do before I die. And, I certainly didn’t want my first transport to be one that would take 75-minutes, with three men I didn’t know, no shoes, and at a heightened hormonal state.

I silently cried much of the way to Duluth for no reason. The men, clearly experts at dealing with their own hormonal wives and/or overly emotional patients, did their best to calm my nerves. (Some medication may have helped as well). It was during this long, bumpy ride that I discovered two things—they really need to repave parts of Highway 2 and being vulnerable sucks.

There is something about riding barefoot in an ambulance with a measly hospital gown and no wallet or phone that makes you feel very vulnerable. It is even worse when your feet are swollen and less than glam. Watching too many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy had me envisioning us getting caught in a hurricane and me flying out of the back of the ambulance on a gurney, only to be lost in the woods in hopes some other stranger would find me. (Never mind it was sunny, dry and 70 degrees out).

Soon, the world’s longest uneventful ambulance ride was complete. I’ll spare you the details of the next 48-hours other than to say I never went into labor. Baby Boy Probst is doing fabulous. I’m stable. And, after two nights of monitoring and tests, I was allowed to return home with the understanding that this will be over in two weeks and berry picking or any strenuous activity (including work) is out of the question.

Every mother has a birthing story that is unique. Heartbreak, hope, sheer and utter joy, pain, anxiety, stress, frustration are regular emotions one rides on the rollercoaster journey of motherhood. My story is no exception. But, I’m also finding that my story is filled with angels that show-up at the most unexpected moments, asking for nothing in return other than to help me.

I’m not overly religious. But I find comfort in the chaplain who prayed for me when our adoption failed. The calming effect doctors and nurses have on being honest and direct with me at a time I want to think the worse. The nurse who came by and without even asking, offered me her Caribou coffee, knowing the hospital coffee was gasoline at best. The co-worker who didn’t think twice about checking my blood pressure daily to ensure I was doing ok and the others who have comforted me along this entire journey. Caring friends that listen to my endless ramblings without passing judgment and always knowing what to say or do. Supportive family. My breastfeeding, birthing coach and doula who answers my endless questions. My strong and compassionate husband who rubs my back, changes litter boxes (with minimal complaining) and vacuums while I nap. My puppy Joey who follows me around offering hugs and cuddles as needed, while my kitties offer me comedy relief and cues on how to rest for endless hours daily. And somewhere up there, I know the greatest angel of all—my mother is watching over me as well and reminding me that the Sisu Fin in me is strong enough for whatever comes my way in the next few weeks. Bottom line, Baby and I are both blessed.

So, my blog posts adventures in and around Lake Superior are quickly dwindling while I prepare for a different kind of adventure. But, I’ll be back soon with new stories and adventures to share about life on Lake Superior with a little one in tow. Stay tuned…

Adventures on the Lake Superior Scenic Byway

The past month has been a whirlwind of various freelance writing assignments—many of them highlighting why I live where I do. I’ve enjoyed learning about why South Shore Brewery in Ashland is expanding, the business model behind my favorite ice cream (Tetzner’s if you’re wondering) and talking to industry experts about the economic impact local parks and tourism have in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.

In case you’re wondering, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (mere minutes from our land in Herbster) brings in $20.9 million per year to our local economy. Copper Falls State Park, which happens to be a nearby favorite of mine, brings in $8.8. You can read more in the June issue of Business North.

I hope to post more about some of my most recent adventures, including a guest blog post I’m working on for Girls from the Northwoods. In the meantime, I’m excited to see signs going up along Highway 13 featuring the state’s newest Scenic Byway. Before you hit the snooze button, this is an important designation for my stomping grounds. People often question why I live where I do. The answer is simple—northwest Wisconsin rocks. Each year, hundreds of thousands of folks vacation in a place I call home. They come to see the big lake and escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But, they often don’t take a moment to venture off their itinerary to see all this area has to offer.

Sections of Highway 13 are a big part of that. It is just off Highway 13 that I wander some of the best (and emptiest) Lake Superior beaches around. It is here I buy my favorite ice cream, coffee and fish (when I’m not pregnant). It is where I hike and pick wild apples in the fall, blueberries in the summer (and no I won’t tell you my hidden spots) and photograph wild rivers and flowers in the spring. It is where I hike the Sea Caves in the dead of winter and watch ice formations crush up along the bay creating an intricate art display you have to see to believe.

The dedication of the new Lake Superior Scenic Byway was just last month. I did a quick update for last month’s Business North. That said, it doesn’t capture the heart of why it is the state’s latest and most likely last scenic designation. Today, I needed to make a quick trip to Bayfield which meant an opportunity to snap a few shots along the way. I hope to post more next time I’m out and about (and it isn’t raining). Enjoy!

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Ice Melt in Bayfield County

This past Saturday I was supposed to be lacing up my tennis shoes and running a half-marathon in Nisswa, Minnesota. But, Baby Boy Probst had different plans for me. (Yes, I may in fact slip a mention of baby from here on forward). In early March I retired my running shoes for walking shoes. At first I was disappointed about this—especially on the morning of race day. My hubby was traveling and I was scheduled to photograph a volunteer luncheon for work. I suppose in some respects, it was a pity party.

But, once out of bed I discovered spring had finally arrived in Bayfield County. The air was warm, ice was receding from Moon Lake and the sun was beaming down. Plans came together to have coffee with a new found acquaintance who loves coffee and photography even more than I at my favorite local coffee shop Big Water. And, as I packed up my gear for the event, I threw in my personal camera to check out at least one spring waterfall on my way home.

Since I was traveling solo and the recent chain of weather events meant the woods were still packed with deep snow, I went for an often overlooked but easy to access waterfall in Port Wing.

The snow was still knee deep and the parking lot wasn’t plowed. I parked on the road and made the short trek along the river. As I approached Twin Falls, the sound of rushing water grew exponentially louder. What is normally a graceful stream of sparkling waters was instead a gushing brown rapid river making its way to Lake Superior. I am certainly not disappointed. The rushing water and slippery conditions meant I didn’t hike down the trail that takes you to the river’s edge but instead snapped some shots from the river’s ridge. Soaking in the sun’s rays and admiring the canopy of trees overhead I realize life sometimes takes us on a different journey. Driving home from Port Wing, I couldn’t help but feel great about how the day’s events unfolded. Sure, I would have loved to have crossed the finish life of my 4th Half-Marathon. But, if the concession prize is enjoying a luncheon with amazing volunteers, sharing coffee and stories at Big Water Coffee in Bayfield and photographing yet another hidden gem in the place I call home, than losing isn’t so bad.

Enjoy these shots from Twin Falls in Port Wing, Wisconsin.

To get there: Twin Falls is located on Highway 13 just outside of Port Wing, Wisconsin. You’ll find the trailhead within the city park just 2 blocks from the intersection of Highway 13 and County A.

Winter Fun Around Bayfield County

President’s Day is just around the corner. The heart of winter (especially in the northwoods where it has been known to snow in May) can be tough. Pretty, but tough—tough for business, tough for folks living here, and tough on one’s spirit in general.

To remedy this, a number of towns in and around Bayfield County have found creative ways to breath life into the folks that live here and encourage others to see how great we have it. Sure, there is the Birkebeiner, the nation’s largest Nordic Ski race… but I frankly prefer Book Across the Bay. The President’s Day weekend point-to-point race on Lake Superior, at night, with only 1,000 luminaries lighting your way is pretty special, as are the people behind the race.

In today’s Pioneer Press, there’s an article about the race and its history. I hope to write a different piece in the future about the unsung heroes who make this race so amazing.

Folks who might not be that adventuresome but enjoy a great laugh might want to consider heading to Drummond, Wisconsin that same day. I have the chance to attend the Bar Stool Races a few years back. The community festival is surprisingly family friendly and quite entertaining. Plus, where else can you see grown men (and women) hurl themselves down a steep slope on bar stools supported by skis?

 

Drummond Bar Stool Races                   Drummond Bar Stool Races

Two great events within 30-minutes of my house on the same day. What more could I ask for? And folks say we don’t have anything going on up here.

Still not convinced? The craziness continues the first weekend of March with the world’s largest weenie roast near Cable, Wisconsin.

Fall Colors in Northern Wisconsin

The forecast says snow is on the way. I’m personally in denial, reveling in the kaleidoscope of color I had the opportunity to immerse myself in just a few days ago.

A lot of folks sometimes question why I live in the middle of nowhere. I could provide yet another diatribe about why live in the northwoods is amazing, but sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Here’s just a few from last weekend’s adventure.

Enjoy!

Gunflint Trail and Honeymoon Bluff

North Shore versus South Shore. During fall, I struggle with where to split my time. Generally, the quieter crowds and brighter colors of northwest Wisconsin win… But this year, I decided to give the North Shore a bit of my time. Rather than hike the overpopulated Oberg Loop or worse yet, Gooseberry Falls, we headed up the Gunflint Trail. Well worth the trip. Priceless views and plenty of open space to hike. Come sunset, we headed to Honeymoon Bluff. Two thumbs up and a photo to boot.

Gunflint Trail

An online trail guide I occasionally reference urged folks to go during fall. The truth is, this spot would be pretty spectacular year-round. I’ll definitely be returning, in part because of the awesome spot for dinner just a few miles down the road.

Too many trails to talk about tonight but expect some more posts about a few other gems in upcoming weeks.

Frog Bay Tribal National Park

I’ve decided that my random posts on my official website is getting a bit out of hand. So, from now on I’ll post stuff on this site.

I have a story in today’s travel section of the Pioneer Press about Frog Bay Tribal National Park near Bayfield, Wisconsin. It is worth reading if you’ll be in the Bayfield area for Applefest next weekend. I have a hunch it won’t be nearly as packed as the Apple Orchards. And, by now I’m sure fall colors are spectacular. In case you want to see a few more pics from Frog Bay Tribal National Park, here you go.

Happy Hiking!