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In Character: Profile of Pat Morford, cheesemaker

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Thursday, March 01, 2007
PatMorford.jpg PAT MORFORD, cheesemaker, Three Ring Farm, Logsden

Photo by Jon Meyers

Getting her goat

Pat Morford’s cheese business is built on passion — and patience.

By Christina Williams

Arial, the shaggy black and white Alpine goat with a faraway look in her eyes, is the beneficiary of one of Pat Morford’s more pronounced virtues.

It’s not diligence. Even though Morford has careful records of Arial’s lineage, health history and milk production and can talk at length about the distinctive qualities of said milk.

And, although she cherishes all of the 30-some goats she keeps at her farm in Logsden (just east of Newport) as part of her family and knows them each by name and personality, it’s more than love that has touched Arial’s young life in a significant way.

Pat Morford is patiently waiting for Arial to get knocked up. And patience is something that the motherly 56-year-old has in spades.

For decades, Morford watched and waited, quietly nurturing her dream of one day making a business out of making goat cheese.

She collected bits and pieces of second-hand cheese-making equipment and stashed them in the barn. She experimented with recipes, stowing away pats of primitive cheese to age in sweater boxes. She talked her way on to the Oregon State Dairy Board to raise the profile of her nascent goat dairy and get a better read on milk quality. She used her home loan to renovate the house so that a 36-square-foot area for milking goats and making cheese would go in below the kitchen. And she fell asleep at night reading volumes about cheese — books with lyrical stories of its cultural importance and gorgeous pictures of farms, caves and platters of creamy goodness.

Now she looks wistfully at the red bookshelf crammed with her cheese library. It sits next to a table piled high with paperwork, a pink calculator perched precariously at the apex. When she deemed the time was right to strike with her farmstead cheese business — her timing was spot on; within months three new shops specializing in artisan cheeses opened in Portland, symptoms of a new and growing market — she utterly focused on the effort and hasn’t exactly caught up to all the recordkeeping demands of a small business.

“I’ve been so busy,” Morford says ruefully, by way of explaining the clutter. “Everything goes by the wayside.”

“OK. Let’s be honest,” interrupts her daughter, the 23-year-old Astraea Morford, “things have never been neat around here.” 

It’s a drizzly afternoon at Three Ring Farm, a modest operation along the diminutive north fork of the Siletz River. Having been outed by her progeny, Morford protests with a weak smile: “Well, I do like order.”

Three Ring was a quiet goat-breeding operation with an international following until just over a year ago when the first fresh goat milk cheeses were released under the Rivers Edge Chevre name. Morford’s cheeses ripen with aplomb, losing their density over the course of six or eight weeks, giving way to a tangy cream cupped in a smooth white rind.

It’s been the most pleasant surprise of her foray into the business: that cheese consumers have taken to the ripe version of the cheese. If they didn’t, Rivers Edge would be disadvantaged with a short shelf life — goat’s milk ripens much quicker than its cow and sheep brethren.

David Schiffelbein, who opened his Curds and Whey cheese shop in Sellwood the same month Morford got her license to start selling goat cheese, says that when he puts Rivers Edge out to sample, he can count on the fact that 90% of people who taste will take some home with them.

“She has the best chevre in Oregon,” Schiffelbein says. “And she’s got a lot more business savvy than most people I deal with.”

Curds and Whey has hosted Morford on two occasions in the store. She’s a natural with customers, he says, fielding questions from hard-core cheese heads who want to talk about bacterial cultures and curious consumers who want to know if they can eat the tomme’s rind (yes) with equal grace.

In addition to being in the boutique cheese shops in Portland, Rivers Edge Chevre can be found at New Seasons, northwest Whole Foods and Murray’s cheese shop in New York City — a place Morford’s husband, George, dismissively calls “that outfit in New York.”

George Morford met his bride when she was cooking at the Whale’s Tail in Newport in the late ’70s (she later ran the kitchen at Newport’s famous Sylvia Beach Hotel Tables of Content restaurant).

“She impressed me because she butchered her own pigs,” George says with a twinkle in his eye.

A fisherman by trade, George now happily relegates himself to the role of farm hand. It’s a job that comes with predator patrol duty — last year his wife had him shoot a baby bobcat that took up residence in the barn.

A bobcat, after all, has the potential to get between Morford and her goal of increasing her herd to 50 milking does (plus a dozen milking ewes for blended cheeses), which will in turn increase her capacity by about 25% — the maximum, she figures, for the current location.

If all goes to plan, Rivers Edge will turn out about 12,500 pounds of cheese in 2007 which will retail anywhere between $15 and $36 per pound, depending on its form.

Don’t expect, however, to ever see an organic label on Rivers Edge Chevre. “It’s more important to be sustainable,” Morford says. “It’s a crime that they have huge factory farms that are organic. It’s very wrong-headed.”

To be considered organic, Morford wouldn’t be able to give a goat penicillin when it got sick. Unfathomable for a woman who says she considers the goats — Arial, Phoebe, Kiwi, Biscotti and all their sisters — a part of the family.

Which is why she’s being so patient with Ms. Arial, who went all of last season without getting pregnant.

But this will be Arial’s season, Morford is sure. “If not,” she laughs, “she might turn into burger.”

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