SIDNEY — Halley Trani and Rebecca Heggarty like goats.

They like goats so much that they made the 70-mile drive in cloudy and then rainy conditions to the Kennebec Cheesery in Sidney to observe, pet and talk to the four-legged animals and sample different goat cheeses to celebrate Maine Open Creamery Day.

“They’re sweet animals, and we really like the cheese,” Trani said. “I think people know about goat cheese, but they don’t know about the goat farms we have in Maine.”

The Cheesery is part of Koons Farm, a vast expanse of more than 150 acres with close to 100 Alpine and Saanen goats milked to make all kinds of artisan cheeses.

Jean and Peter Koons run the farm, and they spent the rainy morning running around the grounds getting things ready for what Jean Koons hoped would be an exciting day.

“It’s great to teach people about what’s involved in farming because it’s amazing how many people have never even been on a farm,” Jean Koons said.

This farm has about 40 goats currently producing milk, and Heggarty and her friend enjoyed watching them scurry in a pasture overlooking Messalonskee Lake. Both women spoke about how cute they were, and Heggarty joked that she’d love to be able to take one home.

Under several tents, people throughout the day were sampling different cheese pairings, wines and homemade soaps created using the whey from goat’s milk. Sarah Wheatley has been making soap for about three years and just recently began selling it. She had several types, including birthday cake, available for sale at the farm, and she’s planning to sell them soon at a market in Portland.

“I’m starting to sell more than I can make, so it’s all about finding the right balance for the business,” she said.

Jean Koons said the artisan goat cheese business produced about $90,000 worth of product last year, and while you can get milk from just about any kind of mammal, she likes working with goats.

“I grew up on a farm, and it’s great to work with them,” she said. “We work with their rhythms and when they’re ready.”

One of the interesting things about farming, Koons said, is that not much has changed over the years. Sure, there have been advances in technology, so the equipment, such as milk vats and tractors, are more efficient and advanced, but the act of milking a goat and the skill involved has been this way forever.

“Nothing has really changed in the way we make the cheese,” she said.

After they were able to pull themselves away from the goats, Trani and Heggarty got a tour of the Cheesery and were impressed at the Koonses’ operation. The pair saw the refrigerated room where the cheese gets aged, and Jean Koons showed them the vats and recipe books and all that is needed to produce their high-quality artisan cheeses.

“It’s great to get out here, get the word out and support these wonderful, hardworking folks,” Heggarty said. “I think it’s important people know where their food comes from.”

Heggarty said that while not everybody can afford to eat a strictly organic, farm-to-table, locally grown diet, seeing how some food is made puts things in perspective.

“It’s a good way to help people realize that food doesn’t just show up on a shelf,” she said. “This takes us out of our comfort zone because we don’t see a lot of goats and farms in South Portland.”

Mark and Tara Wilson brought their daughter, Abby, down from Bangor to see the goats after hearing about the farm from friends who live in Augusta. They were coming to central Maine to visit Tara Wilson’s mother and decided to stop at Koons Farm on their way.

“She’s in third grade and thinks goats are cute, and my wife and I enjoy trying new types of cheese, so this was perfect,” Mark Wilson said. “We were prepared for the rain, and no amount of rain was going to keep Abby from petting some goats.”

Jason Pafundi can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

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