Heart of Louisiana: Goat cheese

St. Martinville -- "My people are Broussards, so the Broussards are the Acadians that came down," says Wanda Barras. "They were dairy people and they were interested in the land and raising animals and farming."

From her small family farm on the outskirts of St. Martinville, Barras is creating what she hopes is a new Cajun delicacy.

"These are dairy animals," says Barras. "They're very clean. The milk is wonderful."

Every morning and afternoon, twice a day, the goats are herded into the milking room on the Belle Ecorce farm. The goats jump into position, are locked into place, and get to eat while Daniel Durand does the milking.

"This is good milk," says Barras. "It's sweet, it's palatable. It's just really good and healthy, very healthy."

Each day, the goats produce two cans of milk in the morning, and another two cans in the evening. The milk is filtered and stored in ice water. Then the transformation begins into products with names like Tres Belle Chevre and Tuscan Pelote. The process starts in the pasturizer.

"And this is curds," Barras shows us. "It's turned. It's ready to hang. And this is the fresh Chevre. It's gonna' be cream cheese. And you get a clean break. This is when cheese makers talk about a clean break. It's perfect. See how it splits. It's just gorgeous."

As the goats' milk turns into cheese, it's hung in sacks, placed in molds and some is formed into balls of flavored cream cheese.

"I do it the way I cook," says Barras. "I do by feel, smell, touch, just the whole nine yards, and that's how I decide if it's time to go in here. Should I leave it longer, should I turn it some more."

The cheese made in St. Martinville has its own unique flavor. The goats graze in the grass of the Cajun prairie. And the cheese is flavored with locally grown flowers and herbs.

On any given day, you'll find Wanda Barras surrounded by her goats and a half dozen or more grandchildren who help with the animals, but mostly like to play on the farm. It seems this family-style approach to making goat cheese has its rewards.

Most of the cheeses from the Belle Ecorce farm are sold at farmers markets from Lafayette to Baton Rouge.

Last year, the Cajun cheeses were awarded as best in their class at national cheese competitions in Wisconsin, New York and Texas.
For more information, go online to www.belleecorcefarms.com.