Erin Bligh sits at a picnic table at the edge of a rambling field full of grazing goats in Newbury, with her fluffy white Great Pyrenees dog, Adonis, snoozing contentedly at her feet in the table’s shade. The scene is peaceful and bucolic, like something out of a storybook: A bright yellow sun shines in the blue September sky, warming a wide-open expanse of green grass, while the happy farmer contentedly watches over her flock.
Bligh is the 27-year-old owner of Dancing Goats Dairy, which only began selling its artisanal goat cheeses in May but has already started to make a name for itself on the local food scene. It’s easy to see why. The cheeses are simply delicious, from the fresh-whipped chèvre that’s sold plain or in flavors like fig and “everything bagel” to hard, aged cheeses like the complex and earthy cocoa-rubbed tomme. She also makes seasonal products, like goat milk soaps and caramel sauce.
To hear Bligh talk about cheese and cheese making or to watch her lovingly pet her goats is to witness pure joy. But goat farming wasn’t always in the cards.
“I went to school for French literature, so I was basically begging to be unemployed,” laughs the Newbury native. She graduated from Union College in New York in 2010 and moved home to a series of mediocre jobs.
“I was sitting at a desk or working at a restaurant, but none of it really clicked,” she says. So at the suggestion of a friend, she made an unusual next step, accepting a kidding internship—helping to birth baby goats—at an award-winning Vermont dairy, Consider Bardwell Farm. Her accountant parents dropped her off in the middle of a snowstorm and expected to receive a phone call from their daughter desperately begging them to come rescue her. Instead, they got a very different phone call.
“I’m never coming home,” Bligh remembers saying. “I think I want to farm for the rest of my life.”
It was there that she fell in love with goats and cheese making.
“I’ve been infatuated with goats for a while,” Bligh says. “They were funny! I couldn’t be in a group of the baby goats without just laughing. They’re like perpetual children.”
The self-described “big homebody” eventually came back to the North Shore, and now rents property on Tendercrop Farm in Newbury, adding that its owner, Matt Kozazcki, “gave me a chance for sure.” She finished construction on a cheese kitchen there in March.
Now she jokes that she’s “making cheese to support my goat habit.” But her cheese is no joke at all.
“We’ve been getting all sorts of calls,” she says, from people who want to sell her cheese. She learned the ins and outs of cheese making at Consider Bardwell Farm, and is now playing with recipes and making cheeses that are unique to her farm.
Case in point: Dancing Goats Dairy’s cider parma. Bligh washes the rind of this nutty, salty Parmesan-style cheese with hard cider from Far From the Tree in Salem. The aged cheese has notes of orange peel and coriander, and is wonderful shaved over pasta or salad. Bligh says she was thrilled when she first tasted her creation, exclaiming, “Oh my god, I just created my first baby!”
In addition to selling cheeses at the Newburyport and Gloucester farmers’ markets and at her farm’s small store in Newbury, the dairy is working on increasing distribution into Boston area restaurants, the Massachusetts Cheese Guild’s booth at the Boston Public Market and local farm stores and shops.
But all that will have to wait until spring: She’s quickly running out of milk just a few months into her first year.
“We hit a wall for production, which is exciting, but also very terrifying,” she says.
These days, Bligh rises with the sun to tend to her 40 goats—breeding them, birthing them, feeding the babies at 3 a.m., milking them, cleaning stalls, trimming hooves, and, of course, actually making and processing cheese. But the joy of the work makes the hours fly by.
“I enjoy every minute of it,” she says. “I get to work on my tan, even if it is a farmer’s tan.”