By contributor Jennifer Cox
Tucked away on a rural property just off the highway in Fanny Bay, Karen Fouracre and Jaki Ayton raise a rambunctious and joyful group of Toggenburg goats. As small-scale farmers, they take pride in the fact that they know their goats by name. Best friends since high school, they have been raising goats since they purchased this property together 18 years ago. The resourceful pair determined that co-ownership would help them realize their dreams faster, so they pooled their finances, bought a small farm on Holiday Rd, and haven’t looked back.
“It was Jaki who was huge into goats,” Fouracre says, “so we started breeding and showing, starting off with 16th and 17th place, and now we have grand champions.”
Feeding and caring for their goats is a labour of love, so when an opportunity arose to provide goat’s milk to Saltspring Island Cheese Company, they jumped at the chance to have their animals earn their keep. They formed Snap Dragon Dairy to meet a growing demand for goat’s milk, but when they found themselves with milk leftover they knew they had to develop a secondary business plan.
“Everyone was making cheese and some are making it really well,” says Fouracre. They didn’t want to compete with existing businesses on the Island.
In 2012, they launched Legato Gelato, crafting small-scale artisan gelato, hands-on through every step in the process. Demonstrating her morning milking routine, Fouracre jokes that dairy processing plants are only slightly more regulated than nuclear reactors.
“Everything is recorded,” she says. Intimate knowledge of the goats in her care helps ensure that Legato Gelato is made with 100 percent wholesome, natural ingredients. She knows what her goats have eaten for breakfast, and believes that their diet has a direct affect on the high quality gelato produced.
“I’ve raised them all from babies. I know their personalities, how much milk I can expect out of them. I know them intimately,” she says.
They milk the goats twice a day until they have 30 litres of milk. Then they transport it to the Canadian Cultured Dairy Plant in Royston (the home of Tree Island Yogurt), where the milk is pasteurized.
The pasteurized goat’s milk is mixed with Legato Gelato’s secret recipe that includes organic eggs, organic sugar, and organic cornstarch. The batch is cooked for several hours, forming a rich, flavourful custard that’s ready to mix with a coulis of fresh fruit. All the berries, of course, are sourced from local farms.
Legato Gelato is processed in a commercial kitchen at Lush Valley, a community kitchen that’s shared with other local food producers as part of a shared vision, promoting the production of local food. The kitchen is an ideal space for small-scale food production, and Fouracre appreciates having access to it. As business grows, she hopes that more people will become open to trying goat’s milk.
“Some people have a built-in negative attitude towards goat’s milk. My mother has never had goat’s milk in her life, but she knows it tastes bad. She won’t even try it,” says Fouracre as she puts together samples to share. Once people have tried gelato they are able to see the flavour difference firsthand, and better understand its value.
“Gelato is much denser than ice cream, and because we are only using real food, our flavour is more intense,” she says.
“Most ice creams, if you read the ingredients, are not even made with real dairy anymore. They are made with emulsifiers and preservatives. Our gelato has none of that. We’re using real food from start to finish. And because we’re raising the goats we know exactly what they’re eating.”
Knowing where their food comes from is important to Fouracre and Ayton. They joke that when the hundred-mile diet was popular, they were following the one-mile diet, purchasing their food from neighbouring farms and vendors at the farmer’s market. They share the same philosophy on eating local: “It’s important for our community and important for our health.”