GALES CREEK VALLEY, Ore. — Growing up in post-World War II Germany, Elisabeth Bueschen-Monahan of Fraga Farmstead Creamery remembers cornering older family members to ask about their involvement in the upheaval and what they could have done differently.
As global climate change continues to progress, Bueschen-Monahan said she firmly believes that her grandchildren will ask her similar questions, and she doesn’t want to say that she just drove a Prius.
“We have a responsibility that no one is taking seriously,” she said. Besides, she adds, the possibilities of pasture-based farming are some “of the most exciting possibilities.”
A small creamery with a herd of 64 goats, Fraga is dedicated to ethical animal and environmental welfare. Bueschen-Monahan also wants to help educate consumers by bringing them out to the barn and showing that there are more options besides buying conventional products and going vegan.
“People don’t know how animals are being treated and when they do know, they go vegan and that hurts small, ethical producers like us,” she said. “It’s complicated.”
A half hour west of Portland on 33.5 acres that have been farmed since the 1920s, Fraga was the first goat dairy to be certified organic through Oregon Tilth. As one of a handful of goat dairies in the state, when goat cheese rose in popularity the competition became the biggest challenge for small, artisan producers, and still is.
“There’s more competition from two sides: artisan and big producers,” she said.
Diversification is one tool that Fraga’s owners has used to set themselves apart. They make seven varieties of cheese: Rio Santiam, a natural rind raw milk cheese aged for several months that is reminiscent of an aged cheddar; raw milk feta; “goatzarella;” Foster Lake camembert; farmhouse cheese; farmhouse chipotle; and chevre three ways.
The creamery also sells goat milk caramels, which are available for purchase on their website, and their cheese is used in Amy’s Kitchen’s Bay Area restaurant. Amy’s is also an organic food producer that has products in grocery stores across the country.
“Cheese making is a lot less glamorous than people think,” Bueschen-Monahan said. “It’s mostly people doing the cleanup work. Milk can grow bacteria well, but you have to have everything squeaky clean so none of the wrong bacteria grows. Beyond that, it’s total alchemy.”
The original Fraga Farm was started in 1918 by Agnes Gloria Fraga in California. The state broke up the property in 1980 to build Highway 580 and the family moved to Oregon.
In 2012, Bueschen-Monahan with her husband and cheese maker, Steve Monahan, took over the herd when the Fraga family sold the creamery.
At the time, Bueschen-Monahan had a herd of nine goats and was selling raw milk — which is legal in Oregon if there are nine or fewer goats.
However, they wanted to grow their business, and when they saw the Fraga farm was for sale they bought the whole operation.
“We wanted a real production and we wanted one that cared for the animals’ needs,” Bueschen-Monahan said. “All the goats had names, and they were small enough to pay attention to the animals and cater to their needs.”
Bueschen-Monahan continues that practice by letting the female kids be raised by their mothers.
She bottle feeds the males because she said if all the babies drank the goat milk, by the time they were all weaned they “will have sucked down $600 worth of cheese,” but it’s important to her that the goat mothers can raise some of their kids.