EAST FAIRFIELD — Divinely handcrafted and freshly-made goats milk cheeses, delectable rustic sausages and full-flavored, silken goats milk kefir are just a few of the offerings at Doe’s Leap Farm, where a dirt road off the highway leads you straight into the Shire, or as the owners of the farm have named it, “Doe’s Leap.”
“(We went through) Trial and error and a lot of hard work,” co-owner George van Vlaandersen said of he and his wife Kristan Doolan’s mission to settle their farm in Bakersfield.
The long and winding path up their small hill from the road is bordered by movable paddock fencing that zig-zags up the embankment, leading visitors through a slightly bumpy road onto the family paradise, which includes a colorful portrait of the extended family: a herd of goats lounging in emerald pasture, horses in the distance with their manes whipping in the breeze and flocks of ducks landing gracefully on the small pond to the left, complete with a small dock and the two occasional border collies, Mac and Hank.
Doe’s Leap Farm encompasses almost every reason out-of-staters give for buying land in Vermont, for the “quality of life,” so often experienced by the couple, who bought the land in Bakersfield in the 90s.
After meeting in undergraduate school, van Vlaanderen and Doolan decided to chase their dream of living off the land in a yurt and producing their own high-quality products, including the legendary sausage sandwiches that Doe’s Leap previously served at the Burlington Farmers’ Market. The sandwiches were inspired by van Vlaandersen’s childhood sausages on the streets of New York City.
Van Vlaandersen was raised with his parents in Manhattan but frequently spent his childhood summers and winter weekends in Dorset at his parents’ summer home. He met his wife, a Fletcher native, while studying at the University of Vermont.
“I was planning to do the Peace Corps, but they don’t let you do the Peace Corps with your girlfriend,” van Vlaanderen said. “So we took off to South America with no plan other than that we wanted to work on farms or do Peace-Corps-type stuff.”
After a year in Ecuador and a winter home, the pair applied to graduate school at University of Maine Orono, with a possible career path in mind of doing research and possibly pursuing a position teaching about agriculture.
But teaching wasn’t enough.
“We just rather do (farming) rather than research and study it,” van Vlaandersen said. “So we bought this piece of property ... we wanted to be in Vermont, and we identified Burlington as an important market for us.”
They began their goat creamery with just a yurt and a creamery facility that they built by hand, and their three Nubian dairy goats: Fafa, Adrian and Emma, producing high-quality goats meat and goat milk cheeses that they sell at their store on-farm.
“We give our goats a fresh parcel of grass every 12 hours after they milk,” van Vlaandersen said.
Today, van Vlaandersen and Doolan have several dozen head of Alpine goats that they use for all of their dairy needs, and work their land with teams of Percheron and Belgian cross draft horses the old fashioned way.
Today, their mainstay products remain their goat chevre, their goat feta, a Tomme cheese, a camembert-style Caprella cheese and their Trappist cheese, which was sold out as of this writing.
My favorite is their chevre cheese — fresh and sharp with a velvety creamy texture that is perfect with steak, in a flatbread with kebabs, with Howrigan Honey on a slice of toasted Trent’s Bread, or with some of Blake Hill Farm’s Fresno and Thai Chili Jam.
“The pigs are a great receptacle for the whey from making the cheese,” van Vlaandersen said. “I had an appendectomy one winter, so I was laid up and going crazy. So I had this crazy idea wanting to come up with recipes and make sausage ... it was my quest to figure this out.”
The sausages bring together all of what makes sausages great along with the added succulence of Vermont’s whey-fed pork, grass-grazed goat, and a luxurious life well-lived in the Green Mountains, combined with a days-long process of constantly cooling the ingredients to preserve the pork’s unique texture.
“Texture is everything, for me,” van Vlaandersen said. “It’s got to be juicy, but it first starts with the quality of the pork, and then comes the flavorings and seasonings.”
The sausage snaps well in its casing, and the interior remains a very moist, adequately salted texture that sort of gently falls apart in the mouth, yielding a menagerie of flavors. My personal favorite was their ramp and feta pork sausage, which had all the bright, grassy flavors of the wild garlicky ramp perfectly accentuated by the creamy sharpness of the occasional feta bite. The ramp and feta sausage goes very well with some truffle oil, melted cheese and Sir Kensington’s mustard on a warm bun.
The merguez sausage was my second and very close favorite: rich and deeply spicy seasonings flushed with red wine and the earth flavor of well-grazed goat make the sausage a perfect accompaniment to a savory red onion jam or some sweet and sour pickled onions.
The merguez also goes wonderfully in a pita with salted yogurt and lemon with cucumbers for a refreshing and light summer picnic to pair with a Montsant, Pinot or a fruity Zinfandel.
“It’s like a five-day process ... we refrigerate a minimum of 24 hours between every step (making the sausage),” van Vlaandersen said.
From a yurt in Maine to an unsettled and forested meadow in northern Vermont, van Vlaandersen and Doolan spent the past 27 years building their businesses and this year, with COVID, transitioned from their typical place at the farmers’ market to a renovated and the intern-cabin turned shiny-new farm store where culinarians and seekers of exquisite meats and cheeses can visit, buy with the provided iPad, and take a piece of Vermont home with them to grill.
“We’re not going back to the market,” van Vlaandersen said. “Having now not done it...I would get up at 4:30 on a Saturday morning because we did all of our wholesale cheese deliveries before the market, not getting back until 4:30 p.m. that day...it’s a different kind of vibe than physically working. You’re on all the time, slinging sausages, and by Sunday I was just spent ... the market was awesome for us, but we just want things to be easier.”