Every year, we hold our own version of the Oscars: the Local Hero Awards, wherein readers vote for their favorite local chefs/restaurants, farm/farmers, non-profits, culinary artisans, beverage producers and food or wine retailers, and the winners are awarded with a feature in our March/April print issue. Every weekday till the polling booths close on January 19* we’ll be looking back at last year’s winners. Today we’re highlighting the 2014 Local Hero for Culinary Artisan: Lively Run Goat Dairy! The below story originally appeared as part of our Local Heroes feature in the March/April 2014 issue.
*There’s still time to make sure your voice is heard! Vote here for your 2015 local hero chefs, farmers, non-profits and artisans.
Lively Run Goat Dairy
By Rochelle Bilow • Photo by Michael Welch
Mention the name “Lively Run” in the Finger Lakes, and you’ll no doubt be met with eager nods, the smacking of lips and the proffering of a fresh baguette, ready for a slathering of fresh, creamy local goat cheese.
Truly a family affair, Lively Run is owned and operated by the Messmer family, with husband and wife team Steve and Susanne at the helm of the ship. Although the dairy is deep in the heart of the Finger Lakes wine region, there is a distinctly European air to the cheese, inspired by the family’s time spent in Germany and France due to Steve’s military service. It’s that perfectly tuned combination of Old World influence and New World gumption that has people talking—and eating: The cheeses walk a fine line between funky and complex, elegant and sophisticatedly simple.
In a region (happily) saturated with artisan cheese, what else makes Lively Run special? Great cheese comes from quality milk—and quality milk comes from happy, well fed goats. Lively Run’s French and Swiss herd are fed a diet of forage, grains and local hay (the Messmers make about 40 percent of their own hay each year, purchasing the rest from other nearby farmers).
Plus, the Messmers take the time to do things right, even if that means more work. They make cheese multiple times a week, to ensure the product is a perfect expression of the milk at its finest and freshest. No artificial additives or preservatives are added, ever, and a painstakingly careful method of turning each cheese by hand while aging makes it not only delicious, but a product you can feel truly good about eating, too.
All that luscious milk is made into Lively Run cheese. Although the dairy’s most popular seller is still their fresh chèvre—in addition to the traditional variety, they also offer logs spiked with dill, pink peppercorns, lemon thyme and garlic—the Messmers are also creating a salty feta-style cheese, an aged Roquefort-inspired blue, and a truly unique chèvre-aged blue hybrid that blurs the lines of funky-earthy-sweet. “We have products all over New York State,” Susanne says, as Steve adds that “The bridge between the land and the marketplace is community.”
If this all sounds like a dream come true, consider this: The Messmers are hoping to open their intimate operation to their community in a big, big way. “When production grows, it’s a challenge to keep things balanced,” Susanne says. Steve explains further: “We need a realignment of our values in society: We have to think of food as precious, respect our land and teach values of love, peace and stewardship.” As the company and farm grows, Steve and Susanne are planning on restructuring the company in a way that puts the “commune” in community. “We have to break away from this machine-like culture with real grassroots efforts,” Steve says. They’re eager to accept other farmers and producers willing to share in the work and lifestyle of a local, sustainable operation.
8890 County Road 142, Interlaken, 607.532.4647, livelyrun.com
Rochelle Bilow is a writer with a focus on eating and cooking seasonally. Her first book, How to Tame a Wildflower: A Farm Love Story, will be published in Fall 2014. To find out more, visit rochellebilow.com.