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Goats On The Hill

Only a few of the 90 baby goats currently living at the Millery's farm have a name. One is called Loretta, but naming each and every one would be a nearly impossible feat; they are just too difficult to tell apart.

And after all, we are on a farm in the mountains and it's quite obvious that there's more than enough work that needs attending to. The fuzzy little goats, who live in the same barn as their parents, happily frolic and bleat in their pen. Every winter morning, when the air is so cold you can feel each breath in your lungs and you speak in white billowy clouds, Valeria, daughter of farm owners Fiorella and Alessio, puts on her wellies and makes her way to the barn. Usually her grandmother is already there; together, they clean out the pens, milk the goats and feed everyone. Just like their owners, the goats have three meals a day – a lovely daily routine. A part of the milk goes to the baby goats, the rest is turned into the specialties available in the farm shop next door.

The shop is made from light wood: there is a counter, some shelves and large, filled-to-the-brim refrigerators. All dairy products sold here are made of goat milk: cheese, yoghurt, pudding and ice cream in delicious flavours such as chocolate, caramel, panna cotta, hazelnut and pistachio. Several of these products have won awards. The Millerys offer different kinds of cheese, from snow-white cream cheeses to more ripened, aromatic goat cheese coated in a thick, velvety rind. "The cheese takes about one month to ripen," Valeria explains. „We keep it in the cellar, where it is washed and turned over at regular intervals." Cheese aficionados can taste in which season a cheese was made – during summer, the goats are taken to graze in the Val Veny valley. "The cheese tastes like whatever they've been eating," Valeria says as she grabs a tuft of hay. "It smells so good." If you spread the hay in your hands you can see dried flowers from the Aosta Valley in red, blue and yellow. "Because of the flowers and the herbs that only grow here, the cheese tastes completely different than in France or Spain."

Others have pet dogs, we have more than one hundred goats

Valeria likes working on her parent's farm. She lovingly takes care of the animals she grew up with. "Others have pet dogs, we've got more than one hundred goats," she says as she pats one goat's head. "This is our oldest one. She's thirteen and whenever my father comes, she gets excited and come to greet him." The farm has existed in this constellation since 2010. Before that, the Millerys sold meat and milk products. When the Società Agricola Mont Blanc was founded, they switched to all-natural, artisanal goat dairy. The lab where the milk is transformed is right next to the barn. Valeria must not go in there with her wellies – cheese production requires strict hygienic measures and appropriate lab gear that makes her parents look like astronauts.

Three goats are currently pregnant, Valeria tells us, which is why they are standing a bit apart from the rest of the herd. When they have their babies, they need space, so they are already taking it now. She goes on to explain that there are no vets specialized in goats in Courmayeur. "So, I'm the midwife. I learnt how to do it from my grandfather." Monitors next to her bed show her what is going on in the barn. If one of the goats goes into labour at night, Valeria will wake up. Every morning she cuddles the little ones. "If you pet and take care of goats right from the start, they are more relaxed and content. And you can taste that in their milk. Stress and fear produce hormones can negatively impact its quality." The Millerys also seem quite relaxed. Perhaps it is because living close to animals reduces stress levels. Perhaps it is the mountain panorama right outside their front door: the peaks so calming and majestic not just for them, but for the animals as well. Perhaps it is a combination of all these factors. Perhaps it is exactly this mix that makes the cheese and all the other specialties from here taste so delicious.

Text: Martha Miklin
Photos: Sophie Kirchner

May 6, 2020

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