Pescadero’s award-winning cheeses have a secret ingredient

We chat with Dee Harley of Harley Farms, the popular goat dairy in Pescadero, and talk about the award-winning cheeses and other products.

Pescadero’s award-winning cheeses have a secret ingredient

The goats quickly spot Dee Harley as she opens the fence gate and walks into the large, grassy area. They rush over to her for pats on the head, rubbing up against the U.K. native as she leads a tour of her Harley Farms in the seaside community of Pescadero.

Zigzagging through dozens of goats — who obviously adore their owner and, frankly, anyone else willing to provide a few scratches behind their ears — Harley talks about how she got into the goat dairy business, which besides being a fun place to visit, produces award-winning cheeses and other products.

Q You grew up in England, so what brought you all the way to San Mateo County?

A I was 18 when I left England, and I was traveling around. I ended up getting a job on a boat, which brought me down to Portland. I got off the boat there and then traveled down with some friends and ended up at this Pigeon Point youth hostel lighthouse — which is where I ended up meeting this man called Three Fingered Bill. He was playing the accordion.

I ended up getting a job with him. He was a folk artist, and he did a lot of woodworking. He brought me to Pescadero, and I loved it. My now-husband and I moved into this old derelict farm. I got a job on (another) farm in Pescadero — Jacobs Farm — where I sold dried tomatoes to a woman who had goats near Santa Cruz.

Q So, you didn’t originally settle in the area expecting to get into the goat dairy business?

A I had no idea this was going to happen to me. I did think I would be a farmer of some kind. Nevertheless, this is the opportunity that came my way. Because we lived on the property, which was an old derelict cow dairy farm built in 1910, it was like, “Oh, this would be so fun. Get some goats and then we could get these buildings up and running for what they were originally built for.”

Q Tell me about the different cheeses made on the farm.

A We’ve been making cheese for about 20 years. We make four styles. We make feta, which is aged for a year in salt brine. We make full-milk goat ricotta, fromage blanc and chevre, all of which have national awards and have won a few gold medals at the World Cheese Awards, beating the French — which is all that matters, really, isn’t it? (Laughs)

Q I notice you keep big dogs in with the goats. Why is that?

A The dogs protect the goats from mountain lions, which are an issue in the village now. A few years ago, I knew that this was going to happen, that it was only a matter of time until (a mountain lion) got into the herd and once they are there, they are just going to keep coming back. So, I bought a whole litter of Anatolian shepherds — seven of them, 7 weeks old — and raised them. They are originally from Turkey, and they are the only ones that can outrun and kill a mountain lion.

Q What are some of the other animals that people will see if they tour the farm?

A We have Rosie, our donkey, who is 28 years old. There is a family who comes literally every week to see Rosie. She has a fabulous life. She is a rescue donkey, and we’ve had her a long time. We have Jimmy, the alpaca. Actually, we had a mountain lion come and kill nine goats — in a different pasture, before I got more dogs — and (Jimmy) actually saved four goats by getting in the corner and standing in front of them.

Q What are some misconceptions about goats?

A Well, they don’t eat absolutely everything. They are browsers. They love poison oak. They love your roses. So, they can’t get in your gardens. What’s not a misconception is that they love to climb on things. So if you’ve got goats, they are going to climb on your car. They love to do things like that.

This one old farmer — who passed away many years ago — always said, if you are around goats, you never get sick. And there’s an element to that I really believe, because they are just so calming and so smart and loving.


VISITING HARLEY FARMS

Harley Farms and its cheese shop are open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, except major holidays, at 205 North St. in Pescadero. The farm offers family-friendly tours and goat, cheese and wine tours ($55-$150). Find details at www.harleyfarms.com.