The goat gal of Bodega
By Andrea Granahan
West County Correspondent
Patty Karlin of Bodega has been the Goat Gal ever since 1984. While working as a registered nurse at UCSF, she obtained her first herd, growing it over time to more than 100 goats.
Her ex-husband, Javier Salmon, is Peruvian and had been born into a cheesemaking family. Salmon’s father studied his craft in Argentina and was part of large Peruvian dairy cooperative when the country’s volatile political climate drove him out of business.
“We decided to bring my in-laws to California,” recalled Karlin. “We rented land for the goats at first and were considered ‘hobby farmers’ by the Department of Agriculture, even though we were selling 100 pounds of cheese a week.”
In 1985 they bought the Bodega Goat Farm in Bodega. Everyone, including Salmon’s brothers, got into the goat cheese business. By then the goats had hooked Karlin.
“For 10 years, until 1994, Javier and I worked at outside jobs and at the cheese business,” she said. “But my heart was with the goats. Then we finally let the other jobs go, and it became our full time business together until Javier and I divorced in 2004, after 20 years of marriage.”
She got the farm and kept making her cheeses while also training others in her hard-earned craft. She brought in interns from Costa Rica who went back to create the biggest cheese concern in their country.
In her 60s now, Karlin has tried to retire. She still raises goats and sells their milk, but she recently sold the “Bodega Artisan Cheese” business to Zoe Meats. The Bay Area retailer wanted to add fine handmade cheeses to its line, and she agreed to train them.
“I teach classes in making ricotta and mozzarella for the home kitchen all the time, but to turn out a reliable, consistent retail product requires great precision and focused attention,” Karlin explained. “The milk temperature cannot vary more than a half degree.”
She also has been a consultant to other start-up artisan cheesemakers but now is focused on sustainable farming that involves other farmers.
“We are doing team farming, producing sustainable farm products,” Karlin said. “Right now on the land, one person has heritage pasture chickens, someone else rabbits, someone else ducks, someone else a commercial garden, and we have four bee hives.
“I am focusing on trying to grow food for the goats and am investigating some interesting ideas from Australia for growing sprouts,” she said. She has also installed solar panels to provide power for the farm.
Karlin gives tours of her ranch by appointment and is part of the Sonoma-Marin Cheese Trail, but her current project is planting trees and shrubs to provide fodder for 15 milk goats, three billies and eight babies.
How does she feel about goats?
“Goats are awesome,” she said. “They are as smart as dogs with distinct personalities. Some are shy, some stubborn, some mischievous. And their products, both milk and meat, are highly nutritious, less fatty and more easily digestible than that of cows or sheep.
“As an RN, I used to give the preemie babies goat milk when they couldn’t handle formula.”
When each year’s baby goats are born they are left with their mothers for six weeks before being weaned.
“They are wild up to that point. We bring in 4-H kids and let them bottle feed the babies. In two days they are tame.
“Each year we pick a theme for naming the new goats. Last year we named them after female singers, Whitney Houston and Janis Joplin, for example. This year the theme is gemstones, with Ruby, Pearl and such. That way just by the goat’s name we automatically know how old she is.
“For the billies, we decided they should be reminded of their duties so we have Romeo, Don Juan and Elvis.”
To arrange a tour or tasting, call Bodega Artisan Cheese at 876-3483.