Surprise is located just northwest of Phoenix. It seems like an amazingly short time ago, but it was actually founded in 1938! It’s a cute story because the founder named it Surprise as she “would be surprised if the town ever amounted to much.” It did and it is now the 6th fastest growing city in Arizona.
Like many others, Connie Paris moved there 2 1/2 years ago, but, unlike most, she has accomplished a LOT in that short amount of time.
She built a goat farm and a small artisan cheese business – MadGoat. She did most of the work herself (while working full time) and she thinks this is because her parents were originally from rural West Virginia and she was “bit hard” by the country living bug.
She converted her attached garage to a milking parlor/cheese room and she is licensed to produce raw milk and cheese that has been aged a minimum of 60 days (because she does not pasteurize). She sells her cheese primarily to local restaurants.
How did you first get interested in making cheese?
I worked at a goat dairy in Montana in 2005, milking and also cutting and packaging cheese. I’m always interested in knowing how things work, so I used to pick the cheese maker’s brain while I watched him at his craft. I eventually moved on, but constantly thought about building my own dairy (especially every time I ate store-bought, mass produced chèvre).
I bought a farm in North Carolina and attempted to establish a small artisan cheese business, but I had trouble juggling a full time job and my farm duties, so I wasn’t able to go legal. My husband passed away in 2010 and I put my NC farm up for sale to be closer to family and new opportunities.
How did you end up living in Arizona?
I grew up in Manhattan. My parents and my sister moved to Phoenix in 1999. Back then, if anyone had told me I’d me living here I would have said that they were insane. I’m a native New Yorker. I just don’t dig the heat, and by that I mean anything above 70 degrees. But Arizona has so much to offer, especially to equestrians, and that’s very important to me. There are so many places to ride here, they really cater to horse people. Even in real estate, most subdivisions are horse friendly.
I eventually bought another place (my current home) which had an attached apartment that I thought could easily be converted to a milking parlor, milk room and cheese room. I worked nights and tended to the cheese project during the day. It took about a year for me to do the conversion and get my dairy license.
What kinds of cheese are you making?
I’ve experimented with blue, swiss and brie but I wasn’t happy with the results I was getting. Right now I’m making two types, both from my own raw milk; a lactic acid cheese that I call Desert Bloom and a pressed cheese that’s a hybrid shepard’s/cheddar type. The Desert Bloom has a streak of vegetable ash through it and on the bloomy rind. It’s aged for 60-120 days and some are soaked in brandy. It’s a strong, European style cheese that is very complex by the time it reaches 120 days. The pressed cheese, on the other hand, is very mild and low sodium, aged 90 days. One I make with fennel pollen, and it has a beautiful nutty flavor.
How do you market your cheese?
I search for restaurants that serve cheeseboards, wine bars, gift shops that get a lot of tourists. Then I pack a cooler with cheese, crackers and fruit and make an appearance (after getting permission from management, of course). Right now, there’s no money in the budget for anything else but eventually I’ll get a website up and be at local farmer’s markets on a regular basis. I have to take baby steps, I’m a one woman show and there are only 24 hours in a day, a few of those I do have to use for sleep, lol.
How many goats do you have?
I have 25 milking does and 3 bucks. My herd consists of Nubians, Alpines and LaManchas.
I’m also getting very interested in including humanly raised pasture hogs with processing on site and artisan charcuterie. I have some goat meat curing right now, it will be ready for the holidays. Although I do love cured meats, my focus is on humane treatment of food animals. I think it’s becoming very important to consumers too, and I want to give them that choice. Pigs and poultry seem to have the most horrendous lives in the U.S. You end up with better tasting products when you provide your animals with good food, exercise and fresh air. And the last moments of their lives should be as trauma free as possible – we owe them that. I do want to have a few food products to offer; cheeses and certified humane meats.
How many horses do you have?
I have 2 Arabian horses and a mule named Grace. Grace is my go to girl, she takes good care of me out on the trail. I’ve ridden on and off since I was 10, bought my first horses about 10 years ago.
Are you working off the ranch?
I recently started a new job at a veterinary practice in Wickenburg. It’s a mixed practice (large and small animals) and I’m really impressed with the high level of care and compassion, everyone there is super nice. It’s only 30 minutes from home, and it’s away from the “city” which I really like.
Moe of Connie’s fabulous cheeses: