Goat farmer enjoys huge demand for cheese
About 20 years ago James Tucker fell in love with goats. He soon found out they weren't great as pets but somehow things worked out for all concerned.
There are now seven goats living the good life at Tucker's Farm just off Hungry Bay. As for James, he's Bermuda's only commercial cheesemaker.
It's quite a change of pace for the architect, who decided to go into the cheese business after the construction industry went south.
“After 2008 I wanted something I could stay busy at,” he said. “I wanted to make this a business.”
Grocery stores don't hang on to the 56-year-old's popular goat cheeses for long; restaurateurs would likely insist they're why cheese plates are making a comeback.
Tucker's Farm cheeses came about because of a severe case of goat-envy.
“About 20 years ago my neighbour had goats,” James said. “My children were small and some kid goats are very cute and so we decided we wanted a goat as a pet. My neighbour gave us one but we found that goats make terrible pets, to tell you the truth.
“People think they'll keep the grass down but you have to fence them in. They're so destructive when it comes to landscaping; they're like locusts basically. But they're incredibly affectionate animals and very intelligent. So from that standpoint they're okay as pets but really, they're herd animals. You can't have one. You need a number so they can create their own family and their own social world.”
The Tucker family decided to keep their “pet”; James did a bit of research to learn more about their habits and preferred habitats.
“Finally I was directed to a gentleman by the name of ‘Ducky' Lindo. To tell you the truth, it was the first time I realised these animals had any utility. Ducky had all the magazines, the glossies, the newspapers [about goats] and they were all talking about making cheese. Before that I had no concept of goat cheese, of cow cheese; cheese to me was a yellow block that tasted good.”
He hunted down cheesemakers for their advice and supplemented that with what he found online. The information fuelled a passion that exists to this day.
Tucker's Farm began selling its cheese every Saturday morning, from a tiny stand at the foot of Lagoon Drive in Paget.
“I got obsessed with cheese,” James said. “Every time we were on vacation, I would look up cheesemakers. It kind of took over my life. I guess there are worse things than being obsessed with cheese but you can spend your whole life making cheese and trying to make it better. In Europe, there are generations of cheesemakers and you understand why. It is artistic, it's a science.”
And then, “life interrupted”.
Said James: “I put it on the shelf for a while. In between then and when I started back up, I worked out what I would do if I decided to do it again — what space was needed, the housing that was needed.”
Tucker's Farm goat cheese is now available in several restaurants and grocery stores. Look for 6oz tubs at The Supermart, Wadson's Farm, Windybank Farm, Lindo's stores, Miles Market and Harrington Hundreds.
Although he's cornered the local market, James is willing to share his expertise with anyone who wants to break into the business. At the moment, he's the only family member on board.
“I don't want to make more cheese than I can make with my own hands 60 hours a week,” he said. “I know the market is bigger than what I'm reaching right now but I don't want the business to grow beyond that.
“This year we started selling milk in stores but, to tell you the truth, it sucks. The packaging is too expensive; the expiration period is too short. I much prefer making cheese. My wife, Judith Howe Tucker, is very supportive but she doesn't want to milk goats or make cheese. The kids are the same way. They love the goats, they love the cheese, but nobody's chomping at the bit to take over the family business.”
His plan is to take a formal course in cheesemaking in Vermont later this year. He hopes it will teach him how to ensure his cheese is more uniform.
“Everybody here is very encouraging,” he said. “Everybody says the cheese is fantastic and world-class but actually, it's because it's the only local farmhouse cheese they can get. I figured out to do it my own way. It was a good way to start but I need somebody to show me how to get that consistency.
“I've got a long way to go. I haven't arrived yet. I've got a lot to learn but as long as it's fun and I continue to enjoy it I want to continue to learn.”