Date: November 20, 2015 | Story: Tiffany Adams | Photography: Rett Peek | Styling: Chip Jones |
A love for animals, an undeniable talent in the kitchen, and the joy of the holiday season are the perfect recipe for happiness at Susan Harper’s El Dorado home
Draped in fresh magnolia garlands and accented with vivid red berry wreaths, Susan Hurley Harper’s El Dorado home—which sits squarely in the center of town—isn’t exactly where you would expect to find the two goats behind the town’s most renowned and delicious cheese. The four-legged friends—aptly named Julia Child and Alice Waters—provide milk each day, which Harper then turns into fresh chèvre and feta for use in her kitchen and to share with fortunate friends. “I love it, and I love my goats; it’s like my therapy,” she exclaims.
When asked just exactly how she came into the craft of making goat cheese, Harper replies: “I love cheese, and my husband and I have always been adventurous in the kitchen.” After helping a local friend with the milking of her goats, reading about and researching the art of making cheese, and finally experimenting in her own kitchen, Harper purchased two goats (Julia Child, who—as noted—still resides with the Harpers, and Martha Stewart, who has since left the residence) in 2009 and began her great goat cheese adventure. Today she cares for her two current charges by feeding them alfalfa hay and milking them twice per day. “What you put in your goat determines the taste of the cheese,” Harper notes.
Though her cheeses are not available for sale, you may find them at local events in El Dorado or on your own doorstep this season, if you are lucky enough to be the recipient of a holiday package from her. If not, consider other sources of locally produced cheese and use them to make the two recipes featured here—both of which are holiday favorites in Harper’s home.
Around the house: “Christmas at our house is all about family—everyone coming home and having fun,” Harper says. She keeps the décor traditional, to bring to mind memories of Christmases past and to give the home a timeless appeal. “I don’t really follow trends,” Harper says; “I have a lot of handmade ornaments, and I love putting all those family mementos on the tree.” Fresh greenery—including a bevy of magnolia leaves—blanket the rest of the home from the front door through the dining room and into the kitchen. “I love magnolia leaves; you could say they are one of my signatures,” she adds. Harper is especially fond of decorating her kitchen, which makes sense, since she spends a good deal of time in the space while producing her cheeses. Her knack for holiday decorating has become so widely known that she often decorates others’ front doors for the season and creates tablescapes for parties.
Seasonal Goat Cheese Crostini
Makes 2 Dozen
1 (12-inch) baguette, sliced in 1/2-inch-thick pieces
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 ½ cups butternut squash, peeled and diced
¼ cup of onion, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
½ cup cranberries, roughly chopped
2 ½ tablespoons thyme, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon honey
4 ounces of goat cheese, softened
Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the baguette slices with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and bake them for 8 minutes, flipping them halfway through the cooking process. Remove from oven and set aside.
Place the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Sauté the squash and onions for approximately 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cranberries, thyme, and salt and pepper; continue to cook for an additional 8-10 minutes or until squash is tender. Stir in the honey and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.
Spread goat cheese on one side of each bread piece and top with a spoonful of the squash mixture.
NOTE: During warmer months, swap the butternut squash and cranberries in this recipe for tomatoes and cucumbers, peaches and blueberries, or your favorite combination of warm-weather produce.
1 jelly (or small canning) jar
1 round of chèvre (more or less, depending on jar size)
extra virgin olive oil (enough to cover the cheese)
3-4 thyme sprigs
½ bay leaf
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Place the chèvre inside the jelly jar. Cover with olive oil, and add in the remaining ingredients. Secure the lid to the jar, and shake to mix the ingredients. Refrigerate until you’re ready to give to a friend or neighbor. Add a gift tag and ribbon, if desired, and pair it with a bottle of wine and crackers for a larger present.