Belle Ecorce Farms
11/17/2017 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey
Gallery: Belle Ecorce Farms [5 Images] Click any image to expand.
Acadiana Artisanal Goat Cheese
By Shanna P. Dickens
In the 1940s, Wanda Broussard Barras’ grandfather retired and bought a small strip of land on the bayou in St. Martinville. He planted trees, which are now towering in stature. He raised cattle, but just enough to keep the family fed. Today, Wanda has evolved that very same property into a bucolic wonderland full of animals and artisanal expression – from her registered herd of goats, Wanda crafts homemade goat cheese.
“My grandfather had a sign at the beginning of the property that said ‘Belle Ecore,’” Wanda recalls. “It was spelled with one C. So, I looked it up in the French dictionary and with the second C, it meant ‘fruit of the vine’ or ‘bark of the tree.’ It felt appropriate, so I added the second C and kept the name.”
In 1999, Wanda purchased two goats, for fun, as she reasons. And as they do, the goats began to have babies, and more babies. Herds of animal surrounding Wanda is nothing new. She recalls that growing up, animals were her best friends. It seems as if they remain so today. When you drive up to Belle Ecorce Farms, you drive past lazing cows and frolicking ponies. A lovable and excitable pack of pups roam the property chasing chickens and cars. For nearly 20 years, beginning in 1985, Wanda bred and sold birds. A few of the exotic feathered fowl still remain affectionately squawking from cages on the property. It goes without saying that a rapidly multiplying herd of goats was a welcomed addition to the farm.
“Every time the goats would have babies, I would take them and bottle feed them, and then I had all of this goat milk,” Wanda explains walking up to the labyrinth of pins that house the goats. “For a little while, I made soap out of it, but that doesn’t require very much milk and it takes up a lot of room. I realized that wasn’t for me, and I started playing around with making cheese. I thought it was really cool, and I got a license in 2001.”
When Wanda and her husband Kenny first started, they were milking nearly 40 goats and as Wanda says, “I was milking on the porch like Elly May Clampett.” Today, the number of goats being milk has decreased to a more manageable 25 and the milking system is far more sophisticated. Wanda relates that when it’s milking time, the goats all come running. Following a natural hierarchy, they all line up in relatively the same order each time and file into their designated favorite slots.
From where the goats are milked to the kitchen, Wanda runs a pristine operation, to say the least. There is a huge emphasis on cleanliness and the overall health of the goats. Wanda will tell you that she isn’t a scientific cheese maker, that for her, it’s all about smelling and feeling. But as she walks around the shiny silver vats and equipment in her kitchen, the science begins to slip out. She rattles off temperatures and percentages, state regulations and pasteurization procedures as easily as she’d say her ABCs. Once the cheese, still in curds and whey form, is hung overnight, it’s complete and that’s when the real fun begins.
“I do all kinds of fun things with flowers and decorations,” Wanda explains of her award-winning cheeses. “I try to use everything from right here on the property. I dry my own herbs and vegetables. We have Malabar spinach growing wild that I use. I’ll use flowers, like roses. The cheese maker makes a big difference, too. I could tell you my recipe, but it wouldn’t turn out the same. It’s like your momma’s cake; even when she gives you the recipe, it’s not the same.”
It’s not just the cheese maker that influences the taste of the cheese. Terroir, the same concept that wines taste different based on the environment the grapes are grown in, applies to cheese. The goat’s environment greatly influences the taste of the cheese. And Belle Ecorce is an environment so lovely that even birds whose wings aren’t clipped choose to stick around.
Belle Ecorce has its own notable following. The quaint market on the property operates on an honor system. Customers stroll in, select their cheese, fill out an invoice and leave their cash. Notable Acadiana restaurants are also fans of Wanda’s work. You can find her cheese in dishes at the likes of Great Harvest Bread Co., Bread & Circus, Dark Roux and Saint Street Inn.
With giant wheels of goat cheese stacked in freezers, cheeses delicately decorated with dried herbs, roaming herds of goats and customers complying with an honor system, Belle Ecorce can feel as is you’ve wandered into another country or another time. But it’s just another treasure along the bayou.