By Helen Cordes
Photography by Jesse Cordes Selbin
By Helen Cordes
Want to know the secret that sparks loyalty—and raving addiction—to Wateroak Farms’s creamy, delectable goat goods? You’ll see it as soon as you round the curve of the bumpy lane that leads to Pam and Mark Burow’s “dairy goat haven” nestled among a thicket of magnificent water oak trees near Bryan. That’s where one recent spring morning, mama goats Sophie and Cornelia leisurely nursed their adorable babies and sauntered about the sunny, spacious corral.
Sophie and Cornelia’s bucolic bonding is the key to Wateroak’s goat’s milk, scrumptious ice creams, smooth cheeses and yogurts that don’t taste…well…goaty. Mark has seen customers’ pleasantly surprised reactions to this countless times in his patient, persistent quest to change goat-biased minds.
“Caprylic acid makes the goaty taste,” he says. “Since it’s high during late pregnancy and after birth, we don’t use that milk for our products. I love to do samplings at stores—if I can get someone to try one taste, they’ll discover just how good goat dairy can be.” And good for you: goat’s milk is prized for ease in digestion and calcium-boosting enzymes.
That goat goodness is compounded by the loving care evident in every aspect of Pam and Mark’s 18-year venture. “We started out with two goats to have a little milk and let our kids have the experience of raising a few animals,” Pam recalls with a grin. “Then came more goats, and we couldn’t stand to get rid of them.” Even with the current herd of 70-plus, Pam and Mark know every goat by name, and round-the-clock, human ears are pricked for any goat anguish.
“You get to know their sounds just like your own child,” says Mark, “so if I hear someone upset in the middle of the night, I’m out here to see what’s up.”
Eventually, the Burows had to come up with some savvy ways to transform the growing goat’s milk supply into income. Finding enough customers for plain goat’s milk, they discovered, was illusive, so they created a lush, cream cheese-like chèvre, and then a rich, crumbly ricotta.
“They’ve become real popular,” notes Mark. Hudson’s on the Bend folds Wateroak ricotta into tender crab cakes, Vespaio mounds it in ravioli and Wink, Jeffrey’s and Siena use both cheeses in multiple incarnations. “Chefs like them because they can carry and expand the flavor of the dish.”
Next up for the Burows was ice cream. In what Mark calls a stroke of genius, Pam figured out how to concoct a super-creamy confection without heating the milk (heating brings out the goaty taste) using an Italian ice cream maker. The farm now churns out over 200 imaginative Brazos Supreme flavors, from delicate orange blossom to heady cinnamon- hazelnut coffee. Pam also conjured the flavored ricottas, adding nine varieties from rosemary pepper to garlic basil tomato. She’s invented a cottage cheese, and feta is expected to emerge soon.
Business is finally steady enough that Mark quit the carpentry work that had previously kept the farm and family afloat. Long hours are a constant, though, and the Burows routinely put in 12-hour days to avoid labor costs. Their now-grown children help out—son Jacob takes on one of the two daily milking shifts, and midwife daughter Erin assists during goat deliveries. Even guard dog Max (“the nanny midwife”) pitches in.
“He’ll lead us to does who’ve given birth out in the pasture and even try to lick the kids when they’re born,” Pam notes.
Of course with smaller farms challenges always abound, and the Burows have had their share. A few years back, a meat-seeking mama cougar took out 18 of their goats, and one windy day a huge water oak toppled, crushing the newly overhauled farm pickup. Equipment is pricey, too—ice cream machines run about $35,000 and even used refrigerators cost $7,500. But despite the omnipresent work, risks and costs, Mark says they thoroughly enjoy what they’re doing.
“In fact, my dream is to make this living possible for other goat farmers,” he says, “and to make Texas a leader in the goat industry.”
The Burows have already brought other area farmers on board, buying their goat’s milk (after making sure it meets standards) to cover growing demand.
“That’s how we should get our food—from small-scale farmers who can make absolutely sure that everything stays high-quality,” Mark says. “It’s best for us farmers, and it’s best for the public.”
Find Wateroak Farms products at Farm to Market Grocery, Boggy Creek Farm, Whole Foods Market, Royal Blue Grocery, Wheatsville Food Co-op, Central Market, Greenling Organic Delivery, H-E-B, Thom’s Market and Spec’s.