Text: Eva Breukink
Photography: Studiorootz | Berber van Beek
My posh ladies retire here.
Ever since he found his stomping ground on the lot of Hofi Cas Cora, the time is right for a more commercial approach of Joubert Goat Farm. To Eithel Joubert (1956) a life without a herd is simply unimaginable. He looks after his animals as a loving parent to a child. He does not need much himself. If he can live peacefully from the sale of milk and cheese and visit his sons occasionally, he will be a happy fellow.
Joubert is the only goat farmer in Curaçao who sells homemade goat cheese to supermarkets and restaurants. It started about twenty-five years ago during a vacation in Bonaire, very small-scale with eighteen goats. He was living in the United States at the time. In 2007 Eithel Joubert returned to Curaçao and brought the herd over in a shipping container from Bonaire. This is not as crazy as it sounds.
In the Joubert family, farming is handed down from generation to generation. His great-grandfather started in Wacawa, his grandfather at Piscadera and his father at Landhuis Noordkant. Eithel grew up among rabbits and sheep. The goats were always there. So, it was only a matter of time, after almost thirty-seven years in Colombia and the US, that he picked up life as a farmer on his native island. That meant facing repeated setbacks.
The theft of his goats, health problems, but nothing will stop him. His persistent, stubbornness is in his nature. His heart’s desire is to offer daycare and activities to disabled people on the farm. To this end Joubert partners up with Stichting Opvoedingsondersteuning aan Kinderen met een Handicap (S.O.K.H.) Society for Pedagogical Support to Children with a Handicap). He prefers to shun the publicity and further build up his goat farm in private. But truth be told, to make these next steps he could use a boost of more public attention and publicity.
Five to six liters of milk for each kilo of cheese.
“These are my posh ladies. They have a number, and some have names. Teres, Giraffe, Bambi, Mimi. I stopped giving them names because I had to deal with lots of theft at the previous location. In one night, they stole 27 of my goats. It’s horrible, they are my animals. I was there when they were born and I watched them grow up.”
“I know my herd thoroughly. I know exactly who is the leader of the bunch. When she starts to eat, the rest will follow easily. Then there are the little ones, skinny and frightened. They will only show up when the rest has left. For instance, a little kid that has been rejected by its mother. It drank completely independently from the bottle. They stole her. You feel powerless. You have to start from scratch again. It takes at least two years before a goat starts to produce milk. Through the years I have lost sixty goats this way.”
“If it would be possible, they could stay with me, even when they have become too old to give milk. Then, after twelve, maybe fourteen years, such a distinguished older lady will retire. The oldest was seventeen years of age. Hofi Cas Cora is my most cherished customer, since 2015. This is a beautiful spot; everything fell into place. Here I truly have the space to make something beautiful of the farm.”
Eithel Joubert lives close to his herd of 100 goats. After a long day’s work, just after nightfall, he divides the herd into two, puts them in two shipping containers, and locks the doors. The ritual gives him peace. The sense that his goats have a safe place for the night. A stone’s throw away is his own container house. Here Joubert himself gets into bed in time, as the day of a goat farmer starts at 5 o’clock in the morning. During milking, while the sun rises and with a bucket between his legs and his hands on an udder, his mind wanders to what the day will bring. Usually the common duties of farm life, like milking, feeding, letting the herd graze with a walk at Hofi Cas Cora, making and wrapping cheese, gluing labels.
A large area, between all the containers, has been fenced off for the herd. Here the goats can walk, are fed and watered. A few steps away from his home, farmer Joubert keeps a watchful eye over his ladies. How is the fur looking? Are some showing strange behavior? Is one sick? But to give attention can simply mean some additional nurturing is required, such as the clipping and trimming of hooves. The collection of goats behind the fence is diverse: young and old, small and large, completely black, white or brown or with fur in different colors. One thing they have in common is the breed. All Eithel Joubert’s goats are descendants of the same great grandmother. The progenitor is, like her descendants, an ‘Anglo Nubian’, a cross breed between two species from Britain and India. The herd renews itself yearly. The goat is pregnant for a period of 150 days and is incapacitated for work, no milk for two months prior to birthing. Her lambs also take one full month of her milk production. The little lambs are then fed powder milk from the bottle for a little while. Naturally, a herd of 100 goats produces a lot of droppings daily. The manure is sold by Joubert to other farmers.
I know every goat in my herd through and through. When something is wrong, I’ll notice it immediately.
Protein rich grass is essential to milk production.
In 2017, by way of experiment, Farmer Joubert bought a container of silage grass from Colombia and shipped it to Curaçao. The Colombian grass keeps the production of milk of his herd at sufficient level. During the dry season on the island, green grass is hard to find. Even if something grows it turns brown and dry in an instant. Green grass has sufficient proteins, is essential to maintain good herd weight and ensures stable milk production. In years with a lot of rain there is no problem. The goats will feast on the fresh grass and the green leaves of the Wabi, a local plant. Additionally, other farmers have found their way to Joubert Goat Farm with regular deposits of garden waste, such as mango leaves. A treat for the goats! But Eithel Joubert is thinking of growing his own grass on part of the terrain. This is possible with the water of the seven wells of Hofi Cas Cora. Each of his goats gives approximately one liter of milk per day. Less than this is not by definition worse, as part of the herd produces milk with high fat content. This way you can make more cheese with less milk. However, a goat that produces insufficiently on both fronts, in quantity and fat content, must be sold on to serve other purposes. That sounds harsh, but without sufficient and suitable milk it is impossible to produce enough cheese. It is as simple as that.
Good quality milk forms the basis of tasteful cheese. However, goat’s milk does not make a packet of cheese in an instant! A complicated process is required. Each step requires focus, precision, and experience. The risk of something going wrong lurks at every corner. This structured, meticulous step-by-step process suits the quiet and calm nature of Eithel Joubert perfectly. He needs five to six liters of milk for each kilo of cheese. The fresh goat’s milk is emptied in a large vessel and is mixed with rennet. That is where it starts: the rennet will thicken the milk, but it cannot be too hot or too cold.
In this phase the cheese can still go whichever which way. Hard or soft, round in a roll, or a lump. With pepper, salt or herbs. This is all done by hand, except for the pasteurizing, which is done by a machine. This is why a batch of cheese can taste slightly differently each time. Joubert uses salt from Bonaire. He adds it to the outside after the cheese has hardened, so in principle the cheese is ready for consumption. The salt penetrates slowly into the cheese. If the supply of milk is larger than the number of orders, Joubert freezes the remainder of the hardening cheeses. The process will stop, but it resumes after defrosting. In this way Joubert Goat Farm can guarantee a steady supply to restaurants.
A pregnant goat is not fit for milking for two months prior to birthing.
The cheeses of Joubert Goat Farm are all natural, without any artificial additives. After a patient process of trial and error, and gradual improvement, Eithel Joubert has built an assortment with harder and softer cheeses in a variety of flavors. From a hard, round, deliciously salty cheese for frying, to a soft, creamy roll of cheese, with herbs or plenty of pepper. The production of forty to fifty kilos of cheese per week is a solid basis for the company and so Joubert aims for 200 kilos of cheese a month. The cooperation with Hofi Cas Cora offers Eithel Joubert room to grow, to produce its own grass to use and to sell. At that point he will be able to hire more people. He hopes to grow so his farm can become the mother of all goat farms with the best goats on the island.