By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
BELGRADE, BIG SKY – A yearling goat nibbles on Nate Brown’s shorts through the fence, and he scratches her head absentmindedly.
“Goats are fun, mischievous, animals,” he said. “They have great personalities.”
A few others in the pen nuzzle up to the fence, bleating, while some sit back, chewing on alfalfa or snoozing in the sun.
The animals at Amaltheia Dairy aren’t pets, per se, but they’re part of the family. The Belgrade farm has 280 goats, 220 of which they milk, producing 35,000 pounds of cheese a year. Nate, 28, and his parents Mel and Sue, have raised most of the animals on the farm, bottle-feeding them as kids.
The Browns moved from Michigan to Montana in the mid-‘90s. They’ve always had farm animals—in Michigan they had a herd of 50 or 60 goats and 70 cattle, something Sue initially described as a “hobby farm.”
“You start with a few goats and wind up with 50, 60 in a minute,” she said, smiling. “That’s not really a hobby farm, is it?”
“We [also] wanted to be zero emission sustainable farm,” Sue said. Their major outputs are manure, which Amaltheia now uses on its organic vegetable fields, and whey, which they now feed to their parcel of organically raised hogs.
Today, Amaltheia’s herd is a mix of Alpine, Saanen, La Manchas or a cross of those breeds. The alpines, which are brown in color, have high butterfat, while the white Saanets produce the most milk. The La Manchas are the ones with stubby ears.
The farm has seven employees, including Nate, Sue and Mel.
“Making cheese is a lot of fun,” Nate said. “I like being able to take something from our farm and make it into a really nice end product, and being able to utilize all the whey with pigs is kind of cool.”
Steve Kuntz has been Director of Food and Beverage at Rainbow Ranch in Big Sky for two years. The food aficionado and locavore lives in Bozeman, and has worked with Amaltheia for a decade, previously through his catering business, and now through Rainbow Ranch.
“[Amaltheia is] one of coolest things Bozeman has going on,” he said.
Rainbow Ranch Chef Matt Fritz has made efforts to incorporate Amaltheia products into the restaurant’s gourmet menu. Now, he and Kuntz are spearheading an effort to grow agri-tourism in the area by partnering with Amaltheia for farm tours and cheese making classes.
Rainbow will drive the visitors to the Belgrade cheese making facility, where Nate will lead them in an hour-long cheese making class. Next, the guests will head six miles down the road, to tour the farm with Sue or Mel. Amaltheia doesn’t do tours regularly, and Kuntz says the idea is to highlight the farm’s products and its sustainability initiatives.
After the tour, guests will drive back to Rainbow Ranch, where they’ll find a plate of Amaltheia cheese paired with wine in their rooms.
It’s these kind of small details that set Rainbow apart—plus an extensive wine list, fine cuisine, an intimate atmosphere and beautiful setting, and a professional but relaxed staff.
“It’s a level of service beyond a normal hotel or resort,” Kuntz said.
Rainbow has had nearly a 100-year history of hospitality. The Lemon family homesteaded the land as a cattle ranch in 1919, but “quickly figured it wasn’t the best land for raising cattle,” said Mollie Eckman, Rainbow’s general manager. So, they started renting cabins and making meals for folks passing through from Bozeman to West Yellowstone, calling it the Half Way Inn.
Renamed Rainbow Ranch in 1935, the property has since been home to a gas station, rental cabins, and several iterations of dude and guest ranches. When Tom and Debbie Davison bought it in the early ‘90s, they started the tradition of fine food, wine and service that today’s owner, Scott Gibson, continues to build upon.
Creativity is a theme at the ranch, Eckman said, as is an appreciation for “the finer things—fine food, fine wine, fine service, fine accommodations, beautiful property, rest and relaxation… Not only can you come and stay the night, but you can come and do a cheese package, wine class, or a mixology class.”
Guests can relax in the lounge or on the deck before dinner, enjoy a drink and listen to jazz or classical music. Dinner may be a roasted elk rib chop with herbed spaetzle, grilled asparagus and sauce chasseur, or perhaps a grilled fresh herb polenta with roasted artichokes, caramelized onion, asparagus, great northern beans, summer squash, tomato jam, and, of course, Amaltheia Dairy chevre cream.
The servers are knowledgeable and friendly, able to pair meals with one of the 200 wine labels offered. The flavors are rich, but not too rich, and the portions just right.
A partnership with the only goat cheese makers in Montana—whose homegrown products Kuntz describes as rich, flavorful and beautiful—makes sense for Rainbow.
“This raises awareness of what we’re doing, and of Amaltheia.”
Cheese making class at Amaltheia Dairy
On Wednesdays in September and October, Rainbow Ranch and Amaltheia Dairy will offer a package that includes a feta cheese making class, farm tour and stay at the hotel.
“We’ll do the most fun part of it,” said Nate Brown, who will teach the classes.
Making feta is a hands-on process, Nate said. The milk will be in a vat, ready to go when the guests arrive at the cheese making facility. Nate will talk the group through the process of adding cultures and rennet, and the class will then cut the curds with cheese harps.
Guests will go home with finished, packaged feta.