Yaiza de la Campa. Journalist
Photos by Joaquín Terán.
With the high river basin of the Manzanares River behind it and the imposing La Pedriza boulder field in the foreground, Suerte Ampanera mountain farm is in a privileged location, ideal for goats.
Suerte Ampanera, founded in 1997, was created to uphold the principles of rational, ecological land use and produce quality organic foods with strong ties to the ecosystem. But a lot has happened since then. Alfredo and Rafael González started out with 100 goats and no previous experience in the area. They had a farm through a family inheritance, and a lot of enthusiasm. They took a course on ecological agricultural-stockbreeding operations, and during three months they learned the art of cheesemaking with a goatherd in Andalusia. The rest has been trial and error, creativity, and hard work.
Today they have eight employees and 800 Murcia-Granada goats, which live in optimal conditions. They are very well-known, especially locally, for their various types of yogurts, cheeses and fermented milks. They also won a prestigious Alimentos de España (Foods from Spain) Award from the Ministry of Agriculture for their Blanco Moho cheese, which was named "Spain's Best Cheese in 2011".
Suerte Ampanera goats: habitat and production
The herd feeds mainly on vegetation on the farm—grassland, holm oaks, acorns, juniper and herbs—and grazes from six to ten hours per day. There are excellent facilities for sleeping and milking, the latter of which is done to classical music. The animals are in very good health under these conditions, which reduces to a minimum the need to use medicines and synthetic products (only the Brucellosis vaccine is obligatory). The result is top-flight milk, which has no traces of antibiotics or chemical substances. However, if a goat develops mastitis, it is treated with antibiotics as is done in general stockbreeding, although the subsequent period without milking is twice as long as is normal in such cases.
And Suerte Ampanera has added value. The characteristics of the ecosystem vary depending on the month, which alters the milk's properties. For example, the farm has a wealth of acorns in autumn, when they fall from the oaks. This dramatically increases the milk yield due to the increase in fat. Such is the case that the milk must be balanced out by feeding the goats more forage, mainly cabbage and alfalfa. However, the opposite occurs in spring: the milk has a yellowish color due to the amount of flowers the animals eat during that season. To make up for the lack of proteins, the goats are given more feed, mainly oats, sunflower seeds, carob pods, peas, barley—which is especially useful—wheat and rye. These are mainly unmilled organic feeds, which the animals digest more easily and which don't cause diarrhea.
Moreover, goats need a routine to produce a good yield. They are very delicate animals which suffer imbalances as a result of change. However, production is lower at ecological farms due to grazing. The goats at Suerte Ampanera produce an average of 2-2.5 liters per day, whereas a goat at an intensive dairy farm produces approximately 4 liters. However, the former live much longer: around 13 years, so the system is quite sustainable.
Just as all the food produced on the farm is used, at Suerte Ampanera, the milk whey is used later to feed the goats. The whey not only helps regulate gut flora, but also enables them to produce 10-15% more, with the result that there is zero waste.
The process is similar with manure: it is used as fertilizer on the farm, which is more productive the following year and grows more grass, the oaks yield more acorns, etc.
Bucks are used for their meat.
Technology, in harmony with nature
Ecological stockbreeding does not imply old-fashioned methods. Every day at Suerte Ampanera, early in the morning, the goats are milked with modern machines which provide optimal hygienic conditions for the milk and comfort for both personnel and the animals, while also optimizing production, since it takes less time. The milk passes directly from the goat's udder to cooling tanks, preserving all of its qualities.
The cheesemakers also use the latest technology. The machinery is modern and practical, and the yogurt-packing machine packages 500 liters of yogurt each day. Technology expedites the process, while ensuring impeccable hygiene and quality.
Cheese and yogurt
Suerte Ampanera produces six types of yogurt (two from cow's milk) and four cheeses with goat's milk and three with sheep's milk (pasteurized, at the moment). Leading products include white pressed cheese, mature goat's cheese, Moho Blanco, Bífidus yogurt, kefir, and fat-free and natural yogurts.
Organic cheeses are not authorized to contain antifungal additives or preservatives. Suerte Ampanera uses only vegetable rennet from thistle, milk, and natural fermentation.
For example, Penicillium notatum was used for the rind of its Moho Blanco, Spain's Best Cheese in 2011.
Suerte Ampanera, which recognizes that 40% of its success is due to product presentation, distributes mainly to the Madrid region, especially to towns in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, herbolists, organic food stores, and some distribution chains.