Mary Keehn acquired her first goat in a rather unusual fashion. “I was interested in having healthy milk for our family.” Mary explains. “Our neighbors had a cow dairy and also had some goats to eat the brush on their farm, so I asked if I could buy one of their goats. They told me, ‘If you can catch one, you can have it.’ And I did.” When asked about her tactics for this capture, Mary revealed that goats can’t resist grain, so she used that to lure the goat close enough to catch.
That was about 30 years ago. When the family moved closer to town Mary started upgrading the herd and raising breeding stock, and soon she was winning national recognition. For three years one of her animals was chosen as the national champion Alpine at the American Dairy Goat Association’s annual show, “The judges are looking for a goat that looks perfect and is in excellent health,” Mary says. “I’ve always focused on both, because you can’t have good milk without a healthy animal.”
As Mary’s herd grew, she found that she had too much milk, much more than her family and the baby goats could consume, so she started experimenting with making cheese. She read everything about the subject she could find and talked to other cheesemakers. “Over the years I’ve now developed my own recipes. I always have a lot of them floating around in my head.”
She sold her goats more than a decade ago to focus on making cheese. The milk comes from local goat farms that work closely with Cypress Grove to achieve the highest quality and cleanliness, using sustainable agricultural practices. She wants the success of Cypress Grove to ripple out to the farming community around them. “We want to use our growth to help other diaries grow.”
Evidence of the fact that Mary is always coming up with something new is Cypress Grove’s new partner – "Bella de Balle,” pictured on the Midnight Moon label. The Cypress Grove Cream Line and “Bella” will be creating a new line of cheeses that will, in time, include specialty cow and/or mixed milk cheeses.
An exciting development for Cypress Grove has been the move to a new home in Arcata. “This 18-acre property was the last available zoned agricultural parcel in the city of Arcata, and cow dairies have been located here since the late 1800s. We were already committed to buying it when we discovered in an old newspaper that in 1915 there was a Cypress Grove Dairy right here!” Mary has preserved the old cow barn and the little building where the milk was bottled.
A friend brought her an old bottle from the Arcata Creamline Dairy, which was once on the property. The slogan on the back of the bottle reads: “You can whip our cream, but you can’t beat our milk.” Cypress Grove Cheese would make those old dairymen proud.
"We realize that quality must be evident in more than the cheese," says Keehn. "We have to have excellent milk, and that means healthy goats and family farms. By contributing to our employees and community, we make it clear that we are all motivated by the same commitment to quality of life."