Goat Rodeo owners took a leap of faith to build a creamery and award-winning cheese.
It all started with a goat!
That’s how India and Steve Loevner, owners of Goat Rodeo Creamery in Allison Park, PA, begin their story of how they came to run Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy, a 130-acre family-owned farm with a herd of more than 100 Alpine and Nubian dairy goats.
“I really loved farming and animals; I grew up on a farm and we raised our kids on a farm, but it was more of a hobby farm,” India says. “When our kids went to college, we became more serious about turning it into a business.”
But being that neither had experience in cheesemaking, the business took some time to get going, as they both wanted to learn and perfect the craft.
“I had bought a couple of pregnant goats 15 years ago, and once they had their kids, I started milking the moms and started making cheese at home,” explains India Loevner. “Then I took a class up at the University of Vermont, as they used to have an artisanal cheese class.”
Both Loevners took cheesemaking workshops with noted cheesemaker and owner of Parish Hill Creamery’s Peter Dixon in New England, and then took another class in cheesemaking at Pennsylvania State University.
“We were really enjoying the cheesemaking and managing the goat herd, and we were making so much at home because we were having more goats producing more milk, so we were making more cheese than we could give to friends and family,” India says. “I was really passionate about farming in western Pennsylvania, and I wanted to start something where we could have a real working farm plus help support other dairies by bringing in milk from other farms.”
By 2015, they were ready to expand. The cheesemaking process began, and it wasn’t long before the couple sold their first piece of cheese at a local farmers’ market.
But it wasn’t easy, with India noting they made “every mistake that they could possibly make.”
“We needed to learn everything from scratch,” she says. “I was familiar with farm animals but I never had goats because I grew up on a cattle farm, so I had to learn about dairy goats and all the equipment that goes with a milking parlor and all the equipment that goes with a cheesemaking facility.”
The area didn’t have any other local creameries for the couple to learn from, so they read a lot of books and talked to a lot of people to learn how they could grow their business.
“You also have to learn about inspections and all of those things,” India says. “It’s really a process to make sure you’re doing everything correctly.”
The name of the company derived from a Yo-Yo Ma CD that India had seen at Starbucks, which was called the Goat Rodeo Sessions, a blend of classical and bluegrass music.
“Yo-Yo Ma talked about blending two forms of music, and it reminded me of what goes on with goats and also what goes on with cheese,” she says. “It’s very chaotic, and you’re hoping for a good result in the end, which is what the blend of music was.”
While Goat Rodeo Creamery is still very small, with about 40,000 pounds of cheese produced each year, things have evolved since the early days.
“It started with the farmers’ market but then we realized to have a successful business, we would need to sell more cheese than just what we were doing there,” India says. “We were able to get in with a local distributor outside of Pittsburgh, and then got into local restaurants.”
“After that, another distributor contacted us and got us into the local Whole Foods, and now we’re in the Mid-Atlantic region,” India says. “Just recently, another distributor in Brooklyn signed us up, so they are bringing the cheese to New York, and even out to California, so we’re pretty excited about that.”
While a marketer came up with the company’s logo, it’s up to the family for the most part to handle social media and other marketing measures, letting people know what’s going on at the farm.
“We’re on this beautiful farmland, and we want people to know how much we care about animal welfare,” India says. “We believe healthy animals make the most delicious milk, which makes the most delicious cheese.”
Goat Rodeo Creamery has four full-time people on staff, including head cheesemaker Eileen O’Malley, who came over from Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm. The Loevners’ son Will, a Penn State graduate of agriculture, also helps out with the cheesemaking.
“We have some part-time people helping out with the goats and farms, and basically, everyone does a little bit of everything,” India says. “It’s a small, tightknit team, and we’re really lucky because we all have the highest standards to make delicious cheese. It’s not just a job for anybody; we’re all really proud to be in Western Pennsylvania making this great cheese.”
Their daughter, Sally, also works at the farm, making goat milk caramel.
Then, of course, there are the animals, and living with goats is always entertaining.
“Most of the crazy moments on the farm have to do with the goats escaping or being on the roof of the creamery,” India says. “When you least expect it, they can be involved in mischief.”
At Goat Rodeo Creamery, the company offers six types of cheeses— Fresh Chèvre, Bamboozle, More Cowbell, Cowboy Coffee, Hootenanny and Wild Rosemary.
The latter, its newest cheese, took home first place for flavored cheese at the 2022 Pennsylvania Farm Show, while Hootenanny and Fresh Chèvre also medaled.
Bamboozle, a supple, semi-soft washed rind goat and cow’s milk cheese with notes of prosciutto and peanuts, earned first place honors in the Mixed Milk Washed Rind Cheese category at the 2022 American Cheese Society competition, and also finished second in Best in Show.
“It was pretty amazing; Steve went out to the show in Portland, and we never expected anything but to get some good feedback, so to come in second after Jasper Hill was incredible,” India says. “After winning the award, some people might think we are a bigger place, but we are really just this tiny little farm.”
India came up with the names of the cheeses with the help of her kids, and people have gravitated towards the unique names, making them big sellers in the store.
The Road Ahead
While the company is excited about the expansion into new markets like New York, the Loevners still hope the company remains small enough to keep everything on their farm.
“We would like to grow enough to be able to bring in more milk from other local farms,” India says. “The dairy farms in Western Pennsylvania are really struggling so the more cheese we can make, the more milk we can bring in.”
The plan is to continue operating with the same mission statement that has been at the root of the company since it first began: “To create a delicious product and preserve Pennsylvania farmland one wheel of cheese at a time.”
Although the Loevners have learned that this is a very challenging business, and takes a lot of persistence—with India noting there’s always equipment breaking or other challenges—she enjoys so many parts of it that she’s going to keep things going and try to figure out ways to have things run better and make the most of what they have. “I enjoy the challenge and being part of the cheesemaking community,” she says. “I really love working with animals and getting to work with other farmers in picking up their milk, and having a team like this, which includes some family members, has been wonderful. We all care about farming and producing delicious cheese. It’s a business but it’s also a whole lifestyle.”