Mocking Bird Hotel's tortilla flaps filled with Joanna's goat cheese.
Rosemary Parkinson, Contributor
Joanna Slimforte and her husband, Vincent - a Jamaican agriculturist - greeted us at the gate to their 'organic farm' that looks more like land that has remained untouched. Fruit trees of every description bring shade to livestock that live in this untroubled world on the Blue Mountain foothills of Portland. Their home, perched above ground overlooking chicken coops and goat enclosures, also benefits from the ever-so-slight breeze that blows right through it. It is here that Joanna and Vincent have found their Shangri-La.
The Slimfortes met in Nevis, a tiny island near St. Kitts. It never occurred to Vincent that Joanna would even give him the time of day. It never occurred to Joanna that Vincent would give her the time of day. But, as fate would have it, they gave each other the rest of their lives. Moving to Jamaica when Vincent decided it was time to return home, Joanna was able to fulfil a dream of her own - raising goats and making cheese from their milk.
Now all of this seems like a normal sort of story, but there is a twist here. You see, Joanna - who happens to be an heiress to the Bulova watch empire - not only loves goats, but adores making goat cheese. According to her, "I could talk goats and goat cheese day in and day out and even more."
The Bulova Goats and their cheese
Dressed in dungarees and rubber boots, Joanna led us on a tour of her 'farm family'. Once the milking of the goats became a priority, we entered the goat-milking station. Calling them by name - Honey, Sally, Pearl and Deena - one by one they quickly put themselves in their milking position within a contraption the Slimfortes 'invented' and which allows both goat and 'milker' to be totally at ease.
Joanna whispers to them while slowly and gently removing their milk. This milk, with tender care, will be turned into goat cheese. Ch?vre, that is. Having collected all the milk, we moved to the large kitchen to watch the rest of the process.
Chefs Elmar Rensch of Mocking Bird Hotel and Darren Lee of Trident (both in Portland) adore this goat cheese, and her new feta, mozzarella and ricotta using them often on their menus. Elmar likes to actually cook with the ch?vre - in fact, this hotel will offer special culinary summer weekends for those who want to learn more!
Joanna also does her share of experimentation. "There are so many ways to incorporate goat cheese. In the form of jam, I have personally used orange, guava, or papaya. I have found that the most popular rolled cheese is the one in crushed black peppercorns - you really get the taste of the cheese, and the pepper just gives it that little extra zip. For the herbed cheese, I use a combination of fresh basil, chives and crushed garlic or fresh parsley, chives and garlic. Of course, the rum/raisin cheese rolled in crushed walnuts makes a stylish dessert cheese. The feta is pungent and flavourful and is best, I think, crumbled into a green salad. The ricotta is sweet and mild."
She also produces vinegars from fruit growing in their orchards and honey fromtheir bees. The individual tastes of these vinegars, perfect in body and colour, can compare with the best produced overseas. Of course, Joanna's home-made whey bread and yoghurt are amazing. Vincent's speciality tamarind pulp (bucketloads adorn the kitchen floor) is totally divine and perfect for restaurant use and for the making of tamarind balls.
One of her biggest dreams is to see the women in Jamaica form a cooperative, perhaps under the umbrella of Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute. "Financial benefits can be derived from goat cheese production, making this a viable proposition. I would be more than willing to impart my knowledge, there's no reason that this should not be shared," says Joanna.
To access Joanna Slimforte's speciality products, call Tom Finnigan at 960-7799 or 816-3373. But do remember growing daily, Joanna's goat cheese production is still very much a specialised enterprise.
Joanna and Vincent at lunch with Chef Elmar Rensch at the Mocking Bird Hotel.
One of Joanna Slimforte's logs rolled in black pepper.
Chef Elmar Rensch's Brushetta. - Photos by Rosemary Parkinson