CHELSEA — Living the dream, especially if the dream is running a small goat farm and making goat milk gelato, takes hard work. Just ask Lisa and Michael Davis, owners of Sweet Doe Dairy, a newly established farm and creamery in Chelsea.
Michael Davis, who works more than full-time on the 81-acre hillside farm, says he hasn’t had a day off in three years and Lisa Davis works full-time as a speech writer for Dartmouth College President Philip Hanlon while helping run the farm. Despite the long hours, both agree this is their dream, especially this year because in June they launched vanilla, chocolate and coffee flavored gelato, which has a lower fat and air content than typical ice cream. Their product is available in a growing number of stores throughout New England, including the Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier, co-op food stores in Hanover and Lebanon, New Hampshire, White River Junction and the Chelsea farmers market.
“We’re so proud to be introducing this product and awakening consumers to just how amazing goat milk gelato can be,” said Lisa Davis. If all goes well, Sweet Doe Dairy will sell 15,000 pints this year.
The two left the corporate life of New York City — Lisa worked for Sony and Michael for New York Life Insurance — to live a Vermont rural life. They have been building their farm, growing their herd and honing their gelato recipes since they arrived in Vermont in 2012. Their research and training, however, began long before that.
Michael volunteered for nearly two years at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York, as part of the livestock team before going on to gain additional experience in Wisconsin, New Jersey and Vermont. They also worked with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets to meet all the necessary guidelines to become a fully licensed producer. Sweet Doe Dairy obtained its milk handler’s license in the fall of 2017.
“It was an aspiration long before we moved to Vermont, and it’s been quite a journey to where we are today,” Lisa Davis said.
When they purchased the property in 2011, the land hadn’t been farmed since the 1960s and there was no infrastructure in place to support modern day dairying.
“There was no running water to the barn, no access roads, no fencing, no milking parlor and no creamery. We knew we couldn’t afford to hire contractors to build our facility, so we started to build it ourselves over a span of multiple years,” Michael Davis said.
New to farming, the two had to learn almost everything from scratch.
“We had to learn about all aspects of farming, from milking, to feeding, to dealing with everything that could go wrong. Thankfully, an extremely generous neighbor volunteered to teach us the construction skills we needed and worked side by side with us every step of the way. We did it virtually all ourselves: construction, concrete work, plumbing, electrical, you name it, while starting and growing our herd and working to develop our product, all at the same time,” he said.
“We’re so grateful for all of the friends in our Chelsea community who have helped us on our journey, whether it’s assisting with chores and feeding newborns in the spring, teaching us new skills, bringing us hot meals in the height of kidding season, or offering much-needed encouragement when we were nearly at our breaking point,” said Lisa Davis.
"We did it because we love what we do and are hard-working, resilient people, and when you hear a customer tell you your gelato is 'heaven on a spoon,' it makes it all worthwhile,” she added.
The farm has 130 Nigerian Dwarf goats, 40 of which are milkers. Most of the rest will join the milk line soon. The herd is “closed,” which means that it has tested disease-free and that all herd growth comes from on-farm breeding.
“This allows us to guarantee quality,” said Lisa Davis.
Nigerian Dwarf goats are the smallest of the dairy goat breeds but their milk is the highest in butter fat, enabling Sweet Doe Dairy to make its gelato from whole milk without any added cream. The end result is a product that is lower in fat than most premium ice creams and gelato, though extremely rich in taste.
Why goat milk gelato rather than cow milk?
“When we moved to Vermont, we discovered that our land was much better suited to goats,” Michael Davis said. In addition, goat milk gelato is a new product with little competition as Sweet Doe Gelato is New England’s first and only goat milk gelato producer.
“Consumers with a sensitivity to cow dairy can now enjoy a rich, creamy gelato. People with preconceived notions of what a goat milk product tastes like will be genuinely surprised when they try our gelato,” he said.
All of the milk produced on the farm is used on-site in the production of gelato.
Sweet Doe Dairy also boasts the “Homegrown by Heroes” label issued by the Farmer Veteran Coalition, signifying that it is produced by a farmer who is also a veteran of the Armed Forces. Michael Davis is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, having served two tours of duty in the Middle East in the mid 1990s.
“Great food comes from great farmers and we strive for excellence in every respect. Even if you are not a fan of goat milk or goat cheese, you will love our gelato,” Lisa Davis said.