Making my way down the dark country road, it occurred to me - what would I do should I get lost? I was surrounded by the Green Mountains, deep in farm and forest. It was not yet 7:00 in the morning, few roads were marked and my modern devices were as disoriented as I was. As I turned the corner on what I hoped was the right direction, the sky began to crack and a beautiful orange haze broke through. I looked toward the coming sun and scattered throughout the green fields were cows, horses and homes already starting their days, smoke weaving from the chimneys. It was a peaceful morning in Randolph, Vermont and I realized, I could have happily gotten lost here for a long time.
My destination was Fat Toad Farm, a family-run goat dairy that crafts the best farmstead cajeta available in the U.S. Steve Reid, Judith Irving and Calley & Josie Hastings have been making milk caramel, along with fresh chevre, since 2007, when their beloved herd of goats literally grew into a business.
The inspiration for their sweet milk preserve - along with the word ‘cajeta’- comes from Mexico, where the confection is wildly popular. After having spent time living there, Josey brought the tradition back home to Vermont. To call it a caramel is basically a concession to define this little known treat. Yes, it's caramel-like, but cajeta is much, much more than that! Similar to dulce de leche, cajeta is pure milk caramel, very different from the type of caramel you might make in your home kitchen. They start with fresh raw goat's milk and organic cane sugar, then slowly cook it down by hand in large copper cauldrons until it thickens, condensing and combining the bright tangy flavors of pure goat’s milk with the rich, sweet and toasty notes of caramelized sugar. It is, in one word, heaven. In theory, this method of production is simple: Heat and time - lots of it! But crafting the best cajeta is no easy feat. Here's a peak into their world...
One of the hallmarks to an outstanding cajeta is, not surprisingly, the quality of the goat's milk. Visiting in late fall, the goats were just getting tucked into their cozy greenhouse, where they'll reside, supplemented by hay, through the wintertime. Once the temperature heats up and the grasses green, they're purely pasture raised. And what a beautiful pasture it is.
6:30 AM: Time to milk the goats.
Shortly thereafter, fresh raw goat's milk gets poured into the giant copper pots along with the cane sugar and gets put to a high flame. After nearly an hour, the milk begins to froth and, similar to maple syrup, the water begins to evaporate and the sweetened milk solids brown to form the caramel texture.
As the cajeta thickens, there comes a point when it's just perfect. Fat Toad Farm has mastered the craft.
This perfection is then poured into jars and set to a hot water bath to preserve.
Trying Fat Toad Farm’s Cajeta for the first time was a sweet revelation, the kind that puts it all into perspective: Great people making authentic, soul-satisfying food.