Our Lady of Meat and Cheese
The patron saint of happy goats and her church of farmhouse cuisine
It was 2005 when Wendy Mitchell, an overworked, under-rested Texas mom with a thriving burrito chain swore that her restaurant business days were numbered. Mitchell then sold lock, stock, and burritos, grabbed her family, (husband Todd and two small children) as well as her senses and busted out of Dodge.
Last fall, to the delight of Colorado foodies, she had a culinary rebirth, opening Meat & Cheese, a restaurant and farm shop in Aspen. Here, the play-by-play of fortunate events that brought her full circle.
Photo courtesy of Wendy Mitchell
Step 1: SHE WAVES THE WHITE FLAG
Picture a hard-driving, Lone Star State native with a passion for excellent food and a talent for serving it up. She’s running a very successful string of Mission Burrito restaurants when suddenly she just can’t face another scoop of guacamole. “I was so tired. I was managing 120 employees, juggling motherhood, and tripping over all these plastic toys in our house,” says Wendy. “It wasn’t Dwell magazine anymore.”
Photo courtesy of Wendy Mitchell
Step 2: SHE EMBARKS ON A GROWN-UP GAP YEAR
As part of her self-preservation mission, Wendy and Todd, an environmentalist, decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of living abroad. The family moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, and spent the next year enjoying an idyllic expat life with kids in school, Dad doing a master’s program in renewable energy, and Mom beginning to study the art of cheese making.
Photo by Emily Chaplin and Chris Council
Step 3: SHE TAKES ON 40 GOATS AND A CHEESE COMPANY
When they returned to the States in 2007, the couple decided to dedicate themselves to a more sustainable lifestyle where stewardship of the land would be at the core of their business. To that end, they bought a breathtaking property in Paonia along with 40 goats from Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy, thus initiating their first venture in cheese: Avalanche Cheese Company.
Wendy gives major credit to her Saanen, Alpine, and Nubian goats, and their pastoral life on 130 acres, for the excellence of her cheese. “We control what our animals eat—and their milk. You are feeling by hand and stirring milk; it’s not a factory where people follow a recipe every day, no matter what the milk is doing.”
At the time, she drove 73 miles daily to her Basalt artisanal goat cheese–making operation, which would supply small-batch pasteurized fresh cheeses and aged, raw-milk cheeses to the Roaring Fork Valley. Now, just north of 50, Wendy remembers those early days. “The creamery is this totally sanitary, quiet, organized space—so appealing. I’m totally alone, doing my own thing,” she says. “I was doing cheese because I didn’t want to be in the restaurant biz.” Avalanche started to collect national awards and received a lot of attention, but the money wasn’t adding up. “You need to make a lot more cheese to have a financially viable business,” she says. “So we had to grow.”
Portrait by Gibeon Photography
Step 4: SHE GETS BACK IN THE BUSINESS
In a case of never-say-never, the company expanded its scope with Meat & Cheese, a restaurant and farm shop on Aspen’s Restaurant Row that opened in Fall 2014 and continues to amass rave reviews. The farm shop offers highly curated items made with the same attention to craftsmanship that the Mitchells devote to Avalanche products. Besides their own award-winning goat’s milk wheels, smoked and cured meats, and pork and goat sausages, they sell local seasonal produce and flowers, fresh-baked bread, and an assortment of hand-selected vintage and new housewares.
The cozy 40-seat restaurant serves globally influenced fare billed as “world farmhouse” cuisine, to be paired with a selection of comfortably priced wines, craft beers (sometimes limited edition local brews), or craft cocktails made with in-house fruit and herbal infusions.
Wendy’s natural-girl beauty will disarm you, but her unequivocal sense of purpose and concern for the environment inspire action: “We ask ourselves, What are we all doing to this state we live in? Well, you carry on doing your best and make little changes along the way.” An unintentional role model, this restaurateur-turned-cheese-maker-turned-restaurateur has done more good for the landscape and the bellies of the Roaring Fork Valley than she could have imagined.
Pictured: Cabra Bianca, courtesy of Wendy Mitchell
AVALANCHE GOAT CHEESES:
A mild, creamy, fresh goat’s milk cheese
- Garlic and Basil Chèvre Spread
Fresh chèvre mixed with organic basil, garlic, and a dash of red pepper flakes
- Truffled Honey and Lemon Chèvre Spread
Fresh chèvre scented with a hint of white truffle oil and mixed with local, organic honey and lemon zest
- Lamborn Bloomers
Soft-ripened Robiola-style cheese, aged just over a month, with a silky, well-balanced interior wrapped in a beautiful white-molded rind
- Goat Cheddar
Hand-bandaged and aged for 6 or 12 months, this cheese is made in the style of the traditional British cheddars with goat’s milk
- Midnight Blue
Beautiful blue-gray veins run wild in this well-balanced, raw-milk goat blue cheese aged for 2 to 4 months
- Cabra Blanca
Aged semisoft goat cheese with a lacy interior and slight citrus notes
Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop
319 E. Hopkins, Aspen, meatandcheeseaspen.com
Avalanche Cheese Company
216 Cody Lane, Basalt,
Farm and Dairy (farm tours with catered lunch, by appointment only), 11510 Crawford Road, Paonia, 970-527-4313