May it Please the Palate- The best goat cheese in America

By Nick Roumel

Driving on vacation in remote southeastern Utah, I stopped in Boulder, Utah, population 200 (on a good day). Boulder is along mountainous Utah State Route 12, which wasn't even paved until I was a teenager. Yet today, it hosts a steady stream of international tourists, thanks in part to Route 12's inclusion in certain travel guide books. I also learned that the Devil's Backbone Grill in Boulder, featuring creative farm to table cuisine, has been discovered by Oprah and the New York Times.

Equally good is the Burr Trail Trading Post and Grill, which includes a coffee shop, bakery, and casual lunch spot. I had a superb hamburger from locally raised organic beef. Buying souvenirs, I got into a conversation with the clerk about my travel plans. She told me, "If you stop in Caineville, go to the Mesa Market and tell Randy I said hi."

It just so happened I planned to be driving through Caineville just about at lunchtime. I figured I'd stop at the Mesa Market, say hi to Randy, and then look for a place to grab a meal. Caineville, Utah on my map is a small dot along State Route 24, near Capitol Reef National Park. To give you an idea of how sparsely traveled the road was, if I saw a photo opportunity and there wasn't a turnout, I simply stopped the car in my lane and got out to take the picture.

I believe I saw a sign that read "Caineville" and started looking for a cluster of buildings. I passed a dusty wooden shack with a dog running around front and kept going. Then I realized that the sign I'd passed read "Mesa Farm Market." I backed up (yes, I didn't even bother doing a turnaround; just put it into reverse about 100 yards). The sign listed, "Bakery, Fresh Salads, Farmstead Cheese, Fresh Coffee, Vegetables." Rising behind the market is a dramatic mesa; hence the name. I walked in, banged open the screen door on the porch, petted the dog, and said hello to someone who said she was a friend of Megan's (which explained nothing to me).

Eventually Randy Ramsley came out, wearing overalls, a plaid shirt, and a cap over his shaggy white hair. I told him that Hana from Boulder said hi, and a smile creased his weatherworn face. He sat down with me at the one table on the porch. I ordered the "goat cheese combo" plate and we got to talking.

In answer to my inevitable question, "What led you to own an organic goat farm in southeastern Utah?" he quoted without elaboration from the John Hartford song, "I Would Not Be Here If I Hadn't Been There." (Lyrics continue: "And I wouldn't been there if I hadn't just turned on Wednesday the third in the late afternoon, got to talking with George who works out in the back, and only because he was getting off early to go see a man at a Baker Street bookstore ..." You get the idea).

Another article I read about Randy stated that he had worked in construction and learned the art of cheese making from a French woman. Which might help explain why Randy makes ... THE BEST GOAT CHEESE IN AMERICA.

For $10, he served me a platter piled with over a pound of chévre, feta, and "tomme," a Swiss style harder cheese. Next to this were several thick slices of homemade wheat bread, still warm from the oven, and a salad of fresh romaine, purple basil, green onion, and snap peas.

I took my first bite of chévre. "It's sweet!" I said, surprised. "Everybody says that," smiled Randy. "I don't know the reason, but it doesn't have that ''goaty'' tang." Whatever it was - and whatever he was feeding those 24 goats he kept in the back - it was fabulous. All three cheeses, and I say this as a Greek who has eaten more than his share of sheep's, cow's, and goat's milk Feta, were amazingly delicious with no off notes. "Do you do mail order?" I asked, my heart on my sleeve (or more accurately, my drool). "Not yet," Randy smiled, "But you never know."

I scarfed down that entire plate, finishing the salad with Randy's homemade olive oil and purple basil vinegar dressing, and left with a cup of Rocky Mountain coffee, which Randy made fresh with a paper filter. It kept me roaring over those mountain roads for a few more hours, except when I needed to stop in the middle of the road to take a picture, or pee.

I don't know if Oprah will ever make it to Caineville, but she should. And I might add, every other goat should bleat in envy at the Best Goat Cheese in America.

Visit Randy's Mesa Farm Market on Utah Route 24, or from the comfort of your desk, www.mesafarmmarket.com.

Published: Thu, Jul 4, 2013

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