Pure Luck in Armenia

Sarah Bolton lost her luggage on a cheesemaking trip to Armenia, but she gained some priceless knowledge and relationships.

Dripping Springs' own Sara Bolton, owner and co-founder of the Pure Luck Dairy and Farm, spent four weeks during the months of June and July in Armenia. Bolton was sent across the ocean to teach cheesemaking techniques and principles by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's M.A.P. (Marketing Assistance Program). This program offers assistance to people in developing countries, to help them become self-sufficient in agricultural practices. The USDA hired Bolton through Langston University in Langston, Okla., where she has been teaching cheesemaking for the past two years. She went to Armenia along with many other scholars in many different disciplines from across the U.S. Bolton's mission was to bring recommendations to the local cheesemakers about goat management, cheesemaking techniques, and improving sanitation practices at the cheese plants. This was a win-win situation for both the Armenians and for Bolton. The Armenians benefited from Bolton's impressive knowledge of cheesemaking. Bolton learned about a completely different culture, met some amazing people, ate some great cheeses, and acquired a better understanding of the world at large.

Bolton's home base in Armenia was an apartment in the capital city of Yerezan. She was fortunate to travel around in the company of an interpreter and her friend, Dr. Steven Zeng of Langston University, an expert in the microbiology of cheesemaking. Together they shared their knowledge with their fellow cheesemakers.

Bolton was amazed by the country's beauty and by the simplicity of the life led by its people: "They have suffered, their infrastructure is in complete abandonment since the collapse of the Soviet Union, yet everybody seems to be eating. They are friendly and giving, and at the drop of a hat people who have nothing offer you everything they have," Bolton explains. "I loved the food; it was very simple and fresh. They have wonderful fresh cheeses and yogurt, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and bread. The meat is very fresh, and always artistically arranged in beautiful skewers, which they grill on open fires. There is always a bunch of mixed herbs, like basil, dill, green onions, parsley, and cilantro at the table, and everybody just takes what they want to flavor their meal. It's incredible."

Bolton discovered that Armenian cheeses are mostly salt-brined, like feta. The two most common types are Chanahk and Lori. Lori is also allowed to age by draining and drying it. It is then crumbled, sometimes flavored with fresh herbs such as rosemary or tarragon, packed in a crock, and buried for some time. The resulting aged cheese is sharp and delicious, according to Bolton.

Unfortunately, Bolton's luggage was lost in transit on her way home, and all the beautiful things she bought and many of her photographs were lost forever. There are, however, some photos on the Pure Luck Web site (www.purelucktexas.com), for those interested in taking a peek at cheesemaking and life in Armenia. As an added bonus, Bolton was able to gather some invaluable information from her friend Dr. Zeng, who wrote his dissertation on blue goat cheese. "Wait until you taste the next batch of our blue cheese!" Bolton says enthusiastically. Pure Luck's "Hopelessly Blue" cheese is slightly sharp and tangy, semi-firm, and delicious in its goaty blueness. The "new and improved" version will be available for purchase beginning this weekend at the Westlake Farmers' Market and at Boggy Creek Farm, along with a resurrected old favorite, the award-winning "Del Cielo," a Camembert-style cheese.

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Sarah Bolton, Pure Luck Dairy and Farm, Marketing Assistance Program, Yerezan, Steven Zeng, Langston University

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