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Milk: From Breast to Cheese with Dan Drake

Veterinarian and goat cheese expert Dan Drake introduced UCLA students to the science of cheesemaking as part of our 2013 Science and Food course. Did you know that good cheese starts with healthy, happy goats? Check out the highlights:


Vince ReyesAbout the author: Vince C Reyes earned his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at UCLA. Vince loves to explore the deliciousness of all things edible.

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Dan Drake

Dan Drake is the owner of Drake Family Farms in Southern California. As a veterinarian, Dan has been overseeing the health of the Drake Family Farms goat herd for the past 26 years. Using quality milk from their goats, Drake Family Farms produces farmstead and artisan cheeses that are sold locally throughout Southern California.

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What hooked you on farming?
I grew up on a farm and love working with the animals. I named my animals and made them part of my family. I am especially addicted to raising goats, and so I started a cheese company so I could justify keeping my goats. It is a ridiculous idea, and over the past three years it has been a financial disaster. But that is what farming is, a labor of love and bad finances. Farmers are victims of “Stockholm syndrome” with the far as the captor.
The coolest example of science in your food?
The mold-ripened cheese: as it ages and ripens it becomes more delicious.
The food you find most fascinating?
Cheese, of course, is the most fascinating food on the planet. I find it amazing that you can make so many varieties from the same milk.
What scientific concept—food related or otherwisedo you find most fascinating?
A farm filled with healthy, happy goats produces delicious, high-quality milk that makes the very best cheese—cheese that is unparalleled in quality and flavor. It is all about the goat biological system and how healthy the goats are. People think it is just good karma coming through in the cheese, which it probably is, but you can see the science of population health and productivity all the way through the process.
Your best example of a food that is better because of science?
I believe all of our cheese is superior because we start with superior quality milk. Without healthy goats, the milk would not produce superior quality cheese. It all goes back to the quality of the starting ingredients: in our case, the milk. You can’t fix damaged milk. You have to start over again with better milk.
How do you think science will impact your world of food in the next 5 years?
I am hopeful that science will help us to become more efficient in producing the crops we feed our goats, and therefore our cheese production will become more efficient. They say we have to feed 9 billion people on this planet in the coming years. We won’t be able to do it with our current farming methods. Hopefully these new technologies and scientific discoveries will also help us to work better with our environment and preserve our planet at the same time. I believe it can and will be done, we just need some smart scientists to figure it out AND we need the public to accept the discoveries they make.
One kitchen tool you could not live without?
A cheese knife.
Five things most likely to be found in your fridge?
Cheese, tomatoes, chicken, tortillas, Dr. Pepper
Your all-time favorite ingredient?
Cheese. You can add it to anything and it always tastes better with cheese.
Favorite cookbook?
My Grandma Drake’s hand-written recipes.
Your standard breakfast?
My favorite: an omelet with a lot of cheese and meats, a fresh baked tomato with pepper, sourdough toast with lots of real butter and strawberry jam, fresh-squeezed orange juice.
My reality on-the-go: a quesadilla and a Dr. Pepper while driving down the freeway to work.