German goat cheese with a French flair

An exciting day at Petra Elsen's cheese manufactory - learning all about cheese making in a countryside village in Germany.

If you thought that the best goat cheese can only be found in France, then you have to taste Petra Elsen's goat cheese variations. She produces her top-class certified organic 'Hommerdinger' goat cheese with the milk of her 'white German goats'.

For more than 25 years, Petra is making her cheese with a won­der­fully finely flavored and creamy melt purely by hand­work. The names of some vari­et­ies such as Chevre Noire, Buchette or Chevrette show where Petra learned her cheese making craft: in Poitou-Char­entes in west­ern France - a region with a goat cheese tra­di­tion.

The perfect goat cheese - with which recipe?

Petra smiles at this ques­tion, but then she gets emo­tion­al:

"Yes - there are instruc­tions, and it sounds very simple. I always say: you must have it in your blood and 'burn' for it! Adapt­ing the indi­vidu­al work steps or at what tem­per­at­ure the milk curdles best today, that is not included in recipes. In the end I make the decision with the exper­i­ence I gathered over the years, and I trust my gut feel­ing.”

And that's exactly what Petra uses for the past years to make her deli­cious cheese. She star­ted with her cheese pro­duc­tion when goat cheese was not yet pop­u­lar in Ger­many. Del­ic­acy and 'slow food' are not the trend words in the 1990ties. In the German coun­tryside there is still the pre­ju­dice that the goat is the cow for the 'poor people'.

What are the important parts of making cheese?

The most import­ant ingredi­ent is the nat­ur­al milk from Petra's happy goats. Her 100 goats find their feed on the herb-rich mead­ows of the Eifel. A big part of this region is pro­tec­ted by the German Nation­al Park status. In the even­ing her goats get an extra por­tion of organ­ic food. The goats are milked in the barn early in the morn­ing before they ven­ture out into the meadow again. Almost every day, 200 litres of milk are pro­cessed into cheese. The first step is to warm up the milk to a cer­tain tem­per­at­ure in the big steel kettle, then to slightly cool down. Thirdly the neces­sary cheese cul­ture and rennet are added to the pas­teur­ized milk and filled into large milk con­tain­ers. There the milk curdles within the next 24 hours.

True handwork in the manufactory!

The next day, the thickened milk is care­fully scooped into the vari­ous moulds by hand, ladle by ladle. Petra uses her 'tart­let' shapes and the taper­ing rolls for her cheese vari­et­ies a la fran­caise - based on the above sour milk cheese pro­cess. After 24 hours, the moulds are over­thrown. The cheese is now firm and will keep its shape. The cheeses can con­tin­ue to mature on the grids and devel­op their milk mould over the next days.

The pro­cess of thick­en­ing the milk into the curd is dif­fer­ent for Petra's semi-hard cheese, the 'feta' cheese, cream cheese, and other vari­et­ies. The curd looks more like a grainy cream cheese and is still very sweet in taste. The acid­i­fic­a­tion does not occur here until the next few days. Fur­ther mat­ur­a­tion for the dif­fer­ent vari­et­ies takes place in a mat­ur­a­tion bag or in a spe­cially tem­per­at­ure-con­trolled mat­ur­a­tion cham­ber.

A dream job in the countryside?!

If you think: Wow, what a ful­filling job with anim­als and pro­cessing your own cheese! Then please ask Petra for an intern­ship. This manual work is also back­break­ing work and that every day. Her goats don't go on vaca­tion, they want to be fed and milked every day. They get sick some­times too. Or the little goat babies are not accep­ted by their mother and have to be bottle-fed. Some­times the anim­als find a hole in the fence and are sud­denly every­where. Or one of the billy goats is very stub­born once again.

Yes - more work to be done?!

The stable must be cleaned, straw and fodder have to be stored and the work­shop rooms of the man­u­fact­ory have to be cleaned every day. It takes muscle strength and endur­ance. Petra is really not a giant and when she repeatedly turns her 36 fully filled forms around in the square, she notices her back and shoulders in the even­ing! She has help from her 3 part-time employ­ees. But if someone is sick, Petra has to work 80 hours or more that week.

Why did a young female farmer in the 1990s decide to start a goat cheese manufactury?

Petra grows up as the daugh­ter of a 'Wish to be' farmer. Her father does not inher­it a farm or receives his com­puls­ory por­tion, which is the case in the Eifel region after the Napo­leon­ic occu­pa­tion. So, in the 1930s he trains as a farmer. Petra's mother owns a farm­house but no land. Gradu­ally they buy addi­tion­al land and with their 10 cows, a pig and a couple of chick­ens they are a small farm like so many other farms in this region. Her father sticks to his dream job and Petra already at an early age helps him with the farm work.

Family tradition – or renewal? What is the next step?

"His pas­sion really impressed and shaped me. I always knew - I'll be a farmer! My older broth­er, who is the tra­di­tion­al heir, then stud­ied mech­an­ic­al engin­eer­ing. So, after gradu­at­ing from high school in 1985, I star­ted my Agri­cul­tur­al Col­lege straight away. We were 16 men and 4 women in the first year. None of the other women were taller than me. When we came up with our fem­in­ist approach, all we heard from the boys was: don't make a 'dwarf' upris­ing!"

Petra laughs about these memor­ies. Well, her sense of humor and con­fid­ence that she can handle any­thing helps her to real­ize her own dream. Her father sup­ports her at a time when many small farms in the Eifel are clos­ing. As every­where in Ger­many they cannot with­stand the com­pet­i­tion from the big 'indus­tri­al' farms.

"My father always told me that I can do everything just as well as a man! But that didn't always help me. Some­times it would have been better if I had ques­tioned more things, or planned a larger over­view. Less emo­tions and more real­ism would have helped some­times better with my busi­ness!"

What do the cow and the goat have in common?

Who knows? When Petra talks about cows and goats, you can see her enthu­si­asm. Both anim­als are rumin­ants and pro­duce milk. But a cow can pro­duce over 10,000 liters of milk and more per year, while a goat only pro­duces 600-800 liters on aver­age.

“In the begin­ning, my love belonged to the cows - I really wanted to do the milk­ing. But I knew I couldn't handle a cow phys­ic­ally! I had the exper­i­ence from my par­ents' farm. The cow is just too big and too heavy for me as a woman. I didn't want to be depend­ent on a man who would sup­port me phys­ic­ally."

But then why the goat? The 'poor' people's cow?

This is a ques­tion that Petra avoids for the time being. But then her answer comes very surely. "I really have to say how it was: it just flew to me. An angel whispered it in my ear."

With this inspir­a­tion she plans the next steps. Petra wants her goats to graze and be out in the meadow. Milk from happy goats is her motto. The smal­ler milk­ing par­lour for goats fits per­fectly into the old stables on her par­ents stable. Petra researches and finds the few goat farm­ers in the area through the goat breed­ing asso­ci­ation. Fur­ther­more, she also finds a cheese­maker and attends her first 'cheese making' course in Aus­tria.

'To take to the road' - in search of the perfect goat cheese!

At age 25 Petra decides that it is time to step out of her home vil­lage. Eman­cip­a­tion is the key word also regard­ing her par­ents. 'To take to the road' is a term from the old days when young jour­ney men trav­elled through­out Ger­many to gain life & work­ing exper­i­ence. Her first pos­i­tion is with a big farm on the Lower Rhine area. But she only gets to do the dirty stable work - not a trace of learn­ing. She leaves her employ­er and during the win­ter­time she has to take up work in a fact­ory. Next, she finds a new chal­lenge - a job at a mon­as­tery. The head monk asks her to set up the goat farm­ing and cheese dairy there. Unfor­tu­nately, the pro­ject is stopped after a short time and Petra searches again for a new job and pos­i­tion.

The lucky step: finding Joel & Patrique in France

She remem­bers her vaca­tion in France near the Atlantic coast, where she saw so many goats. At the time she doesn't know that the Poitou is one of the biggest cheeses making area in France. With the address list from the French goat breed­ing asso­ci­ation, she finds an intern­ship in an agro-indus­tri­al com­pany. That over 1400 goats are bred and milked almost in a fact­ory like style is totally new to her. The owner's daugh­ter tells her after a trip in the county side that she has eaten the most taste­ful goat cheese in a small vil­lage.

"It was imme­di­ately clear to me: If someone who grew up with goat cheese still talks so enthu­si­ast­ic­ally about a piece of cheese, then I have to learn from the owner the art of cheese making. So, I went to the fro­mager­ie of Joel & Pat­rique and asked for an intern­ship. It was quite a chal­lenge to under­stand everything about their cheese making pro­cess- with only 2 years of school French. But there was an imme­di­ate con­nec­tion between us. They loved farm­ing as much as I did."

Once back at her par­ents’ farm in Ger­many she shapes her own recipes with the French cheese making know­ledge in mind. Through her years of exper­i­ence and her love for goat cheese Petra devel­ops new cheese vari­ations in the upcom­ing years - well still up today. There is no stand­ing still for her. She very much loves what she does.

Blow of fate - and now?

During the mid 1990ties Petra builds up her cheese man­u­fact­ory step by step on her par­ents' farm – using the old stables and build­ings. She gains a stead­ily grow­ing circle of cus­tom­ers who appre­ci­ate and pur­chase her organ­ic goat cheese.

Then one night in April 2015, almost the entire farm burns down within a few hours. An unex­plained spark from a piece of equip­ment sets fire to the stables and the cheese dairy so quickly that the fire depart­ment can only save the old farm­house of her mother. For­tu­nately, the goats are res­cued in the nearby pas­ture. The mag­nitude and tragedy of the dis­aster hits Petra totally unex­pec­ted. This leads to Petra's phys­ic­al and emo­tion­al exhaus­tion. It takes her more than a year to decide for her­self wheth­er she wants to ven­ture a new start. After all, she is no longer in her late twen­ties.

Close to home - does that pay off as a cheese manufacturer?

How do I market and sell a product that can only be exper­i­enced through phys­ic­al con­sump­tion? This ques­tion is a chal­lenge or thread for small man­u­factor­ies. Petra's goats have a good life on the lush mead­ows in the Eifel. But her farm is too far away from poten­tial cus­tom­ers in the big cities. But Petra accepts the chal­lenge and rebuilds her cheese man­u­fact­ory.

Do you have a wish for the future?

Even though Petra looks as if she is quite relaxed about her craft, she is emo­tion­ally moved by many things that con­cern the future of her man­u­fact­ory.

"Every day is so packed, some­times even 24 hours are not enough to manage everything. I know that I have to make more efforts in mar­ket­ing and selling my deli­cious goat cheese! I can see with other farm busi­nesses that the input is now coming from the young­er gen­er­a­tion. The young people have other ideas and pos­sib­il­it­ies. That would be good here now, too."

"Also, I would love to take a vaca­tion again! But how? Well, think­ing about it, I have everything in the Eifel region that makes my heart happy. The unspoiled nature, my goats, and a job where I can see every day what I have cre­ated with my own hands. And my Bull­dog, the tract­or, I drive it some­times for fun. It was the first piece of equip­ment I saved the night everything burned down."

German countryside cheese tradition - newly interpreted!

Petra's delicious 'cooked' goat cheese goes well with many dishes

Petra has changed her grandma's recipe with the ingredi­ent of her goat cheese. Until the 1960s, cooked cheese is the ‘normal’ cheese in her coun­tryside region. There is a simple reason for this. Butter and cooked cheese have a longer shelf life than pure milk. A great advant­age in this time. The fat of the cow's milk is skimmed off to make butter. The skimmed milk floc­cu­lates after 1 day and the drained cream cheese is dried in a cloth bag placed in the cup­board. This raw mix­ture then becomes quite glassy - like a typ­ic­al low cal­or­ies German 'Harzer' cheese.

"My grandma used to boil the cooked cheese again with milk, butter and spices. This spread was eaten on a loaf of bread. I use my ripe Buchette and boil it up with a little milk until it dis­solves. Sealed air­tight, my cooked goat cheese will keep for sev­er­al months."

Here is the easy recipe:

Heat up 1 table­spoon of Petra's cooked goat cheese in a little bit of milk.  Stirr the cheese sauce to the fin­ished cooked spa­ghetti, add black pepper + fresh herbs. Serve with a salad and a glass of red wine from France or Ger­many. It is a little vaca­tion treat at home!

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How Color & Nature inspired a new LOOK for Petra's farm shop! See the  'Before & After' pic­tures here:

How Color & Nature inspired a new LOOK for Petra's farm shop! See the  'Before & After' pic­tures here:

How Color & Nature inspired a new LOOK for Petra's farm shop! See the  'Before & After' pic­tures here:

Name: Petra Elsen

She is:

State-cer­ti­fied farmer, goat owner, cheese­maker, farm shop oper­at­or

She can be found:

in Hom­merdin­gen, a very small vil­lage in the 'Eifel' a beau­ti­ful coun­tryside near Lux­em­bourgh, north of the german city Trier which has a rich her­it­age of roman ruins from around 100 A.C. 

She likes:

doing her daily work in peace, chat­ting with nice people from time to time, France and Switzer­land, get­ting to know other coun­tries

She finds that:

Bar­bara Streis­and and Nina Simone are extraordin­ary women with a spe­cial cha­risma 

Her WIASOLA tip:

Less emo­tion more real­ism is some­times a better advisor in the decision-making pro­cess

Her favor­ite songs:

  • Simply Red - ‚Hold­ing back the years‘  
  • Carole King - ‘You’ve got a friend’

To be found under:

A short clip about Petra's work:

How Color & Nature inspired a new LOOK for Petra's farm shop! See the  'Before & After' pic­tures here:

Petra's adress:


Nus­baumer Str. 4
54675 Hom­merdin­gen  - Ger­many
Tele­fon: (0049) 6522 1027


Farm shop - open­ing hours:

Monday - Sat­urday   9-13 o'clock

More inform­a­tion­en about Petra and her cheese:

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