Bill and Tina Moller of Nature’s Way Farm and Seafood in Hampstead believe happy, well-kept goats produce higher quality goats’ milk and cheese. A shell fisherman and former shrimper, Bill used the money from the sale of his shrimp boat to erect three small buildings. One is for Tina’s famous cheese processing, one for eleven female goats, one for two male goats (used for breeding baby kids available only in early spring).
All the animals are registered American Alpine goats and are treated as loving pets, hence such names as Lucy, Lollipop, Sunshine, and Orion. They forage on a mix of alfalfa and lespedeza. The latter is a member of the pea family which prevents parasites from developing in the goat’s cud. Twice a day, the goats are hand- and machine-milked by members of the family.
The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) says “goats are humankind’s oldest domesticated species dating back some 10,000 years,” and an individual animal “returns the cost of its feed in a valuable and healthful food.” (My father swore that goat’s milk cured his ulcers!) A few years back, the ADGA gave Tina several awards for her blue cheese, mozzarella and Herbs de Provence chevré, all made from the milk of her beloved goats. In addition, she makes a mango-raspberry cheese roll and a blue cheese-walnut spread, but her favorite is the dill and garlic chevré. A very productive woman, Tina also makes scented goat-milk soaps, herbal salves, lip balm, and coconut skin cream. She helps jar raw and unfiltered honey from Bill’s bee hives and makes jams from home-grown fruit.
The carefully made products are sold from the Moller household and at Wrightsville Beach Farmers’ Market on Monday, Ogden Park Farmers’ Market on Wednesday and Wilmington’s Riverfront Farmers’ Market on Saturday, all from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. They sell some of their products to Tidal Creek Co-op, and to three restaurants, Pembroke’s, Rx, and Catch, who believe in farm-to-table eating. Tina remembers meeting executive chef James Doss (Pembroke’s and Rx) many years ago when she was selling organic produce. He told her that her harvest was an inspiration and he hoped one day to use only locally-sourced ingredients in his cooking.
Carson Jewell, chef de cuisine at Rx, is responsible for designing the daily menu at the restaurant. He uses Nature’s Way cheeses, clams and oysters. In describing a particular recipe, Jewell said he was dressing flatbread with a spread made of shitake mushrooms, ramps (wild onions) and feta. He also prefers Tina’s feta in his butter-bean hummus.
“I really love her feta cheese,” Jewell says. “It’s salty, crumbly and delicious. And I like Mr. Bill. I’ve been working with him for over three years, and his oysters and clams are tops in taste. Tonight, I’m using the clams with pork-skin linguine, Swiss chard, leeks, and tarragon.”
Bill attributes the great quality of his shellfish to the “water garden” from which they are harvested. “In Topsail Sound, between the Surf City Bridge and Hampstead, we’ve leased 7 acres from the state of NC,” Bill tells. “These clean waters produce small, single-rock oysters that are 3-to-6 inches across. They are high in salinity, which makes them taste more succulent.”
The Mollers began their personal relationship with shellfish (and each other) over 30 years ago on Bill’s clam dredge. “She needed a job and I needed a good helper,” Bill quipped. “December through March, from dawn to dusk, we clammed side-by-side, as hard as we could.”
“One time I sloshed water into my boots,” Tina notes with a wry smile. “I told Bill my feet were freezing, and he said to bring extra clothes next time. Usually, I was a trooper, but I made him ‘pay’ for that one!”
Tina did forgive Bill and they married, had two sons, and decided to farm goats on 3 acres of lush land in Hampstead. A strong believer in edible landscaping, Tina does not irrigate their large vegetable and fruit garden, but helps Bill mulch heavily between rows with thick wheat straw bales (regular hay would produce too many weeds). Their fruit trees and crops, including hot peppers and blackberries, are thriving and no water is wasted.
“Most of my jams are 75 percent fruit and 25 percent sugar,” Tina explains. “I use honey instead of sugar if it doesn’t alter the taste of the fruit. I especially like our Kieffer dwarf pear preserves and pear butter.”
The most popular pear tree grown in the South, the Kieffer has crisp white flesh, stops growing at about 15 feet and is resistant to the bacteria which cause fire blight. Tina says it’s important to buy fire blight-resistant trees (especially apple) and bushes when considering edible landscaping. “We made the mistake of planting blackberry bushes too close to our Asian pear tree,” Tina said. “The blackberry bushes got fire blight, gave it to the Asian pear, and both died.”
After many years of working with the land, the Mollers are quick to learn from their mistakes. Early in the spring, Bill uses his rototiller to break up the soil and till in compost, which Tina cleans from the goat stalls. The compost consists mainly of alfalfa hay, manure, and Stall Dry (a natural product of diatomaceous earth and granular clay used in organic production).
For more information about Nature’s Way (115 Crystal Ct.) or to schedule a farm tour, contact the Mollers at (910) 270-3036 or email@example.com and natureswayfarmandseafood.com.
This story is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Keith Moller.