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Almost 10 years ago, Wendy Mitchell bought a farm in Paonia and 50 dairy goats. The idea was to run a dairy and creamery that treated the animals (the goats are pastured, grass-fed, and free of antibiotics) and its employees (who are paid above minimum wage and receive a health care stipend) humanely. Avalanche Cheese Company quickly made its mark, winning prestigious awards from the American Cheese Society Competition and the Good Food Awards and drawing the attention of Whole Foods Market and high-end venues such as the St. Regis Aspen Resort. In 2014, Mitchell added artisanal meat products to her offerings.
Sadly, a decade later, Mitchell is shuttering Avalanche Cheese Company. The last milking is planned for Saturday (the goats are finding a new home in Wisconsin), and the cheeses will be available at Whole Foods, the Truffle Cheese Shop, and Cured in Boulder until the inventory runs out. (Mitchell expects many of them to sell out by January, but the cheddars, including the hugely popular hand-bandaged goat cheddar, which ages for a year, will still be available through next summer. Avalanche made its last batch a couple of months ago.)
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The decision was a difficult one, but the numbers, Mitchell said, simply stopped adding up. “We’re not making money,” she “It was to the point where I really had to look at the business and say, Is this sustainable for the long haul? We could have gone up in the number of goats… [but it would require] a way of raising animals that I wasn’t excited about.”
The other option—which Mitchell tried—was lowering her herd from 220 to 80 goats, cutting down to a skeleton staff, and upping prices. “We lost 75 percent of our meat business when we raised prices last year,” she said. “That’s the price we have to charge to break even and if we can’t… we have to look at what we’re going to do: either go to a commodity pork product or do what they call dry pens for the goats where they’re not on pasture. This is just not why I started this business and not the kind of product I want to produce. That’s why I decided to shut down.”
“It’s really sad to me because it does tell you that there is a price cap on eating well,” she adds. “And by well, I don’t mean fancy, I just mean with some intent—knowing where your food came from and knowing how it’s raised. There’s a cost to that.”
Thankfully, Mitchell isn’t exiting the food world entirely. She’s turning her focus to her other two businesses: Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop and Hooch cocktail bar in Aspen. The former will continue to sell American and imported cheeses. “That’ll still be our connection to that world: selling other people’s [cheeses],” Mitchell says. “We have really good insight into what’s special and what’s unique and trying to find things that not everyone has.”