HAW-SURFINGGOATThe millions who visit Maui each year probably don't envision goat cheese as part of the quintessential island experience.

Nonetheless, folks at the island's Surfing Goat Dairy have been more than happy to let those very same visitors not only tour the 42-acre farm and sample their products but also help with the property's everyday chores.

Eva and Thomas Kafsack, a couple originally from Germany, purchased the upcountry Maui property in 1999, thinking a goat dairy might be a nice way to retire. But according to Eva, the land wasn't originally ideal for grazing.

"It was full of trash and cacti and rocks, rocks, rocks," she said. "And I told my husband he was crazy."

The two worked out an equitable solution: Thomas cleared the land and Eva learned how to make goat cheese. Neither happened overnight, and Eva made many trips to dairies in France, Austria and Germany to pick up trade secrets.

Surfing Goat opened in 2002, and before long, Eva said, visitors just started showing up on their own, hoping to get a look at the goats and asking loads of questions.

"People started coming around 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon to see the milking, and they just lingered," she said. "And we said, 'We should make a tour out of this.' So now we have the Evening Chores tour where people spend one hour working for their money."

Product samplings and small tours seemed like a smart idea, and their operation expanded.

But why raise goats in the first place? And why cheese? Thomas, it turns out, has a passion for food.

"He really is a great cook, and a lot of chefs on Maui see him as an equal. But when he started talking about [opening] restaurants I told him, 'No, we're not doing that,'" Eva said. "But we figured out that restaurants would need fresh supplies, and there wasn't any dairy on Maui. No cows or goats, nothing."

The 80-plus goats on the property are raised and handled in a certified humane environment, while all of the dairy's products are free of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides and preservatives.

Today, many of Maui's higher-end hotels, restaurants and retailers feature Surfing Goat cheeses, including Tropica, a restaurant at the Westin Maui in Kaanapali; the Four Seasons Resort in Wailea; and the Down to Earth Natural Foods store in Kahului.

The Kafsacks welcome the success, even though it has come during what was to be a laid-back retirement for Thomas, a former software executive, and Eva, a former schoolteacher.

"We worked really hard before," she said with a laugh. "But we've never worked harder than now."

The Surfing Goat Dairy is a 15-minutedrive from Kahului. Casual Tours ($7 per person) run daily. Evening Chores & Milking Tours are every other day at 3:15 p.m. ($12) and include feeding, herding, milking and cheese sampling.

Similar to the Chores option, two-hour Grand Tours start every other Saturday at 9 a.m. ($25) but also feature a chance to see the cheese-making process and a presentation by Thomas on topics including food and wine pairings and recipes.

Visit www.surfinggoatdairy.com.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI