Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

Friends for Chèvre

Story by Martha Cheng. Photo by Elyse Butler.

Fendi, Hoops and Amore form a cuddle pile on a cold morning in Waialua, on O‘ahu’s North Shore. Nala and Shirley are butting heads, literally. Juliet is trying to escape. Tiramisu is staring at us. They are among Emma Bello’s 140 kids, born between last Christmas and New Year’s. Bello delivered almost all of them, one of her favorite tasks on Sweet Land Farm, because “seeing their first breath is what I enjoy the best,” she says.

Bello started O‘ahu’s only commercial goat dairy in 2013, producing chèvre, feta and tomme, an aged, semi-hard cheese. She recently built a farm shop, open Saturdays, which, in addition to the cheeses, stocks a goat milk caramel sauce and goat milk soaps and lotion. A window in the store looks into the aging room, where rounds of tomme, some of which have been aging for fifteen months or longer, are brushed and flipped every day to ensure an even, thin rind.

Bello lives on her eighty-six-acre farm in a former Red Hill military home from the ’40s, one of six buildings that she saved from demolition—each house was cut in half and transported to Waialua. Her family history in farming is even older than the houses. In the early 1900s her great-grandfather purchased agricultural land in Wahiawā. His son started a dairy, delivering butter, milk and cream via horse and carriage, and then opened an egg business, where Bello worked while growing up. Originally, though, Bello thought she would leave farming to become a chef. But she quickly discovered that she didn’t enjoy being in a kitchen every day. After a summer working on a goat dairy in Maui, “it just hit me,” she says. “I have a knack for it.”

She feels this especially when she is helping the nannies deliver their kids. She has witnessed almost four hundred births on the farm now, sometimes finding herself in the barn at 4 a.m. to make sure the babies will deliver correctly. “I don’t mind,” Bello says. “I was meant to do it.”