Great Arizona day trips: The Ranch & Creamery at Fossil Creek

Posted: Updated:
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

STRAWBERRY, Ariz. -- When you think of where cheese is made, Wisconsin may come to mind. But you need to travel no further than Northern Arizona.  The Ranch and Creamery at Fossil Creek supplies goat's milk cheeses and fudge to some of the finest resorts and restaurants in the Phoenix area, and visiting The Ranch in Strawberry, north of Payson, makes for a fun day trip. 

"We're what you call a farmstead. Everything occurs right here at this property," owner John Bittner said.

The goats are bred, birthed, raised, and milked all on property.  Then workers produce, package and ship out everything they make from the goat's milk.

Bittner says he loves when "city folk" come see and experience the process.  He invites visitors to milk one of his goats, play with the babies, and even help in the cheese-making process.

The Fossil Creek goats are pampered.  Soothing music plays on loud speakers.  Instead of assigning numbers to each goat, which is typical on a farm, the goats (about 60 total) all have names.  They are treated like family.

Bittner says that all affects the quality of the milk, and ultimately the cheese and fudge.  Workers also make lotions and soaps from the goat milk.

Besides dozens of goats, The Ranch also houses a herd of llamas.  They are on the property to protect the goats.  Bittner says coyotes have stared down the llamas, but predators that may attack the goats choose not to mess the llamas.

Even still, Bittner says the llamas are very gentle.  Workers place saddles on them that can hold a picnic lunch, and anyone can go on a hike with a llama.  It is not unusual for visitors to hike down to Fossil Creek.

The llamas are cared for much like the goats: as family.  They have names like Michael Jordan and Sir Charles.  Also like the goats, they produce a sellable product as well.  Their wool is sheered and woven into items like hats, scarves and purses.

Directions: from the Phoenix area, head north on the State Route 87 (Beeline Highway) to Payson. Drive through and north of Payson, continuing on the State Route 87 to Strawberry.  Turn left onto Fossil Creek Road.  The Ranch and Creamery at Fossil Creek is about 3 miles down the road, on the left side.