Tuscan Kale and Goat Cheese Salad

…and a visit to Sullivan’s Pond Farm

october 24, 2014

tuscan kale and goat cheese saladWhen lifelong Virginians Rona and Tim Sullivan left city life behind in 1998, their goal was to live close to the land and enjoy a natural existence farming goats and chickens. Relocating to Virginia’s bucolic Middle Peninsula, an historic area rimmed with picturesque creek and river views, they eventually settled on a farm in Wake with rolling hills and big sky.

They do, indeed, live close to this fertile earth, operating a small batch artisanal goat cheese facility under the banner of The Bonnyclabber Cheese Company.  Free range chickens peck contentedly next to friendly sheepdogs and dozens of goats which produce creamy milk for their Grade A cheese making venture.

Rona and I became acquainted some years back when we sold our wares at the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market.  Their fledgling business was unfortunately devastated by 2003’s Hurricane Isabel.  With prolonged power outage and water damage, the Sullivans lost their stores of cheeses made from raw goat’s milk.  But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, adversity became advantage when they rebounded with pasteurized milk cheeses now referred to as the Isabel Series.   Beautifully packaged in natural wrappings like moonshine- soaked corn husks and grape leaves, these cheeses are rich and creamy and impossibly delicious.

Tidewater, my personal favorite, is redolent of garlic and spices.  Sandy Bottom, used in today’s recipe, is coated with a fragrant black pepper rind.  Chesapeake Blue is the perfect union of tangy goat and blue veined cheeses.  These and other unique varieties are sold in area farmer’s markets, neighborhood stores and online.

Sullivan’s Pond Farm is host to several breeds of dairy goats : large white Saanen, noted for prodigious milk production, tiny-eared Lamancha, the only new American breed of goat, French Alpine, bearded Toggenburg and the Nigerian dwarf.

sullivan's pond farm llama

stately guardian llama of Sullivan’s Pond Farm



In addition to the very vocal and obedient sheepdogs, they are guarded by two llamas and a large Anatolian sheepdog/Maremma mix named Lochsa. The goats are fed non-GMO alfalfa, barley, oats, wheat and lots of local hay.  Female goats produce kids twice yearly, and the babies thrive on their mother’s milk instead of formula.

mama and baby goat

mama and two month old baby goat

Rona and Tim are ably assisted by their son, Cole, an accomplished musician,  and a series of enthusiastic interns.  Rona finds it gratifying to witness a new generation pursuing ties to the land, keeping the “old ways” current.  Interest in small family farms is at an all time high, as consumers want to know not just how their food is grown, but more about the food artists gracing our tables with their wares.


The Sullivans hope to host more public farm tours to facilitate this introduction to local farm life.

Rona Sullivan, master cheese maker

Rona Sullivan, master cheese maker


Here is the perfect showcase for Sullivan’s Pond Farm Bonnyclabber Cheese, a salad with crunch from local Tuscan kale (also known as lacinato kale, and dinosaur kale) and Asian pear, creamy roasted cashews and a sweetly earthy pickled red onion vinaigrette.  This dressing is a good fridge keeper for up to two months and the recipe makes plenty, so plan on using it to adorn other salads, or drizzle it on plain goat cheese for the masterful blend of umami, sweet and sour.  For another recipe highlighting Sullivan’s Pond Cheese, click here.

salad ingredients

Sandy Bottom Bonnyclabber Cheese and the makings of a great salad

tuscan kale and goat cheese salad

recipe by Michele Humlan, The Good Eats Companytuscan kale and goat cheese salad

makes four servings


8-10 leaves of tuscan kale, sliced horizontally into ribbons
½ cup whole salted or unsalted roasted cashews
½ cup seedless red grapes, halved
one small Asian pear, cored and thinly sliced
pickled red onion vinaigrette
4 ounces goat cheese – I used Bonnyclabber Cheese’s Salty Bottom
cook’s note : no need for tossing salad with salt and pepper, since dressing is well seasoned

pickled red onion vinaigrette
makes about 1 ½ cups
one half of a large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ cup neutral oil like canola or grape seed
pinch of finely ground white or black pepper

In nonreactive bowl, allow red onion to macerate with salt, sugar and vinegar, mixing well, for one hour. In small bowl of food processor (or in beaker attachment of immersion/hand blender), process pickled red onion with Dijon mustard and pepper until smooth but still a little chunky; add oil and whirl until nicely blended. Store in the refrigerator up to two months.


  1. In large mixing bowl, combine kale, cashews, red grapes and Asian pear.
  2. Add just enough pickled red onion vinaigrette to coat salad well.
  3. Divide salad mixture among four plates or bowls.
  4. Crumble goat cheese and scatter across dressed salad.
  5. Serve immediately.
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