The State of Cheese: Massachusetts

For a while now, I’ve been doing a series called ‘The State of Cheese’ on Cutting the Curd, my cheese-centric Sunday radio show on the Heritage Radio Network. This series aims to cover all 50 states, chatting with cheese makers, store owners, and other dairy-loving folk to see what’s doing in the world of curds and whey where they live! This week week we caught up with some cheese makers in Massachusetts to talk dairy from colonial times to the present day.

Today Massachusetts is home to over twenty artisan cheese makers, making everything from fresh Portuguese cheeses to bold and robust blues. Perhaps the first thing that put Massachusetts on the cheese map was the ‘Cheshire Mammoth Cheese,’ a giant tomme gifted to president Thomas Jefferson in 1802. This 1200 pound cheese was the fruit of the labor of the tiny town of Cheshire, where the local pastor called on his congregation to pool all of their cows’ milk together to make the four-foot-wide wheel. Somewhat later in time, 1978 to be exact, Ricki and Robert Carroll of Ashfield Massachusetts helped spark the new wave of artisan cheese making in the United States with the opening of their New England Cheese Making Supply Company. Ricki Carroll’s book ‘Home Cheese Making’ has inspired countless caseophiles, both amateur and professional, and has helped them turn out innumerable rounds of tasty cheese.

My two victims, er-um, I mean interviewees, on this week’s show were Barbara Hanley of Shy Brothers Farm and Susan Sellew of Rawson Brook Farm. These two women from completely different backgrounds, telling completely different stories, are responsible for a few of the fine cheeses that make up the fabric of Massachusetts’ cheese scape today.

Barbara Hanley came to the world of cheese making as a second career, taking interest in a local agriculture commission in Westport, Mass after she and her husband moved there. An energetic and business-savvy woman, Barbara convinced the Shy Brothers, two pairs of fraternal twins and third generation dairy farmers, to try their hand at cheese making to save their family farm. Hannahbelles, their signature cheese, is a riff on a classic, thimble-sized cheese from the Burgundy region of France. They’re currently working with more local farmers to make the transition to value added dairy.

Susan Sellew came home to the Berkshires as a homesteader back in the late 1970’s. She left her then-home in upstate New York, realizing that the region where she grew up had a stronger contingent of food-lovers, and was the perfect place to start her dairy. She felled the trees to make her barn, cleared land for pasture, and started making fresh goats’ milk cheese. A firm believer in the mantra ‘bigger is not always better’ Susan’s Monterey Chevre can be found only at select local grocers and restaurants, as she has no desire to grow her herd of 45 milkers.

Tune in to Cutting the Curd every Sunday from 2:00 to 2:30 pm on the Heritage Radio Network, or download as a podcast to listen at your leisure!

‘Till next week, eat cheese and be merry!

Cutting the Curd, a dairy-centric radio show on Heritage Radio Network

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