Producer Spotlight: Vermont Shepherd

VermontShepherdVermont Shepherd is a 250-acre sheep dairy located in Westminster West, Vermont. Vermont Shepherd is one of the oldest sheep farms in Vermont and is the second oldest sheep dairy in the United States. The Major family has had sheep on the farm since 1965 and have been a sheep dairy since 1987. The farm is now run by the Major and Ielpi families, and is home to over 300 ewes.

To celebrate their unique character and seasonal spirit, we’ve put together a package that not only reflects their cheesemaking talent, but the farm itself and the surrounding community. In addition to making their small batch cheeses, Vermont Shepherd sends small amounts of their sheep’s milk to an artisan in the neighboring town of Bellow’s Falls to be turned into a gentle, fragrant soap.

Scenes from the farm.

A New Saxelby Exclusive: Calderwood from Jasper Hill Farm!!

Calderwood

After a lengthy R&D process, we’re proud to premier our latest Saxelby exclusive!!!

Calderwood begins as a wheel of Alpha Tolman, Jasper Hill’s delicious alpine-style cheese, which spends several months of its aging process coated in hay from lush Vermont pastures located right on the farm.

The hay used to make Calderwood is harvested from pastures surrounding Jasper Hill Farm and dried in a special hay drying machine. The Calderwood Cropping Center, the first machine of its kind in the United States, can dry hay in a matter of a few hours, where it would take 3-4 days to dry in a sunny field. Jasper Hill Farm’s founders, Andy and Mateo Kehler, observed a hay dryer in action in Parma Italy, a region whose cheese calls for grass-fed milk, but whose climate is a bit too rainy for making consistent dry hay, and were inspired to bring the Italian technology stateside. The Cropping Center allows them to make high quality dry hay for feed that lasts the whole year, which is paramount to their quality standards as cheesemakers. Many of Jasper Hill’s award-winning cheeses are crafted from raw milk. Good quality hay is a key ingredient in the cheesemaking process, ensuring the microbiology of the cows’ digestive systems and the milk itself is at an optimal place for cheesemaking.  

Read about Calderwood in the New York Times! >>

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Above: Calderwood Cropping Center

Bred for Deliciousness! Sample Five Cheeses From Five Different Dairy Cow Breeds!

CowBreedsWhen we picture a dairy farm, most of us (Americans anyways) picture the iconic red barn-silo duo and black and white spotted cows happily chewing their cud in the midst of bucolic pastures. What most of us don’t realize is that there are hundreds of breeds of dairy cows in the world, all hailing from different places, and bred for specific purposes. And does the breed of the cow influence the flavor of the cheese, you ask? Heck yes!! The breed of cow (in concert with how they are raised and what they are fed) has an indelible impression on the finished cheese – from flavor to texture, and even (yes) the color!

Read on to learn more about the rare and diverse breeds of cows favored by our farmers, and treat yourself to a taste of cheese from five different breeds with our ‘Cow Breed Quintet’

mollycaitJERSEY
Spring Brook Tarentaise

Jersey cows, long prized for their capacity to produce milk chock full of butterfat, originally hail from the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel just off the coast of France. Characterized by their caramel color, sweet dispositions, and toupee-like hairdos, these cows produce more milk per pound of their own body weight than any other! They are also terrific grazers, thriving in the intensive grazing programs that many of our cheesemakers employ. The color of their milk is astonishingly yellow – this color comes from the carotenes in the grass they eat, making the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ totally apparent – and true! Spring Brook Farm has one of the country’s top herds of registered Jersey cows, and their Tarentaise shows off just how special the milk is.

unnamedDUTCH BELTED
Weybridge

Dutch Belted cows are like the Oreo cookies of the cow world – their glistening black coats boast a broad white stripe encircling their ample bellies – in fact, they might be more aptly called Dutch Cumberbunded. The first Dutch Belted cows were brought to the United States in 1838, and were quickly adopted by circus magnate PT Barnum who featured these rare and beautiful cows in his traveling shows. The Dutch Belted cow nearly became extinct in the 1970’s, but thanks to a handful of stalwart farmers and breeders, the breed is back in business! Patty and Roger Scholten of Scholten Farm in Vermont chose the Dutch Belted breed because ‘they look great’ (Patty’s quote – our cheesemakers are aesthetically-minded too!), produce milk with good butterfat, and their legs and hooves are well suited to being out on pasture. Weybridge, the diminutive disc of soft cheese made from their milk actually tastes a bit like a cow pie! (And we mean that in the most complimentary way!)

Marieke Gouda Cows EatingBROWN SWISS
Shelburne Cheddar

The Brown Swiss cow is one of the oldest dairying breeds in the world (some historians claim they date back to 4,000 BC!) and originally hail from the mountains and valleys of Switzerland. Brown Swiss cows are large in stature but sweet in temperament, making them ideal cows for milking. In fact, the folks at Shelburne Farms say that they can shave about a quarter of the time it would normally take to milk a herd of their size off just due to the fact that the cows are so darn cooperative. The Brown Swiss breed is known for being hardy, able to produce great quality milk from a diverse source of forage (the pastures of the Champlain Valley are a piece of cake to graze compared to the Swiss Alps!), as well as for their longevity. The registered herd at Shelburne Farms now numbers 120, and was started by Derick Webb in the 1950’s.

jasper hill Cows1_DennisCurranSMAYRSHIRE
Bayley Hazen Blue

The Ayrshire cow is a Scottish breed known for its red and white spotted coat and also for the unique fat composition of its milk. While most dairy cows produce milk with large globules of fat (making it easy to skim off cream and make butter) the Ayrshire cow’s milk is almost naturally homogenized, meaning that the fat globules are smaller and the milk does not separate quite so easily into cream and skim. To call the Ayrshire tough and sturdy would be an understatement. In 1929 two Ayrshire cows were walked from the Breed headquarters in Brandon, Vermont to St Louis Missouri for an agricultural show. Not only did both cows survive the trip, they went on to have healthy calves and reach record milk production! Mateo and Andy Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm were drawn to the Ayrshire cow because of the smaller fat globules in their milk and their ability to hang even through the harshest of Vermont winters!

Rolf and Marieke with calfHOLSTIEN
Marieke Truffle Gouda

The Holstein cow is the quintessential black and white spotted dairy cow, but it wasn’t always so! The Holstein (or Holstein-Friesian if you want to be super nerdy about it) rose to prominence in America in the 20th century due to its ability (through lots of selective breeding) to produce literally TONS of milk. Holsteins are the preferred breed of cow for farmers producing fluid milk because they are paid by the pound. A Holstein cow can make upwards of 70 pounds of milk per day – That’s a whopping 8.5 gallons per cow!! The breed was originally developed in Holland, and as Rolf and Marieke Penterman are of Dutch descent (and now natives of Wisconsin – a land well known for its black and white cows) it only seemed right to have Holsteins on the farm!

Bone Char Pearl – Exclusive Limited Edition Cheese Release!

170527_BoneCharPearlSaxelby Cheesemongers is thrilled to announce the arrival of Bone Char Pearl – a brand new cheese that is the fruit of a collaboration between our friends at Blue Hill Stone Barns, Seal Cove Farm, and Crown Finish Caves! Bone Char Pearl is a mixed milk cheese (fifty percent cow and fifty percent goat) from Seal Cove Farm in Maine. The young cheeses are dusted with a fine coating of bone ash produced by Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and aged by the expert affineurs at Crown Finish Caves until they reach three weeks of age and are ripe and ready to eat! Bone Char Pearl is tangy, fudgy and distinctly earthy with a tannic and mineral finish imparted by the bone ash.

Bone Char Pearl will be released in limited edition micro-batches – Be sure to get yours today!

Saxelby Cheesemongers is thrilled to announce the arrival of Bone Char Pearl – a brand new cheese that is the fruit of a collaboration between our friends at Blue Hill Stone Barns, Seal Cove Farm, and Crown Finish Caves! Prior to this launch, the only way to savor this cheese was to dine at Stone Barns and hope that it made its way into your tasting menu rotation of farm-fresh delights. Now for the first time ever, you can purchase this cheese directly from Saxelby Cheesemongers and enjoy it in your own home!

Bone Char Pearl is a mixed milk cheese (fifty percent cow and fifty percent goat) that is made at by Barbara Brooks at Seal Cove Farm in Maine. The young buttons of cheese are dusted with a fine coating of bone ash produced by Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and aged by the expert affineurs at Crown Finish Caves until they reach three weeks of age and are ripe and ready to eat! Bone Char Pearl is tangy, fudgy and distinctly earthy with a tannic and mineral finish imparted by the bone ash.

Bone Char Pearl is a cheese conceived by chef Dan Barber and his team up at Blue Hill Stone Barns as a part of their crusade to cook the most delicious food imaginable using the most sustainable means of farming, production, and harvest possible. One of their imperatives is to not waste anything that comes out of their kitchen – vegetable scraps are thrown into a compost pile that in turn sous-vide cooks signature dishes, bones left over from stock-making are carbonized in a special high-heat, low-oxygen environment and then used as charcoal that imparts a smokier, fattier, gamier flavor to anything cooked on the grill.

Chef Barber wanted to see if the ash from the ground up bone charcoal could be applied to the surface of the cheese, like the famed ashed goat cheeses of the Loire Valley, and if so, what flavors would it impart? Enter Saxelby Cheesemongers, Seal Cove, and Crown Finish Caves. Saxelby Cheesemongers is Blue Hill’s trusted partner in crime when it comes to their cheese selection. We tested out a few different cheeses for this project, and landed on the Pearl because of it’s crisp, tart-yet-buttery, and slightly yeasty flavor profile.

Crown Finish Caves completes the final, and most crucial part of the puzzle for this fabulously unique cheese. Their temperature and humidity controlled caves – old lagering tunnels located deep beneath the streets of Brooklyn – provide the ideal environment for these little cheeses to mature and develop flavor. The Pearls arrive at Crown Finish Caves when they are one week old – fresh, young, and rindless. The cheeses are then dried in a special ‘sechoir’ or drying fridge, to prime the surface of the cheese to grow the right kind of rind. The cheeses are then dusted with the bone ash and moved into the caves to grow their supple bloomy rinds.

The finished product is a thing of beauty – both in looks and flavor! Bone Char Pearl is one of the tastiest morsels of culinary innovation we’ve ever laid our hands on, and we can’t wait for you to try one for yourself!

Shop Bone Char Pearl Now!

Women in Cheese – A 5 Minute History

The Future (and Past!) of Cheese is Female

Throughout history, women have played a crucial role in cheesemaking. From European cheesemaking traditions spanning many centuries to our nascent artisan cheese boom here in the United States, the role of women in cheese cannot (and will not) be understated! In honor of Women’s History Month, Saxelby Cheesemongers is celebrating women in cheese – past, present, and future!

In Europe, the making of many traditional cheeses was seen as women’s work. The division of labor on the farm was simple – men performed the ‘outside’ labor – caring for the animals, the land, and the farm’s facilities and equipment. Women did more of the ‘inside’ work – which consisted of homemaking, child rearing, and in the case of dairy farms, cheesemaking. Of course there were (and are) exceptions to that rule – shepherds high in the Pyrenees and Alps milked their animals in the field and made larger-format traditional cheeses like Pyrenees Brebis and Comte, but many of Europe’s most famed cheeses are the work of women’s hands.

In America, women were the force behind the artisan cheese movement, which began in the 1970’s as a drop in the proverbial pond. Over the past 40 years that drop has swelled to a tremendous wave of delicious cheese that can rival the best of the best from Europe or anywhere else. Those early American tastemakers have been affectionately dubbed ‘the goat ladies’ – and include icons like Laura Chenel and her famous chevre, Mary Keehn of Humboldt Fog fame, Judy Schad of Capriole Dairy, Alison Hooper of Vermont Creamery, Laini Fondiller of Lazy Lady Farm, Barbara Brooks of Seal Cove Farm, Jennifer Bice of Redwood Hill Farm, and Paula Lambert of the Mozzarella Company. Their reasons for making cheese ranged from wanting to provide their families with healthful and wholesome foods – an extension of the ‘Back to the Land’ movement, to a desire to replicate and further the reach of fabulous goat cheeses tasted while traveling, to a love of goats and goat breeding, or some happy combination of all three.

Starting with zero in terms of resources – they shared information, bootstrapped their young businesses, and conjured a goat cheese revolution out of thin air. Back in the seventies and eighties there were hardly any decent milking goats available, much less the milking equipment and cheesemaking supplies necessary to make goat cheese. All of the country’s top dairy minds had been focused for more than a century on a different dairy animal – the cow – and how to optimize breeding, milk production, and equipment. Through sheer willpower and and a LOT of elbow grease, these ‘goat ladies’ pioneered the craft of making great goat cheese here in the US, and inspired generations of cheesemakers to follow!

Chefs were the first to gravitate towards these fresh goat cheeses – Alice Waters and Thomas Keller were some of Laura Chenel’s first customers. Allison Hooper of Vermont Creamery made her first batches of chevre for chefs in Vermont and Boston who craved it but had no source for it. Chefs paved the way for the ‘civilians’, regular folks who might not have travelled abroad and tasted goat cheese before, but who trusted the chefs and restaurateurs who demystified this delicious cheese for the American palate.

Today, some of the finest minds (and hands) in the American artisan movement are female. Check out a few of our favorites below and read up on women making their mark in the American artisan cheese world!

Grayson – Helen and Kat Feete

Grayson is made by a dynamic mother-daughter team in Galax, Virginia. Helen was the first cheesemaker in the United States to make a supple, stinky, washed rind cheese, and was told by a few along the way that she couldn’t do it! After some tutelage from European cheesemakers, particularly Giana Ferguson of Gubbeen cheese in Ireland, Helen perfected her craft.

Ascutney Mountain – Jeannine Kilbride

Ascutney is made at Cobb Hill Farm, an intentional community conceived by Donnella Meadows, a thought-leader in the world of systems thinking and ecology. This community is dedicated to sustainability, and cheesemaking is one of their communal pursuits. Today Ascutney is made by Jeannine Kilbride, a talented cheesemaker in her own right!

Burrata / Mozzarella – Johann Englert

Maplebrook Farm was started by Johann Englert, a woman with good taste and a lot of gusto! After tasting some of Mike Scheps’ mozzarella in his Manchester, Vermont store, Johann decided to launch a business to distribute his cheese to shops in the Boston area in a newly purchased Chevy Tahoe. Johann and Mike joined forces and now produce award-winning mozzarella and burrata from the milk of Vermont family farms.

Kunik – Sheila Flanagan and Lorraine Lambiase

Sheila and Lorraine purchased Nettle Meadow Farm after deciding to ditch their ‘normal’ jobs in favor of farm life. Kunik, their signature cheese, is truly one-of-a-kind. It is a triple-creme blend of goat’s milk from their farm, and cow cream sourced by a neighboring farm. Nettle Meadow Farm is unique because in addition to being a working dairy farm, it is an animal sanctuary where Sheila and Lorraine can care for animals – both retired dairy goats of their own as well as other animals who need a good home.

Cremont / Bonne Bouche – Allison Hooper / Adeline Druart

Allison Hooper, co-owner of Vermont Creamery, spent time in France learning the rudiments of cheesemaking, and in 1984 launched her business with Bob Reese. For years Vermont Creamery stuck to making fresh cheeses, but when Adeline Druart, a young dairy science intern from France, joined the team, she decided she wanted to up the ante and produce mold-ripened goat’s milk cheeses in the French style. Adeline, Allison, and Bob’s passion has yielded a stellar lineup of soft goat and cow’s milk cheeses that rival anything from across the pond.

Noble Road / Elsa Mae – Emily Montgomery

Emily Montgomery got bit by the cheese bug after working as a dairy science consultant to some of America’s biggest dairy companies. Her family’s 6th generation dairy farm in Wayne County Pennsylvania was ailing, so she came up with a plan to add value to the farm’s top quality milk by turning it into cheese! Now Calkins Creamery is thriving and produces a lineup of award-winning cow’s milk cheeses that Saxelby is proud to serve.

Marieke Premium Gouda – Marieke Penterman

Marieke and Rolf Penterman emigrated to the United States to start a dairy farm in Wisconsin. The cost of land in their native Holland was just too high, and their love of dairy farming was so great that it lured them across the sea! Rolf quickly established a thriving dairy herd, but Marieke missed the cheese from back home. She began making Dutch-style raw milk gouda from the herd’s milk, and a new business was born!

Tres Bonne – Anne and Susan Gervais

Sisters Anne and Susan (maiden name Gervais) are two of fifteen children in the Gervais family. The family has farmed in the northwestern reaches of Vermont since the 1960’s, and in 2007 Anne and Susan launched Boston Post Dairy to convert the farm’s cow and goat milk into top quality cheese.

Pawlet – Angela Miller / Leslie Goff

Angela Miller, a successful literary agent, and her husband Russell Glover purchased Consider Bardwell Farm with the dream of restoring it to its cheesemaking glory. Consider Bardwell is the site of Vermont’s first cheesemaking cooperative, and carries on that tradition today, sustaining the farm’s herd of milking goats, plus cow’s milk from two neighboring farms in town. Cheesemaker Leslie Goff has been working at Consider Bardwell since she was 15 years old, and learned the craft of cheesemaking from Peter Dixon. Today she is the force behind the farm’s cheeses, and is in our humble opinion, a bit of a badass.

Weybridge – Patty Scholten

Patty Scholten (one half of the dynamic duo behind Scholten Farm – the other half is her husband Roger) came up with the idea of turning her farm’s superior quality milk into farmstead cheese. In 2007 they sold the herd of cows that had come with the farm and replaced them with a herd of organic Dutch Belted cows. This bright & cheesy idea lead to a partnership with Jasper Hill Farm, who now age their diminutive discs of Weybridge cheese to fudgy perfection.

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar – A Five Minute History

The story of Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar is the result of a perfect storm between two ambitious brothers, Cabot Creamery, and an award-winning wheel of cheese. Brothers Andy and Mateo Kehler decided to start a business in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom because their family had ties to the land there for over 100 years, summering at nearby Caspian Lake. They wanted to create a sustainable agricultural business that would revive the working landscape of Vermont, which was being decimated by big dairy farms and industrial agriculture. They bought ‘the old Jasper Hill Farm’ in 1998, and worked for five years to restore the barn, start a herd of Ayrshire dairy cows, and build a creamery. They began making cheese in 2003 and instantly met with much acclaim, but it was a call from Cabot Creamery that would change everything.

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Photo credit: Sarah Forest

Cabot Creamery heard of Jasper Hill’s success in the artisan cheese world – a world that they wanted to get into, but were having trouble reaching due to the fact that none of their cheese aging facilities had the capacity to age a British-style bandaged cheddar that they longed to make. Cabot Creamery is one of America’s most venerable dairy institutions. Begun by 94 Vermont farmers in 1919 who each contributed $5 per cow plus a cord of firewood for the boiler, they purchased the village creamery and began turning their excess milk into butter and fluid milk that could be shipped to urban centers. Over the years, the cooperative evolved, and they added cheese to their repertoire. Cabot Creamery is not a ‘fancy’ cheese manufacturer, but extremely pragmatic and effective in it’s business initiatives – to this day they support over 1,200 farm families throughout New England. They shipped a few test wheels to Jasper Hill Farm, and the Kehler brothers aged them for over a year before sending an entry to the American Cheese Society competition. Cabot Clothbound Cheddar won ‘Best in Show’ that year, and the Kehlers returned to the farm determined to find a way to expand the production of this newly crowned wunder-cheese.

The idea they hit upon was the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm – a 22,000 square foot aging facility with seven different temperature and humidity controlled vaults dug into the hillside next to the creamery and farm. By building the Cellars, they could age and sell infinitely more Cabot Clothbound Cheddar AND allow new artisan cheesemakers to get into the game by aging cheese for them as well. More than 70% of the labor in making cheese goes into the aging of it, and by easing that burden for cheesemakers, they allowed their partner creameries to focus on what matters most – animal health, quality milk, and great cheesemaking techniques. In addition to aging cheeses from Jasper Hill Farm and Cabot Creamery, the Cellars now ages cheese from four other creameries. But according to the folks at The Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm – Cabot Clothbound Cheddar is what keeps the lights on – the company remains a powerful economic engine for cheese, dairy, and Vermont’s working landscape.

By buying and serving Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, you are supporting this virtuous cycle, and eating some pretty incredible cheese.

Pickle Day THIS SUNDAY September 25th!

It’s Kind of a Big Dill….

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Join Saxelby Cheesemongers this Sunday from 12-5pm for Pickle Day, the the biggest and pickley-est party on the Lower East Side! Come on out to Orchard Street to sample our world-famous Raclette and Pickle Dog, taste treats from over 20 picklers, get down to some great live music, and witness the first EVER home pickling / dancing contest!

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Cheesemaker Spotlight! Bonnieview Farm

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Bonnieview Farm is a fourth generation dairy farm in Craftsbury, Vermont. Bonnieview is owned by Neil and Kristin Urie. Neil is the 4th generation of the Urie family to farm there – his great grandfather started the farm back in 1890 as a cow dairy, though they also raised pigs, sheep, and horses. Neil’s grandfather and father were also born on the farm. Neil bought the farm in 1995 from his uncle who was a traditional cow dairy farmer (traditional being the parlance for a farm that sells milk on the commodity market and is not specialized in any way – organic, value added products, etc) According to Urie lore, Neil took off for the Peace Corps when the family farm was first put up for sale. He decided that if the farm was still for sale when he returned from the Corps, he would buy it because he wanted to see the farm stay in the family.

Kristin was born and raised in Manhattan (a far cry from Craftsbury, Vermont!) but found her way to the Northeast Kingdom (she attributes her northerly migration to latent Nordic bloodlines 🙂 where she met Neil in 2001. They were married in 2005, and they now have four children – Tressa, Maeda, Linden, and Nell.

When Neil started farming at Bonnieview, he milked cows for 5 years. During that time, he met David Major of Vermont Shepherd, who was milking sheep. Neil thought about it for a few years before making the switch. In 1998, Neil sold his cows and started milking a flock of 90 sheep in 1998. They now milk about 180 ewes from May through October – a mix of Fresian, Lacaune, and Tunis breeds, as well as 8 cows that are milked from August to April. Sheep have a very short lactation cycle – after they have their lambs in April they are milked for a few months before being dried off again in the fall. The cows at Bonnieview come online in late summer when the quantities of sheep milk are dropping, and are milked through April, when lambing season rolls around again. This staggered cycle of breeding, lambing, and calving, and milking gives Bonnieview Farm a unique seasonal cycle of cheesemaking.

farm-wheelThey now make three different cheeses that vary in composition (all sheep milk, blended sheep/cow milk, and all cow milk) throughout the year, as well as a blue cheese that also changes in milk composition over the year.

In the summer of 2016, Neil and Kristin completed work on a cheese cave, their dream of over six years! The cave was built into a hillside about a quarter of a mile down the road from the farm and houses all of Bonnieview’s cheeses. The cave allows them to produce and age the maximum amount of cheese that they can from their ewes and cows, and age them in ideal conditions until they are ready for market.

Bonnieview Farm is dedicated to producing delicious and healthy food for their local community, and for the rest of us far-flung cheese lovers! In addition to making cheese, Bonnieview raises lambs for meat and wool. They want to offer people a connection to the source of their food, and they work to cultivate the vitality of the land, the animals, and their family. A bold and wonderful mission indeed!

Right now we are in peak sheep season as it were! Stop by the shop for a taste of their glorious Coomersdale, Ben Nevis, and Mossend Blue – three of the finest sheeps’ milk cheeses these mongers have ever tasted!

Lambing Day at Meadowood Farms

This weekend we headed up to Meadowood Farms for their annual Lambing Day celebration! Check out some gratuitously cute pictures of lambs and click here to read more about Meadowood Farms, sheep cheese, and Lambing Day.


Meadowood Farms is located in Cazenovia, New York, a historic upstate hamlet just outside of Syracuse. Established in 1911, it was said of the original farm owners, the Walter Chard family, that “They therefore chose a site in the midst of a fine country and commanding a superb view of the full length of Cazenovia lake, a site in the center of a farm which they hope in time to make a model of cultivation and thrift.” The original farm was home to a wide variety of agricultural enterprises including an apple orchard, a flock of 4,000 chickens, white Cheshire pigs, and a herd of 50 milking Holsteins. The farm was a thriving business up through the 1950’s, when burgeoning big ag industry and science began to erode the sustainability of small and mid-sized farms. Over the decades the farm atrophied, and by the 1980’s it was all but derelict – the town even considered tearing down the historic Chard mansion.

The current owners, Marc Schappell and Tom Anderson, stumbled across Meadowood Farms in 1995 while visiting Cazenovia for a wedding. They fell head over heels for the farm and have spent the last 20 years restoring the farm lands and farm buildings to their original glory. Meadowood Farms now encompasses over 200 acres and is home to a flock of pure bred East Fresian sheep used to make their award-winning lineup of cheese, and Belted Galloway cattle – used both for showing at agricultural fairs as well as for beef.

Every spring Meadowood Farms hosts a Lambing Day celebration – kicking off the spring and the start of the sheep cheese making season. Sheep are seasonal in their milk production – they give milk for a 5-6 month period after their lambs are born in the late winter/early spring. Veronica Pedraza, the head cheesemaker at Meadowood Farms, has been making cheese for two weeks this season, and in another 2-3 weeks, we’ll have the distinct pleasure of bringing you those young, fresh sheeps’ milk cheeses! The first cheeses of the season are Strawbridge – a creamy bloomy rinded cheese that tastes of hazelnuts, cultured cream, and tangy yogurt, and Ledyard – a leaf-wrapped sheeps’ milk cheese that is yeasty, barnyardy, and honeyed in flavor. Look out for these two behind the counter at Saxelby Cheesemongers in the coming weeks – we can’t wait to dig in to them ourselves!

Veronica Pedraza, head cheesemaker at Meadowood Farms, dreamed of making sheep cheese for years before finding the right farm for her. She honed her skills making cows’ milk cheese at Sweetgrass Dairy in Georgia and at Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont, two of the country’s top cheese producers. She has quickly created a lineup of delicious sheeps’ milk, mixed milk, and cows’ milk cheeses named after local people and places in Cazenovia. Driving around over the weekend we saw cheese names everywhere we looked – Rippleton Road, Ledyard Street, Lorenzo, Cazenovia’s historic mansion, and Juvindale Farm – the local dairy that Veronica buys her cows’ milk from. But sheeps’ milk cheese is her true passion – the milk is higher in fat than cow or goats’ milk, and has a unique, nutty, sweet and slightly wooly flavor that imparts wonderful flavor notes to the finished cheese.

 

Now back to the sheep – farmer and flock manager Bee Tolman is one of the pre-eminent experts on sheep and sheep dairying in the US. Unlike the cow dairying industry, in which Bee says there is ‘little to nothing new to discover’, the sheep dairying business is a veritable black hole of information in comparison. Sheep dairying is very common in Europe, but the secrets to success (including the genetics for the animals themselves) are locked in regions like the Pyrenees in France, the arid planes of Thanks to farmers like Bee, La Mancha in Spain, and in various regions of Italy. However, Bee has made it her life’s work to educate herself, chipping away at the secrets and paving her own way to a phenomenal operation at Meadowood Farms.

This year the farm is producing more milk than ever thanks to an innovative system of leaving the ewes and lambs together for 12 hours at a time and then separating them for 12 hours. This allows the lambs to be with their mothers and nurse, and also allows the ewes to produce the maximum amount of milk. Sheep reach their peak of milk production just 30 days after giving birth, so this period of early spring is crucial to the success of the cheese making side of the business. The spring milk is also the richest at this time of year, making for some super tasty cheese.

The sheep are grazed all summer long – another tremendous effort for Bee and her farm team. Talking about the farm, she said that milking sheep was already tough enough without adding the ‘dark art’ of rotational grazing. It’s basically a big grass gambling operation – Bee goes out and surveys the farm’s ample pasture and decides which patches she thinks will be ready to produce the best grass three weeks out. She then mows the fields and prays, crosses her fingers and toes, and invokes any other superstition available to her to ensure that there’s not a drought, not too much rain, and that in three weeks time the grass is young, tender, and appetizing for the sheep. Contrary to popular belief, sheep (and all other grazers) won’t eat just any grass, they like the softer, younger shoots. Once it grows above a certain height, it becomes too fibrous and woody, no longer appealing to them. Many of our dairy farmers half joke that they are actually grass farmers – which is not a stretch when you consider how important the animals’ diet is to the finished product!

So when the season’s first sheeps’ milk cheeses from Meadowood Farms arrive a few weeks from now – one bite will tell you all you need to know about the goodness of the farm. Till then, stay tuned and ready to savor!