grass fed

What exactly is “farmstead cheese”?

The folks over at New England CheeseMaking Supply Company like to think of it as the cheese that our Grandmothers made on the back of the stove; “a simple and to-the-point means of preserving milk during the peak of the season when there was a bit of extra milk.”

People are intimidated by cheese. It requires science and math and a heck-of-a-lot of
patience. The end result seems so magical that for the moment its farmstead roots can be set aside and forgotten – that pot of milk set in a warm place, natural bacteria in the milk working on separating the curds (solids) from the whey (liquid).

Modern cheese-making (and modern health practices) no longer allow us to just leave the milk out overnight. We add specific bacteria to get a specific result. We adjust the temperature up or down to produce one cheese over another, but no matter how many subtle shifts in the process, each cheese is still born of milk. Ah, the fascination…

farmers cheesesOur ricotta-mozzarella class focuses on the easiest cheese to make at home: ricotta. We affectionately refer to it as the “gateway” to cheese-making, requiring milk and lemon juice as its sole ingredients. On December 20 we’ll graduate to working with cultures and rennet, paying homage to the grandmothers of yesteryear with hands-on instruction in cottage cheese, basket cheese, and paneer. This “Farmstead Cheese” class will be a grand ole look into the history of cheese, and a reminder of how simple home cheese-making really is.
Join us.

When the Cows Come Home: The A2 versus A1 debate

friesian head

For the past year or so, we have been in a transitioning from a pasture-based model, where the cows got some grain during winter, to a 99% grass fed dairy. That is a slow transition. Going purely grass fed is both an adjustment for the cows, and for the farmer, who must monitor his cows to see how they are adjusting, and plan appropriately to grow and harvest enough hay for the winter months.

Cows adjusted to grain give more milk, so our grass fed model requires more cows to maintain the volume of milk needed to make our cheeses. In the name of balance, we decided to introduce a few new cows to the herd; ten hearty Friesians with A2A2 genetics.

What are A2A2 genetics, you ask?

It seems that hundreds of years ago there was a mutation in a gene that changed the nature of the proteins in cows’ milk. Now, this was a long time ago, but over generations this A1 mutation predominated in Europe and the US, while the original A2 cows continued to thrive in Africa and Asia.

Fast forward to today. There are many claims about the digestibility and health detriments/benefits of A2 milk versus A1 milk. Although there are no concrete studies to prove it one way or the other, there is a book, “The Devil is in the Milk” by Dr. Keith Woodford, that has become a bible for believers.

There is, however, anecdotal evidence that cows with the original A2 gene are more hardy, more likely to thrive, in a 100% grass fed environment. These are the original cows, with the more feral genetics, and as a grass fed creamery that has meaning for us. Introducing some A2 genetics into our herd seemed right.

After much googling and visiting, we found a farm in New York State with a herd of healthy, thriving grass fed A2 cows that we felt would be a match for our herd. Our ten debutantes arrived the last Friday of February, pushing into the pole barn to get acquainted with the CGF herd. Our girls lined the paddock fence, craning their necks to see the new arrivals, amidst much mooing, snorting, and sniffing.

The new cows will be kept apart for a while to give them time to acclimate, and when the grass springs again, they will be introduced to our pastures and begin their life at the farm. We expect about 45 calves this spring. We hope you will drop by to visit and say hello to the newcomers.

Note: A1A1 and A2A2 genetics are not, as sometimes reported, breed specific. The A1A1 gene may predominate in certain breeds, but you can find A2A2 Holsteins and A1A1 Jerseys. The only way to know for sure is to test the milk.

Living Through The Dumb Time

There aren’t many grass-fed dairies around, but our numbers are growing. Grass fed dairying is something that our grandparents and great grandparents knew all about. Once upon a time, grass fed was the only way, yet in the space of three to four generations, we’ve forgotten how to do it.

A number of progressive Pennsylvania and New Jersey farmers believe that getting back to basics is the best way to produce wholesome, quality products. These dedicated souls meet periodically to share their knowledge, their challenges and their successes. Slowly, through trial and error, these farmers are rediscovering the art and science of running a grass fed dairy herd.

Transitioning a dairy farm from conventional process to grass fed, is far more complicated than just hanging up the grain bag and turning the cows out into the field. Most U.S. dairy cows are bred for conventional, grain-based dairy farming. These cows do their best work when eating grain, genetically selected over time to convert grain to energy effectively. That means that not all breeds of cow, or even individual cows, transition to grass easily. Some take to it, some take time to get in the rhythm, and some cannot adjust. As information about transitioning to grass is not readily accessible in a book or online, what we need is the down and dirty; the detail you get from sharing knowledge with your peers.

To get the high quality milk required for artisanal cheese you must have quality forage. A good farmer manages the herd’s health and well-being, while also managing the pasture’s healthy and productive. Without added organic nutrients, soils deplete over time as energy is removed through grazing. If you don’t put something back, the pasture won’t thrive and support the cows, which means a good dairy farmer is also a grass farmer, monitoring the pastures, adding organic matter when necessary. It’s a many-headed beast, farming. You need to understand a lot about livestock, soils, plants… and in real time, as your animals and pastures grow and change with the seasons.

One dairy farmer we know describes the early transition to grass-fed dairying as “living through the dumb time.” He says, “We all go through it, searching for the path to a healthy farm.” What makes it easier is this meeting of the minds, the sharing of knowledge and discovery. We are proud, as a farm, to be a part of the rediscovery.

A Local Twist on a Classic Soup

Sam’s Onion Soup

Serves 4

  • 2 lbs. Onions
  • 1 head garlic, crushed (Cherry Grove Organics)
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
  • 12 oz (1 bottle) Dark Beer (Stout or Porter) or Black Style Beer
  • 1/3 lbs. CGF Rosedale, grated
  • 1 baguette (Village Bakery) sliced and toasted
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 bunch Thyme, chopped

Directions

Julienne onions and heat medium stock pot over low heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil, and then add onions. Caramelize onions over low heat for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic 5 minutes before the onions are done.

After adding the garlic, add 6 to 12 oz beer, depending on taste. Then reduce the volume of liquid by half. When reduced, add the chicken/vegetable broth. Bring mixture to a simmer and reduce by 1/4 volume. Add chopped thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle hot soup into oven-safe bowls, place a crostini on top with some Rosedale, and then place under the broiler until brown. Enjoy!


1902 - Family purchased farm

1910 - Leased land to dairy farmer

1987 - Hamill Brothers inherit farm

2002 - Started as a family business

2003 - Started a beef herd, laying hens, and pigs

2004 - Added sheep and attained organic certification of pasture land

2005 - Added dairy herd and began making fresh cheeses like mozzarella

2006 - Built aging caves and began making aged cheeses

2012 - Grid Magazine’s Cheese of the Month (Nov – Full Nettle Jack); Finalist at the Good Food Awards (Toma)

2013 - Won 2 blue ribbons from the American Cheese Society(for Buttercup Brie and Lawrenceville Jack Reserve); Added second cheesemaker

2014 - Broke ground on additional aging space and began process of getting AWA certification for our chickens
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