Spring Brook Farm
A couple weeks ago, we loaded up cars after work on Sunday and headed to Spring Brook Farm in Reading, Vermont for our annual staff field trip. We woke early to a sunny and warm Monday. Well, early is a relative term when you’re talking to cheesemakers who get to work around 4am to match up with the morning milking, which the farmers start at 3am. Luckily, though, they make cheese throughout the morning so we were able to watch them make Reading, a smooth, mild cheese based on raclette, at a more reasonable hour. We watched Gary add cultures and rennet to copper-lined vat filled with that morning’s milk. The equipment was set up so the milk was guided to the make room using only gravity. This careful handling ensures that the fat globules in milk stay whole, which prevents off flavors in the cheese. After sitting in the vats for a while, the milk (mixed with culture and rennet) solidified until Gary deemed it ready to cut. Watching curd cutting is totally mesmerizing, with the harp-shaped cutters circulating around the vat cutting the curd to the perfect size for Reading.
Then, we headed into the aging room with Ellie. She showed us how to wash Tarentaise, another Alpine-style cheese, more aged and sharp than the Reading, and she let us try! Basically, washing the cheese helps rind development and to control mold. We took burlap cloths, dipped them in salt water and rubbed them all over the top and sides of the 20 pound wheels, then pushed the cheese back onto the shelf. Even with the shelf taking some of the weight as we washed, it was exhausting work! We washed 14 wheels each and we were TIRED. Our arms were sore, our hands were cold, and we left with great admiration for everyone who works washing and turning the hundreds and hundreds of wheels every day. It is certainly a labor of love.
After a delicious lunch of sandwiches at the South Woodstock Country Store, we hit the windy Vermont roads with Jeremy, Cheese Program Director at Spring Brook Farm and, in our opinion, a cheese Zen master. He showed us around their two partner dairy farms. Both of these farms define “small family farm.” In these newsletters and on the counter, I talk about “small family farms” all the time, but I didn’t have a clear picture in my head. Now I do. The Lewis’s and the Millers are both running farms of 30 – 60 very happy cows. When we walked to the fence to look at the beautiful, doe-eyed Jerseys, they came right over, looking for a treat and a scratch on the cheek. They clearly loved people because their people clearly loved them. With everything we hear in the cheese industry about Vermont’s small dairy farms disappearing, it was heartening to see these families, in partnership with Spring Brook Farm that pays a consistent price for the milk (twice the current market price), making it work.
It was one perfect day, seeing cheese made from start to finish, exploring Vermont’s small dairies, and getting to ask the Spring Brook Farm staff our many, many questions. They were so warm and friendly, and they really made our trip. I want to give our second day up at Spring Brook its due, so I’ll leave that until next week. In the meantime, come taste Spring Brook Farm cheese, Ashbrook, Reading, and Tarentaise!
For the love of cheese and farm visits,