Posts filed under 'Windsong Farm'

Sasha’s presentation on Cheesemaking in the Northeast

American Cheese SocietyOne of the general sessions this year was about cheesemaking in the Northeast. Clark Wolf who has a NYC based company that does restaurant and hospitality consulting was our moderator and did a great job of synthesizing information from the three presentations and posing broader questions to us all at the end. Louis Aird of Saputo in Montreal shared the history of cheese production in Canada with us and Jeff Roberts, author of the Atlas of American Artisan Cheese shared some facts and statistics about cheesemakers in the Northeast that he’d collected during his research for the book.

My ten minute talk was based on findings from our tour last summer. Below is a basic outline of my talk with audio pieces laid in where I played them. Have a read and a listen.

The Cheese by Hand lens: Our project only looked at producers making cheese by hand. We made every effort to cover the major milk types- cow, sheep, goat- and to represent the density of cheesemaking in certain regions (i.e. we saw more dairies in Wisconsin, Vermont, and California than anywhere else).

In the Northeast we visited the following farms in this order: Jasper Hill Farm, Twig Farm, Vermont Butter & Cheese, Willow Hill Farm, Appleton Creamery, Westfield Farm, and Cato Corner Farm. All are first generation cheesemakers, two are farmstead, three use milk from their own herds and buy in milk to supplement, and two are purchasing all of their milk.

These producers are, in many ways, representative of those we visited around the country- they come from diverse background and face many of the same issues as their colleagues in the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and even the South. I’ll cover three larger topics that came up everywhere and explain to you how the Northeasterners had a unique perspective on each.

First: The loss of landscape. This includes not only the land but all the services that support farms- large animal vets, mechanics, and slaughterhouses). The audio clip below features Michael Lee (Twig Farm), and Willow Smart and David Phinney (Willow Hill Farm).

Loss of Farms

The terminology- working landscape- is something we only heard in the Northeast. Maybe their connection to the landscape comes from an awareness of the rich history of dairying and farming in the region? Ultimately on this issue we felt that the producers in this area were ‘on message’ meaning that everyone had similar thoughts and desires to see the land back in use for agriculture.

Second: An eye towards their competition (Europe). Cost of Business clip starts with Allison Hooper (Vermont Butter & Cheese), Caitlin Hunter (Appleton Creamery), Michael lee (Twig Farm). Educating the public starts with Caitlin (AC), Debbie Stetson (Westfield Farm), Mateo Kehler (Jasper Hill Farm), Michael Lee (TF).

Cost of Business Educating the public

Cheesemaking is expensive everywhere but the reference point for NE cheesemakers is always Europe- whether they are discussing healthcare, cost of infrastructure, or subsidies. This may happen because the two big markets are NYC and Boston, both of which have a bounty of imported cheeses. One stinging factor is that there is a perception that most European cheeses are made by hand- Michael Lee pointed out in another part of our interview that EU cheeses that are made in the way he makes his cheeses in Vermont would not be cheaper. There is a serious educational component for these cheesemakers- not just about cheese but about the state of agriculture in our own country.

Third: The concept of local. This word is as loose as “natural” or “artisan”- listen to how differently it is used by these producers. Some call their products local when all the inputs are local and some use the term local to define the inputs and the market where it is sold. In this audio clip you will hear Michael Lee (TF), Mateo Kehler (JHF), and Mark Gillman (Cato Corner Farm).


The NE region is going to push the word local and possibly force it to be defined. Again, this has a lot to do with the two big metropolitan markets within (NY, Boston) because clientele there can support the reclaimation of the working landscape. NE was the only place where we heard producers talking about AOC cheeses- about products that must be created in a specific place- maybe also a result of the proximity and comparison to European products in the market.

In closing- some thoughts from NE producers about unifies them and what they imagine is in store for the future of artisan cheesemaking… You will hear Willow Smart (WHF) and Michael Lee (TF).

Wrap up

Add comment August 9th, 2007

Windsong Farm

GaryName: Windsong Farm
Owners: Gary and Carla Beau
Location: Palmer, AK
Animals: They purchase milk for cheesemaking from a dairy 3 miles down the road that has been in operation since the 1930’s. The cow shares they sell are for the two Holsteins on their land.
Cheeses/Products: Mozzarella, Cheese Curd, Fresh Cheddar (plain and flavored), Beer Cheese (made with three local beers)
More Info:

Gary Beau has lived in Alaska since he was 10 years old and for some inexplicable reason, for as long as he can remember, he wanted to have a farm in Palmer. Palmer lies in the Matanuska Valley, the primary- if not only- agricultural belt in alaska. He and his wife Carla ran a successful small airplane business for decades before they purchased a forested lot at the end of a road in Palmer in 1990. With the assistance of seven sheep they cleared the land for building. In 1992 their next door neighbor (a family of 9) decided they needed a milk cow. [Note that at this point in the conversation Gary does mention that he never wanted to be a dairy farmer because dairy farmers are stuck: they’ve got to milk twice a day every day.] So their neighbor asks them if they would go in on a cow with them; they would trade off every three months so no one would be stuck milking year round.

They purchased a Jersey and every three months they would walk her across the bridge between their two properties. Well, eventually this cow had a heifer calf and the neighbor was not interested in expanding his herd so Gary took over responsibility for this calf. She was too cute to sell so Gary kept her and raised her. By the time the original cow had her second calf, Gary still had not sold the yearling. Eventually they were milking two regularly and figured that if they were milking two twice a day they might as well be milking 25.

Gary making cheese

The milk from the first two cows was already too much for them to consume so they ordered a book from the New England Cheesemaking Company and began making cheese in their kitchen. They had enough sense to understand that there wouldn’t be much money in selling milk to a coop so as they expanded their herd they continued making cheese. Sounds logical enough except that you’re in Alaska and in the winter it gets down below negative 20 (without wind chill) and you’ve got four hours of daylight. When we got into the winter conversation Gary did admit that its not easy, he remembered a morning where he walked out to milk the cows and even with a head lamp on he walked square into one of his beef cattle and knocked himself over.

back of the farmPicture it for a moment, it is pitch dark, the wind can be upwards of 120 mph and it is below 20 degrees and you are walking out to milk your cows. It costs at least two times if not two and a half times as much to feed your herd as it does in any other state. You have to be committed to continue with this routine like the Beaus did. Eventually it got to be a bit much with milking, making and selling the cheese. Four days a week, year round, Gary drives his truck out to a busy intersection and sells cheese from 3-7pm to passersby. I asked him if people come even in the winter and he said indeed they do, only difference is that they are slightly less interested in conversation. They decided it was time to downsize or shift their model a bit.

The Beaus sold their 25 cows, keeping two Holsteins and their original Jersey- Blossom, and struck a deal to buy milk from a dairy three miles down the road from them. The dairy they buy from has been there since the 1930’s and was selling all of their milk to the single coop in Alaska. Gary called the owner of the coop and asked if he could buy milk from him and the gentleman suggested he buy from the farmer closest to him directly. This is nothing short of a miracle in the world of milk coops (since they normally have exclusive contracts with the farmers) and yet it makes complete sense in the communal culture of Alaska.

I’m not sure if we’ll see Windsong’s cheeses in the lower 48 anytime soon… at the moment they are selling out locally. If you want to taste their cheeses you’ll just have to head to Alaska. Look for Gary off of South Glenn Highway in Palmer.

Windsong cows

Add comment August 11th, 2006


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