For two centuries, agriculture was the leading occupation of New England. While much has changed since the early days, the market for New England farm goods is booming and consumer demand for locally made artisan cheese has taken off. Over 100 different cheeses are made in Massachusetts alone, prompting local artisans to form The Massachusetts Cheese Guild – an association which supports and promotes artisan cheese, farmstead cheese, and cultured dairy products.
Cheese making in Massachusetts rivals the best European cheese and is widely and justly celebrated. Whether you prefer soft, semi-soft, firm, blue-veined or fresh, you’re sure to find your favorite cheese being made in the Bay State. We took to the back roads and connected with several area cheese makers who are actively involved in the Massachusetts Cheese Guild. The first stop is Robinson Farm.
The Robinsons are fifth generation dairy farmers in Hardwick, MA who make their raw milk cheese from certified organic, 100 percent grass fed cows. Their mixed-breed herd of Normandy, Jersey and Holstein cows provides the mix of protein, fat and volume of milk desired for their cheese making operation. In this husband and wife team, Ray is farmer and cheese maker in-chief and Pamela manages the business side of the farm. Both were happy to talk about their popular and award-winning local cheese.
What does a typical day look like on your farm?
A typical day on the Robinson Farm is influenced by the seasons and, of course, the weather! The early summer days are the busiest and for Ray could include milking cows in the early morning, then showering and changing clothes and hats to make cheese mid-day, by late afternoon he might have to squeeze in some haying activities.
Pam’s routine would include gathering cheese orders, responding to emails and phone calls, financials, re-stocking the farmstand, harvesting veggies, and if lucky weeding in the gardens. Meanwhile, both supervising farm staff in cutting, wrapping and shipping cheese orders, bottling milk, haying, calf care, moving the cows to pasture, checking fences, and assisting the local farmers to access whey for their pigs, etc.
How do you decide which types of cheese to make?
Back in 2007, when we began our basic cheese-making education and researching our facility design, the name “Robinson Family Swiss” seemed like the best place to begin our cheese ventures. In an effort to be successful we wanted to develop cheeses that were not already widely offered, creating our own niche market in addition to being local, organic and a 100% grass fed, farmstead cheese operation.
Following some of the old European Farmstead cheese traditions, we developed the Alpine-style Swiss first and designed our facility around this cheese. The next recipes needed to fit into this model, using the same cheese vat, molds, press and aging rooms (cheese caves) hence our Tekenink Tomme, A Barndance & Prescott came to life. The Hardwick Stone, a brick-style cheese, is an 1870’s family recipe and turned out to fit the mold as well.
In 2011, we were ready to start making a softer raw cheese, named Arpeggio (like a Tellagio) this one uses a totally different process, new molds, and takes a bit more TLC and expertise to successfully produce.
What do you consider to be the most challenging aspect of cheese making?
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We have some great ideas sprouting up so watch this space for more delicious finds.