At 5:45, when I trekked from the farmhouse to the creamery, navigating the unseasonably soft, mucky ground, I was struck by the difference between my own lifestyle as an urban cheesemonger and the 20-somethings who make the nationally acclaimed cheese at Consider Bardwell Farm.
Consider Bardwell Farm
The Consider Bardwell Farm cheesemakers are at the creamery by six for the first make (which is, may it be noted, six and a half hours before this particular cheesemonger arrives at her workplace everyday), sanitizing surfaces and moving the previous day’s cheese from the press to the brine baths before starting the day’s batch. The morning I visited, we made the buttery and slightly meaty Fontina-style cheese called Pawlet.
Filling the vat with milk proved the first of many tasks I found physically challenging over the course of the morning. The milk cans are large and heavy and the thin handles dug into my hands, which I had previously considered rather tough but seemed exceptionally urbane and inadequate by mid-morning.
Cheesemakers Leslie, Stash and Kate talked me through the cheesemaking process as they casually hoisted, dumped and generally baffled me with their efficiency and physical prowess. Once the vat is full, they explained, the milk is heated and starter cultures are added. Starters are followed by rennet, which causes the milk to flocculate, or set into a gel, enabling the cheesemakers to cut the gel into pea sized pieces. Hooping, the next step, was the most fun. We stripped down to t-shirts and reached deep into the vat, loosening clumps and mixing the curds and whey into an even slurry with our hands. We then scooped it into pitchers and pour it into the colander-like molds that give Pawlet its beautiful basket patterned rind. The new cheeses are stacked two high and will sit until tomorrow when, like yesterdays cheeses, they are dropped into vats of brine before making their way to the caves or aging rooms.
After a coffee break (although I usually take it black, I made an exception when I saw the large jar of raw milk from the Brooks farm down the road that someone had brought over just after milking that morning), the cheesemakers held a tasting, checking in on new batches and grading the cheeses–higher or lower end, the best ones for competition. Careful attention was paid to texture, taste and even the visual impression the cheese made. It was apparent that for Leslie, Stash and Kate, a key part of being an expert cheesemaker was being an expert taster.
The degree of professionalism and dedication to quality I saw in the creamery carried over to the husbandry side of the operation. When I first arrived in West Pawlet after four hours on the Taconic, Alex and Margot, the young couple who care for the Consider Bardwell animals, gave me a tour of the farm and introduced me to their goats, pigs, dogs, and William, their one-eyed cat. They had just returned from several weeks in Europe where they visited a number of goat farms, looking to learn and take inspiration from their European counterparts. After two days on the farm, I was unsurprised when Alex and Margot noted that during their Euro-trip they had felt a real sense of pride about how the animals are treated and how the farm functions at CBF.
Consider Bardwell winter pasture (strangely snowless!)
The Consider Bardwell team has every reason to be proud. Their young but extremely knowledgeable and experienced outfit took home first place for an American-made/international-style cheese for Pawlet in 2009, first place in the washed-rind category for Rupert at the American Cheese Society competition the same year, gold for Rupert in the continental hard cheese category at the North American Jersey Cheese Awards, and numerous other accolades.
I’m looking forward to my next visit to West Pawlet (hopefully an estival escapade this June or July) but in the meantime, I’ll be enjoying Pawlet, Rupert, Manchester and Dorset right here in Manhattan. Pop into Lucy’s Whey to join me and try some of CBF’s delicious and masterful creations or stop by their Greenmarket stands for goat chorizo and veal from the farm!
The author smiles with fellow Vermonter and bovine friend at the neighboring Wayward Goose Farm. Owners Dan & Laurie Brooks (Margot’s parents) send over their cows’ milk for Pawlet-making.