More Farms

Stay in the Loop!

Get our newsletter, This Week in the NJ Skylands, with updates, special offers and good ideas!

Read current newsletter

Privacy Statement

Making it

Cheese Stakes

by Tamara Jean Scully

Once the backbone of northwestern New Jersey agriculture, dairy farms have been fading for the last fifty years. Hayfields, horses and garden centers have largely replaced the cows and creameries that once dominated the landscape. Faced with drastic price fluctuations based on outdated federal milk-pricing formulas and regulations, today's remaining dairy farmers see pennies on the dollar of the consumer retail price of milk. Still, they hope for changes in federal and state laws that would allow them more freedom to sell directly to consumers, control their own milk and pricing, and continue to produce here in the Garden State.

Some enterprising farmers have turned to making cheese to keep their dairies viable. Cows, along with sheep and goats, have found their way into mainstream consumption via locally made cheeses. Each dairy farmer has a different approach, a unique product and their own story to tell. Learn a bit about these artisanal cheeses and their variety of types, styles and flavors. Then visit a nearby farmers' market or plan a drive out to a farm stand to experience the taste of real, small-batch, family farm cheese.

Cheese can be made with raw milk, as long as the cheese is aged for a minimum of sixty days. Otherwise, the milk must be pasteurized to make products such as farmer-style cheese, yogurt, ricotta and spreadable cheeses. Either way, creamery facilities must pass local or state health department inspections, and requirements for water, sewer, and other infrastructure issues can make the initial investment prohibitive for many farmers. One option is to ship the milk to an existing cheese-making facility. Sal Lee Farm , a small family-run farm in Bangor, Pennsylvania, sends their mixed-breed, high butterfat content, raw cow's milk to a nearby cheese maker, where their aged Cheddar, Swiss and Jack cheeses are packaged, labeled and returned to the farm for direct retail sales.

Mondo Dairy, in Paterson, makes cheese exclusively with milk from northwestern New Jersey, combining product from several area dairies to formulate primarily ethnic yogurt and soft-style cheeses. Owner Jack Taranto prides himself on paying a stable, year-round price that justly compensates the farmers for their fluid milk. "I see that most of the dairy farms are closing down. I am trying to keep the farmers alive and get as much milk as possible from them so that they can stay in business," he says. Currently, he can sell his cheeses within New Jersey only, and cannot private label cheeses for the small dairies who provide him with the milk, until they have an inspected and approved sales and storage facility.

Other farmers have invested in on-site facilities, and learned the art and science of cheese making. Fredon dairy farmer, Pete Southway and his family use milk exclusively from their Springhouse Dairy, flowing directly from the milking parlor barn, via tubing, to the pasteurization vat in the creamery below. "The biggest key to our success and acceptance has been the farmstead freshness of the milk," Southway says of his soft, pasteurized cheeses. Cheese making is a time and labor-intensive process, and creating just the right combination of cultures, processing technique and flavorings is as much art as science.


Marilyn Southway weighs and packages tomato-basil cheese in the creamery down hill from the milking parlor where Jersey and Guernsey cows do their work. Springhouse Dairy Farmstead Cheeses are flavored with a variety of herbs and dried fruits, and sold directly to consumers from an on-farm stand, at the Fairgrounds Farmers' Market in Sussex County, and at local retail outlets.

It takes 2,000 lbs of milk to make 200 lbs of cheese. Southway is particular about the milk he uses, all of which comes from his herd of pastured Jersey and Guernsey cows, rich in butterfat and protein, and yielding about twenty percent more cheese per gallon than that of Holsteins. The milk is pasteurized at 155 degrees for 30 minutes, and then cooled down. Then the culture—a specific beneficial acid-producing bacterial mix that varies according to the cheese product to be made—is added to the vat. The cheese cooks, and rennet is added, causing the milk to solidify and form curds. Rennet is traditionally derived from enzymes in a cow's stomach that help to digest the mother's milk. However, Southway uses vegetable rennet, which contains similar enzymes to produce the same result. After twenty minutes, the curds are cut with a cheese knife, into quarter inch cubes. The whey is shed, and the curds cook in the whey for several hours, until the desired consistency is achieved. The curds are salted, and the whey by-product is removed, later spread on the fields, helping to activate manure for fertilization, or used as a feed supplement. The cheese is poured into a mold and pressed into shape for ten hours, then refrigerated and allowed to set before being cut into packages for retail sale.

In Honesdale, Pennsylvania, in the upper Delaware River valley, Calkins Creamery specializes in raw milk cheeses. Cheese makers Emily and Jay Montgomery run the creamery on family farmland, while other family members care for the dairy herd. Their herd of Holsteins has been closed for forty years, allowing them to breed for increased milk fat and protein, and to formulate their own cheeses. The cows are primarily out on pasture year-round, and the changing forages affect the type of cheese being made during different seasons. Calkins produces three different types of raw milk aged cheeses: natural rind, waxed and bloomy rind, each with several varieties and flavors. They make cheese five days a week, hand-making their cheese in micro-batches of 180lbs, using only vegetable rennet. Each type requires specific care, and requires strict attention from start to finish. "We are actively scraping curd into each mold," Jay Montgomery says. Later, hand waxing or treating and scraping the rinds will occur. The distinctive flavors of natural rind cheese come from mold that must be brushed off each week during the aging process, which lasts more than six months. Bloomy rind cheese, such as Brie, is held in a special room, with a regulated microclimate to develop its specific characteristics. Waxed cheeses are semi-hard Gouda or Cheddar-type cheese, aged three to six months, hand-waxed in three layers to form a protective barrier, keeping the cheese softer in consistency.

Further south, Klein Dairy Farm and Creamery , just outside of Easton, milks Holstein-Friesian mixes for their raw milk aged cheese, raw fluid milk sales, and pasteurized yogurt, cheese spreads and mozzarella. The Klein family dairy has been in operation since the 1930s, but reinvented itself in 2004 with a raw milk permit and cheese-making license, along with an on-farm stand for sales.

Hunterdon County is the new home for established farmers and cheese makers, Jonathan and Nina White, of Bobolink Dairy. Formerly on a rented farm in Vernon, in Sussex County, the dairy has found a permanent home in Milford, between Phillipsburg and Frenchtown. The Whites raise 100% grass-fed cows, and have developed their own line, breeding traditional dairy breeds with Irish Kerry cattle, since 2003. Bobolink sells on-farm, on-line, and at farmer's markets, far and wide. The Whites also hold cheese-making classes on the farm.


At Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley, production of a Pyrenees style cave aged cheese begins with a herd of Dutch Friesian milk sheep. A model for sustainable family farming, the creamery makes cheeses based on old-world European styles, with the aid of modern equipment. Visitors have access to all farm activities, providing a unique view of daily life on a real working sheep dairy as practiced in Europe for the last 4,000 years. Photos courtesy Eran Wajswol

Farmer Eran Wajswol is often mentioned by local cheese-makers as inspiration and mentor. In fact, Jonathan White of Bobolink knew Wajswol when they were both students at Stevens Institute of Technology. It was there that Wajswol also met his wife, Debra, with whom he nurtured the idea for, and eventually opened, Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley. Primarily a sheep dairy, the state-of-the-art facility specializes in cave-aged, old-world European style cheeses, drawn from a herd of Dutch Friesian sheep. The couple spent years traveling to Spain, France, Italy, Netherlands and Belgium to hone their craft until they were satisfied and ready to release their product to the public. Valley Shepherd is an impressive operation; an educational, agri-tourism farm, where visitors and school groups can tour the milking parlor, aging rooms and participate in tastings and special events, such as the sheep shearing festival. Cheese making classes are held many times each year, but sell out quickly. The on-farm store, online store, farmers' markets and select retail stores carry Valley Shepherd cheeses. Certain products are only available directly off the farm, and many are seasonal, depending upon specific milk characteristics that can vary based on forage and natural seasonal milk changes in the herd.

goats
Milk goats at Flint Hill Farm Educational Center in Coopersburg, PA. Photos courtesy Flint Hill Farm.

A quick ride out Route 78, to the Lehigh Valley south of Bethlehem, PA, gets you to the Flint Hill Farm Educational Center , where cheese-making classes are part of the farm's non-profit community outreach services. They milk goats, a Toggenberg/Alpine mixed breed, as well as Jersey cows, making both raw aged cheeses as well as pasteurized soft goat Chevre and cow cheese, cow and goat yogurt and smoothies. They even make butter, have a raw milk license for goat and cow milk, and also pasteurize both for fluid sales. Flint Hill sells their cheeses at farmers' markets on both sides of the Delaware River, as well as on-line.

There's more goat milk cheese at Patches of Star Dairy, on fourteen acres near Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Owner Elly Hoshour, who has bred goats for 25 years, and made cheese for 10, maintains a herd of 100 female Saanens. The goats are raised on alfalfa orchard grass pastures and locally grown grains, producing a butterfat perfect for cheese. Sunflower seeds added to their diet increase the milk's butterfat, and poison ivy and dandelions are goat favorites. But goat milk's characteristic flavor seems to be animal-specific, not influenced so much by their feed, as cows' milk tends to be. Hoshour makes both pasteurized, soft cheeses as well as raw milk aged cheeses of the Colby and Cheddar variety. Her Chevre is a popular item, and not typically made by other dairies. Hoshour sells her cheeses at markets in New York City and Philadelphia, and plans on opening an on-farm store in the near future. "Each cheese maker has a unique quality. Each one of us does that in our own way. We are proud of what we produce."

Local cheese makes the connection from farm to table traceable and meaningful. The food bears far less road mileage along a shortened supply and distribution chain. And more of each dollar returns directly to the farmer's pocket, keeping local farms viable and providing vistas and open space in our communities. With so many types of cheese to choose from, food lovers have yet another reason to buy local. Taste isn't the only reason to try these, but it certainly is motivation to explore the farmstead cheeses, made right here at home.

  • Bobolink Dairy
    369 Stamets Road Milford,NJ 08848
  • Calkins Creamery
    88 Calkins Rd, Honesdale, PA, 18431 (570) 729-8103
  • Flint Hill Farm Educational Center
    1922 Flint Hill Road, Coopersburg, PA 18036 610-838-2928
  • Klein Dairy Farm and Creamery
    Klein Road, Easton, PA 18040 610-253-8942
  • Patches of Star Dairy
    Nazareth, PA
  • Sal Lee Farm
    725 Richmond Road, Bangor, PA, 18013 (610) 588-2226
  • Springhouse Dairy
    85 Phil Harden Road, Newton, NJ 07860 973-579-7429
  • Valley Shepherd Creamery
    50 Fairmount Rd, Long Valley, NJ, 07853 908-876-3200

Comments

Harvey Finkel
19 Jun 2013, 11:01
Hello,\r\n\r\nThe Clinton Farmers' Market is now in our 3rd season, thanks to the wonderful vendors and the supporters who come every week! Currently we are seeking a dairy/cheese/yogurt vendor for Sundays May thru October 9am to 1pm. If you would like to participate or know of someone, we love to hear from you. \r\n\r\nHarvey Finkel\r\nClinton Farmers Market Manager\r\n908-735-8811\r\nreadbooks@clintonbookshop.com\r\nfind us on Facebook
Joanne
18 Jun 2013, 15:50
My daughter and I are interested in taking a cheesemaking class. Could you tell me who to contact? I want to stay in Pennsylvania/New Jersey area.
THOMAS PUGLIESE
23 Feb 2013, 05:59
I am interested in your products can please give me a call at 973-353-9411
Anderson Raub II
01 Mar 2012, 14:11
I have raw milk for sale on my small 34 cow dairy and because of the amount of milk im producing it isnt enough to be picked up by my milk trucking company so they dropped me . I have milk for sale if any one is interested in buying it in bulk for making cheese or to sell as raw milk please contact me, All of my animals are fed what I grow myself. I also have free range eggs available for sale very large quanties available and eggs are extra large size. \r\n Amanda & Andy \r\n 484-661-3988 or 484-661-3996\r\n
Gary Kline
30 Aug 2011, 08:52
Hello,\r\n\r\nBear Creek Mountain Resort in Macungie, PA is having a Cheese, Garlic and Folk festival on 9/11/11. We are still looking for some cheese makers to be present to sell your product. There is no charge to participate.\r\n\r\nPlease let me know asap if you are interested.\r\n\r\nThanks\r\n\r\nGary Kline\r\n(610) 682-7100 ext. 495
Harvey Finkel
23 Jun 2011, 15:40
Hello,\r\n \r\nWe are a group of business leaders and local citizens that are starting a farmers market in Clinton NJ. We are looking for a variety of vendors, especially those that sell products other than fruits and vegetables. Please contact us if you would consider selling at our market. We are looking to start it in July on Sundays\r\nfrom 10am to 2pm. Thanks!\r\n \r\n Harvey Finkel\r\n Clinton Book Shop\r\n 908-735-8811\r\n readbooks@clintonbookshop.com\r\n find us on Facebook at\r\n Clinton Farmers' Market\r\n
tammy scully
01 Dec 2010, 13:41
Correct address for Calkins Creamery is 288 Calkins Road.\r\n\r\n ALso, Phil Hardin Road- for Springhouse Dairy- is between route 94 and route 519 in Fredon, just outside of Newton. Many times around here, a mailing address (say Newton) is NOT the actual township the farm is in (say Green, or Fredon, etc).
Tanya McCabe
30 Sep 2010, 09:35
The article on cheese making was very informative, but you gave names of cheese makers and towns but no addresses or telephone numbers. Yes I know email, but in looking up Springhouse Dairy lead me to other dairies and have yet to find one in Fredon. Especially since most farms give tours and sell from their stands it would be a real help to the farmers to have intereseted parties get to them. Thanks!
Diane
30 Sep 2010, 09:03
Bought cheese from Valley Shepherd Creamery last week for for a "Jersey Fresh" party and it was outstanding. Paired nicely with some growlers of beer from the Long Valley Pub and Brewery just down the street.
jeri
30 Sep 2010, 05:27
Does anyone reading or posting on this site know what happened to Paul Jerome? His farm was down the hill from our cabin in Stokes State Forest. He was a dairy farmer who owned much of the land around Walpack Center. His farm and our cabin was a long walk, short drive from Buttermilk Falls. As with all property owners in the valley we lost our land to the Tox Island Dam project when I was in my teens. \r\nEach year he'd show us his, manual method of milk collection. I remember the year he got his first milking machine. To us it looked more amazing that the invention of the air plane.
*Name:
Email:
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my email
*Text:
 
 
Powered by Scriptsmill Comments Script