Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chase Hill Farm in Warwick, MA

Organic Raw Milk Farmstead Cheese

Jeanette and Mark Fellows in Warwick, Massachusetts (www.chasehillfarm.com) have been living off their land for 10 years.  They sell organic farmstead cheese, real milk, grass fed beef, pork and veal at their farm, a few local stores and the farmer's market in Amherst.  By working hard and living simply, they have managed to raise two children who are now in college.

Jeanette makes the cheese, takes it to the farmer's market once a week and even works a half day as the clerk of the town hall in Warwick!  Yet, she found the time to show me around and answer my questions . . .

Warwick is a tiny village in the hills of western Mass, about an hour's drive from our supply business.  Chase Hill Farm is located outside the town, high on a hill, on a dirt road overlooking the rolling hills and the valley below.
Despite the distance of their farm from any significant population, the Fellows sell over 75 gallons of raw milk per week at their farm.
The day I went there, it was cloudy, but you can see the beauty of their land in the pictures below.
Jeanette was making cheese the day I visited the farm.  She does it seasonally, so she stops making it from mid-October until March.  By the end of the summer, she looks forward to the break.  (For this reason, she doesn't sell yogurt or ice cream or any soft cheese which would require her to make it year round.)

In the winter, Jeanette likes to quilt, stencil, read, work out and cook.  I noticed some beautiful examples of her stenciling and quilting in the house:

The Fellows raise Normandes.  (Actually, these hearty cows have a little Jersey in them, as well.)  Right now, they have 20 milkers.  Their cows are 100% grass fed and pastured for the entire year.  

In winter, the cows grow heavy coats and when there are bad storms, they find protection under trees, etc.  Because they do not eat grains, they give slightly less milk, but Jeanette says she and her husband like to do things as naturally as possible.
In mid-March to mid-April, when the calves are born, a few of the older cows are designated as the nursers.  The calves are put in a separate area with these surrogates and allowed to nurse and eat grass for the first 6 months.  Mark makes sure they get the colustrum from their mothers by hand feeding it to them for at least the first 48 hours.  They are not fed powdered milk replacers or rushed into production.

When Jeanette starts making cheese in the spring, the milk can be difficult to work with.  She adds a slight amount of calcium chloride to the milk at this time and sometimes at the end of the season.  (This is common practice.  We talk about seasonal differences in milk in our HELP section.)

Her vat holds 200 gallons of milk, but because I was there in the last week of the season, she was making cheese with only 100 gallons.  10 years ago, they purchased their vat new, but all their other equipment was purchased used.  She estimates that it cost them at least $25,000 to get set up.

Jeanette first started making cheese with our book (Home Cheese Making).  Then, she took a business course at the CDC (Community Development Center) and a one week course at the University of Guelph in Canada.  Since then, she has gone to many one-day workshops here and there.

The whey gets drained into a big tub and fed to the pigs:

In her cave, Jeanette has shelves of both waxed cheeses and natural rinds.  Her feta is aged in buckets and her camembert is aged in a separate refrigerator because it requires a higher temperature.   (She only makes 30 or so of the camembert every week and she only sells them at the farmer's market.)

The yellow waxed cheeses (on the upper left shelves) are their farmstead cheeses, made from a colby recipe.  Jeanette makes variations of this with various herbs and spices.

In the picture below, the cheeses sitting on their sides (at right) are the parm style cheeses, called Italian Grace, which age for over a year.  The bright yellow ones on top are farmstead cheeses with dill.
A few of the others include Queso Viejo which is like a cow's milk manchego:  (I went crazy over this one.  It's aged for a year and the taste is extraordinary.)
Dutch Gold, a mild washed curd cheese, like an Edam:

Below, Greek-style feta waiting to be cut:

In 2007, Jeanette's Italian Grace won second place in the Italian Cheeses category at the American Cheese Society's Annual Competition.  That was the third and last year she entered, because of the cost involved.  (Note:  We are strong supporters of the ACS, but we believe they should encourage the small cheesemakers by lowering their costs to become members, send in their cheeses and to attend the conferences.  Ricki has spoken up about this issue many times at conferences through the years.)

Chase Hill Farm cheese is only available locally. In our area, you can purchase it at the farm, the farmer's market in Amherst on Saturdays and at several stores and food co-ops in the area.

In January and February, they participate in two one-day winter farmer's markets in Greenfield and Northampton.

Chase Hill Farm
74 Chase Hill Rd.
Warwick, MA  01378

website:  chasehillfarm.com

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