Today, which I eventually figured out was Saturday, I had hoped to meet with Max of Grace Hill Farm in Cummington, MA - just north from where I had stayed overnight. But, unfortunately, he had some things pop up early in the morning, and so I had to be content with a stop at the farm, and finding cheese at the local coop.
The clear skies overnight meant that the morning was crisp - about 1C/35F, but I knew that the afternoon would be warm. Oh what to wear, what to wear!?
Layers are your best friend on a bike, so, wool undershirt, bike jersey, arm warmers, thermal coat and wind breaker, would do the trick. Along with the neck gaiter- key for keeping the wind from blowing down your neck all the way to, let’s say, your belly.
Grace Hill Farm is, like so many other farms here, on a hill, but incredibly, from the direction I was coming, it was half way down the hill, rather than up the hill. Just after ‘The Pound’, built in 1807 to contain stray beasts, and ones who can’t jump, I presume, since the stone wall was maybe 3’ high; and coming just before a cemetery of little circumstance apart from the grand headstone of William Bryant who is buried in Roslyn, Scotland (after which Roslindale was named). Bryant Road is also a major road in the area.
I almost missed the farm sign and farm shop, which only sold gallons of raw milk, no cheese. So off to the local coop for breakfast and cheese hunting.
Both were disappointing, however, with the grumpiest lady alive in charge of breakfast and only one piece of Grace Hill cheese, the triple creme ‘Cheesecake’, available in the self-serve case. And more disappointing was that when I opened this piece of Cheesecake, it was a mess. The rind, slightly wet, and covered with blue and green blobs of mould. Now having worked the counter for 5 years, this is not good to see: it would give purchasers the wrong impression of the cheese; it shows the cheese was cut and wrapped sometime ago without any checking in between wrapping and purchase. We used to unwrap, clean and re-wrap each cheese on Wednesday every week. But also, since I worked at the counter, I was quite happy digging out the cheese from under the goopy rind. And it was good!
There was a bit of riding to be done before the next stop at Mayval Farm, which I didn’t have high hopes for (at least from their web site). After three little climbs, a super fast and long downhill, and in warm and glorious sunshine, I was spat out into the quite lovely farm shop at Mayval Farm. Skyr, Kefir, raw milk, fromage blanc - it was a standard but good mix in the fridge. I loaded up with strawberry kefir for later, and skyr for right there and then. I was a happy bunny.
The last stop for the day was another farm which I knew little about, Cream of the Crop, just west of Westfield. As I pulled up to the side of the road, I could see that the farm shop had a big glowing ‘Open’ sign, yet there was so much active building going on that I didn’t want to risk any bodily or bike damage for another pot of fromage blanc or kefir. I was definitely kefir-ed out. Enough. Apart from the cool model cow, I ws ready to move on to a nearby park, and have a late lunch.
Both Mayval and Cream of the Crop seemed to have the same business model - they were producing (pasteurized) liquid milk for sale as a commodity, and made a little cheese and fresh products as well as raw milk, to get that extra increase in value. My small pot of skyr had cost almost $4, probably about 3x more than the milk weight equivalent.
I hope that the differences in farming styles have been clear in the tour - and what is more demanding, or more rewarding or more flexible. We’ve seen a spectrum of farmstead versions of cheesemakers: those with a majority of cheese and a little milk (Robinsons), farming with a good or reasonable amount of cheese (Cricket Creek, Chase Hill, Grace Hill, Little White Goat), and milk production with a tiny part of cheese/value added (Mayval, Cream of the Crop).
All within a few hours of Boston.
I would loved to have had the chance to speak to the farmers from Mayval and Cream of the Crop, to see how they dealt with the COVID-19 shutdown - I’m sure their perspectives would have been very different.
And so, tonight, Springfield is my base, and from there, I’m heading home on Sunday (tomorrow), with no stops at all, I can leave it all on the road (150 km). It’s been a long, and mostly dairy-fuelled tour, so I’m looking forward to a real cup of coffee, and I don’t know, something apart from cheese, yoghurt or kefir to eat!
At least for a while.