Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bobolink Dairy

Smack dab on the New Jersey-New York border lies Bobolink Dairy, run by Jonathan and Nina White. Ever since I heard about the great things that they are doing there, I've wanted to visit. Last month, on our way back from the roaster’s retreat in Connecticut, I finally had my chance since it wasn’t too far out of the way. After turning off the NY State Thruway, we drove down progressively narrower roads until we found ourselves in front of a non-assuming farmhouse. There were a few other cars already there and the small cheese shop was quite busy; remarkable considering how out-of-the-way it is. After everyone else made their purchases, I asked for a sample of the "funkiest cheese they had." I was rewarded with a slice of "Drumm," a cheese made from the milk of the very cows standing in a pasture not 50 feet away from me. Now, how's about that for local? Drumm is a firm cheese with a natural, rustic rind and a very complex, bold flavor. It's a testament to their cheesemaking talents that they were the first American dairy in over 100 years to export cheese to Europe. All of their cheese is made with raw, unpasteurized milk and the cows are allowed to be cows. That means they graze on grass, as they should, and they aren't given hormones to increase milk production. As a result, the Bobolink cows only need to be milked once daily, as opposed to twice, which is the norm for industrial, confinement-based dairy cows. What they sacrifice in quantity though, they gain back in quality. Because the cows graze on seasonal grasses and because cheese is only produced from April to November, the flavor of the grass comes through. That doesn't happen with feedlot cows, which eat silage (semi-fermented, chopped cornstalks) and a lot of grain. You know the TV ad about happy cows? Well, I don't know if it's possible for a cow to be happy, but if it is, Jonathan's are.

After the cheese shop closed for the day, we had a chance to chat with Nina for a few minutes and she showed us the wood-fired brick oven where they bake bread for the market. It's a massive thing, made with over 10 tons of masonry, and so well insulated that the thermometer still read 577 degrees even though it hadn't been fired up since the morning, over 12 hours before. It's too bad that we weren't there earlier in the day. I would've liked to learn about baking. Maybe I can do it some other time, since they routinely hold workshops and seminars for aspiring breadmakers at their farm.

Their dedication to traditional methods hasn't gone unnoticed. They've been featured in Gourmet magazine and last May, more than 50 delegates to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development visited Bobolink Dairy as well as other farms in the New York City region that exemplify successful examples of urban-rural partnerships in sustainable agriculture. Tony Bourdain also shot a segment of his food and travel show, "No Reservations" there, where they made a yummy-looking cheese and egg pizza for breakfast.

There was so much more that we wanted to see, but since it was getting late and we had a lot of road ahead yet, we had to get going, but not before loading up the cooler with cheese, bread, and ground beef from the farm store. If you're interested in traditional farming and are ever in the area, you owe it to yourself to stop by for a visit.