Category: Uncategorized

Photography by Morgan Ione Yeager

Goats eating grass. At Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlet, Vermont, this is where the cheese begins.

At Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlet, Vermont, the cheese is made in the way that, in a moment of reverie after a taste of spring Mettowee – their fresh, creamy, grassy chevre – one would imagine their cheese being made. Yes, at Consider Bardwell, after the morning milking, goats frolic in dewy pastures spread across a lush plain unfurled at the foot of rolling mountains. In a century-old barn, fresh-faced locals stir milk with paddles in gleaming stainless steel vats, and separate curds from whey. Upstairs, wheels of cheese in many sizes age in cool, pungent caves. And twice a week, the finished rounds are gently loaded into a truck, to fly south across the ribbons of blacktop, out of the mountains, down the Hudson’s eastern shore, to Brooklyn. Other places too, throughout the Northeast, and to many of the finest cheese shops and restaurants nationwide.

A taste of this cheese at Eastern District, a friendly neighborhood cheese shop in Greenpoint, launched idyllic daydreams of summertime in Vermont. We quickly decided to make a trip north, to visit this farm, to meet the people who make this cheese, to learn a little about what they do, and why they do it.


The Farmers

Our day at Consider Bardwell begis early on a drizzly morning with farm managers Margot Brooks and Alex Eaton, as they prepare to lead the goats, waiting eagerly by the pasture gate for their morning milking, to the barn. Margot and Alex fell in love in college, and now collaborate on the neverending work of managing the farm’s animals and fields.

The farmers. Margot and Alex met in college at St. Lawrence University. Margot grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York. Alex grew up in Vermont, never setting foot on a farm. He followed Margot to Consider Bardwell, where they now work together managing the farm's animals and fields.

So Margot, Alex, how did you guys end up here, doing this?

Margot: I grew up in upstate New York, on my family’s dairy farm. My dad’s was the fifth generation to be farming there. When I was growing up it was my dad and his brother and their father – my grandfather – who were doing the farming. They were milking around ninety cows. It was a 900 acre farm. It was a conventional farm in that they were selling their milk into the commodity market. But they were never conventional in the sense that they always pastured their cows and believed strongly in that.

The day starts early on the farm. The goats are milked twice a day, at 5:45am and 4:30pm. In the morning, they eagerly wait for Margot to lead them to the barn for milking.

I came to Consider Bardwell after college. I went to St Lawrence University, and that’s where I met Alex. I was a biology major, and I wanted to learn how to make cheese so that I could hopefully someday go back to my family’s farm to start a creamery to make cheese to help make ends meet.

In college I was studying a lot of conservation biology – looking at biodiversity and how nature works in the environment – and every time I went home I’d feel more and more pulled back to that land where I’d grown up. I thought it would be the perfect place to implement some of the land management and animal husbandry practices that I’d been learning about.

My dad had an interest in changing the approach on the farm a little bit too. He found selling the milk into the big commercial commodity markets a little frustrating, I think. All the milk the farm was producing was hauled away in big trucks to dairy plants where it was mixed with milk from all over the place, heavily processed, and packaged for sale. After all the work that went into producing the milk, he didn’t love that complete disconnection from the end product.

Ready to go.

But as it turned out, my own vision and my dad’s vision just didn’t line up with my uncle’s. It became clear through a lot of discussions that it wasn’t going to work like I’d hoped it might. At that point my dad started looking at other farm properties, trying to find a place where we could maybe work together, but it’s really hard to find an affordable farm property where you can start an operation big enough to support two families. So after a lot of time looking at properties and considering all the options, we just weren’t sure how it was going to work out.

And then one day a goose showed up here at the farm. It was a crazy looking blind goose, and it was squawking loudly and making a racket. Eventually we figured out that it must have come from the neighbor’s farm, just over the hill there. When we brought the goose back to them, we found out that they were looking to sell their property. It was a little fifty acre farm that hadn’t been worked in years. I told my parents, and they got in touch with them, and about five months later they bought the farm next door and moved here.

Last May they partnered with Consider Bardwell on twenty Jerseys, put them out on pasture, and started milking. They sell their beautiful raw milk directly to customers on the farm and we use it in the creamery here for making cheese.

As soon as Margot opens the gate, the herd trots up the hill to the barn, and lines up for milking. There's a pecking order in the herd. The goats line up in the same order to await milking every day.

And so it all worked out, and I’ve been able to work with my dad after all. It’s kind of amazing. We never would have imagined that it would have happened this way. He’s able to farm on a much smaller scale, which is something he’d always wanted to do. And after farming for twenty seven years, he’s finally able to have that connection to the milk he produces that he’d never had before. And I think that means a lot to him. It’s so great to have him here.

What about you Alex?

Alex: I grew up in Vermont, with absolutely no farming background. I think my only connection to farming is that my great grandfather once had the largest sheep farm in Vermont. Then there was some great flood that came and wiped out his entire flock and he started running moonshine, which somehow led to a position in the state legislature. [laughter.]

The goats in the barn, waiting their turn to be milked.

When I heard that story as a kid, it got me mildly interested in sheep, but I had no thoughts of ever becoming a farmer until I met Margot in college. When I met her I was like, “You mean, you’re a real farmer!?”

I moved here to be with her the summer after we finished college and we’ve been here ever since.

Tell us about what you do on a daily basis.

Alex: We’re the farm managers, and in that role we take care of the goats and the other animals on the farm – we’ve got chickens and pigs too. We milk the goats twice a day, we move them around to keep them on fresh pasture, we take care of them when they need taking care of, and we manage the pastures. That’s a big part of it – all summer long we’re mowing the fields and haying to stock up on hay to feed the animals all winter.

Margot readies the milking apparatus. Eighteen goats are milked at a time in the milking parlor.

Margot: When it’s time to milk, we bring the goats up to the barn from pasture, and when we’re done we bring them back. We milk twice a day, at 5:45am and at 4:30pm. Each milking shift takes about two and a half hours, including the cleanup.

They’re always eager to be milked in the morning. They’re usually waiting for me, and when I open the gate they’ll just run right up to the barn. There’s a hierarchy, a pecking order in the herd. They’ll usually line up in pretty much the same order for milking every time.

We have a milking parlor where we can milk eighteen goats at a time. We have eighty six milking goats right now, and twenty four dry ones. So we bring them into the parlor eighteen at a time, give them some grain to munch on as a little treat, hook them up to the machine and start milking.

Spring is the time of peak lactation because the goats have just given birth. We get about a gallon a day, or 8.7 pounds from each in spring, across both milkings. December is the slowest time for milk – then you average about three pounds of milk per goat, per day. And they’re completely dry for a few months in winter, when they’re pregnant before giving birth again in early spring.

In the milking parlor. Consider Bardwell's cheese is made with raw milk, so cleanliness is critical. The goats' teats are dipped in iodine and the milk lowest in the udder, which often has a higher bacteria count, is squeezed off before milking begins..

Everything is tracked very carefully. We know exactly how much milk we’re getting from each individual goat at every milking. Herd management is an important part of what we do. The herd size is static. It can’t just keep growing. The size of the herd is calibrated exactly to the amount of milk we need to produce to make exactly the amount of cheese that we can store in our caves and sell. Every part of the operation of the farm has to fit together just right in order for us to be able to stay in business.

You mentioned pasture management. How does that work?

Margot: We have three hundred acres to manage, and it’s all about the pasture – the grass. The goats are out on pasture from spring through mid-October. We move them endlessly from one patch to the next, and all summer long we work very hard cutting hay for the winter months. All our pasture, our hay, is certified organic.

The goats, however, are not certified organic, and that’s because we want to be able to treat them if they’re sick. We feel strongly about that. If a goat gets sick and has to go on meds they’re removed from the milking herd until every trace of antibiotics has passed from their system. But we rarely have to treat goats with antibiotics – it hasn’t happened yet this year.

You can see why the goats are eager to be milked. The goats produce the most milk after giving birth in spring, and the amount of milk they produce declines steadily until winter when, pregnant again, their milk dries up completely.

Alex: We have about two hundred acres that we use for hay, and we cut that all summer. We have about forty acres that are used for summer pasture for the goats. We just keep moving them around from one patch to another all summer, creating temporary paddocks with portable fencing.

They eat best when they’re inspired by new pasture. So we use smaller paddocks and move them more frequently. The goats eat better that way, it makes for better grass, and it helps keep the parasites down too, because they’re not spending a lot of time walking around in their own manure.

We’re always looking for ways to improve pasture management. Ideally you want to rotate all of the different types of animals on the farm through each section of pasture, because each different type of animal grazes differently and adds different nutrients to it through their manure. If you get the process right, you get really healthy grass, which means really healthy animals whose grazing and manure gives you really healthy grass again…[laughter.]

Margot with her dad, Dan Brooks. After a long search for a way to work together, Margot's parents ended up purchasing the farm adjacent to Consider Bardwell, where they have a herd of Jerseys that produce much of the cows' milk for Consider Bardwell's cows' milk cheeses.

And you know, the goats really love being out on pasture. You can see it. The best part of the day is after the last milking is done, letting them out on pasture and watching them do their thing. They’re happy to be there.

And what about goat meat?

Margot: We always say, “Where there’s milk, there’s meat.” That’s the reality on any dairy farm, anywhere. It’s part of the cycle, and there’s no way around it. Animals produce milk because they’ve recently given birth. That’s how nature works. We have a herd of goats that produce the milk that’s used to make our cheese.

The goats in our milking herd continue to produce milk each year because they’re giving birth each year. Each of those milking goats gives birth to two kids, and almost all of those go to meat. Only a few of the kids each year, the ones bred from the most productive milkers, are kept as replacement animals for the herd.

Dan Brooks with two of his Jerseys. Jerseys aren't typically used on dairy farms, as they yield less milk than Holstiens. But their milk is richer and more flavorful. Dan sells raw milk, which is 5% butterfat, on his farm.

Most goat dairies can’t keep the kids. There’s such a small market for high-quality goat meat here that they can’t afford raise them for meat. So most goat dairies take the kids to auction, and most of them end up on feedlot operations that raise them as cheaply as possible. The vast majority of goat meat sold here is low quality feedlot meat.

Alex: The problem is that we need more of a demand for goat meat here in the U.S., and for high quality goat meat from animals raised in a sustainable way. We’ve been working with Heritage Foods, which is based in Brooklyn, and that’s been absolutely huge for us. We’ve been selling our meat at Greenmarkets for years, but Heritage has been working really hard to promote goat meat from farms like ours, to create a broader market for it here. And it’s been working. It’s allowed us to start keeping our kids on the farm, raising them for meat in the way we think is right.

Margot: It’s made the farm way more sustainable. We don’t have to compromise our ethics anymore when it comes to that part of the cycle.

Alex: A lot of people want to cover their ears when we tell them we’re raising goats for meat, but that’s the reality of any goat farm, or any dairy farm of any kind. Goat meat is a good thing, and we’re proud of it.

Life on the pasture.

You spend a lot of time with goats. Do you like goats?

Margot: I love goats. I grew up on a dairy farm with cows, but I’ve always preferred goats. [laughter.] I got a goat in the third grade and I was obsessed with her. They have a lot of personality. They’re very smart, which can make them more difficult to manage, but I like that intelligence. I like their presence. If you just sit with them they have a way of being with you that’s very connected and affectionate.

They’re not always sweet. They can be huge assholes. But when they’re happy they’ll kick up their heels and dance a little bit. And I love that. [laughter.]


The Maker

After milking, we join Leslie Goff, Consider Bardwell’s head cheesemaker, in the creamery, to learn a little something about the making of the cheese. The creamery is in the same barn building as the milking parlor, just adjacent to it, but the spaces are separated by the farm equivalent of an airlock – the creamery’s sparkling cleanliness stands in stark contrast to the cheerful muck that accompanies the goats wherever they go.

Head cheesemaker Leslie Goff began working at Consider Bardwell at the age of fifteen. She now manages the making and aging of all the farm's cheese.

So Leslie, how did you end up making cheese for a living?

I grew up a few miles away from here, just over the border in Granville, New York. I started working here part time when I was fifteen years old – working with the goats – the kind of thing Margot and Alex do now. That was six years ago. We only had twenty goats then. It was a lot smaller. I did that for two years, and in winter I came inside to help with the cheesemaking.

I learned a lot about cheese making, and when the head cheesemaker eventually left, I ended up taking her spot. Everything has grown a lot over the past few years. It’s been kind of crazy. At first I was just helping to make the cheese. Now I manage all the cheesemaking, the aging…the whole process.

And so it begins. Every 'make' begins with milk. The milk is heated and rennet is added to trigger the formation of curds. Cultures are added to control the cheese's acidity and develop flavor.

Tell us how it all works. How do you actually make the cheese?

Production has been going through the roof. We’re making cheese six days a week now, in thirteen or fourteen batches. It seems like it never stops.

It all starts with the milk. We make both cows’ and goats’ milk cheeses here. The goats’ milk is pumped right in here from the milking parlor next door. The cows’ milk comes in every day from our three partner farms, including Margot’s dad’s, right next door. All the cows are pastured, just like our goats.

There’s a lot of heavy note taking going on here. [laughter.] When the milk comes in, we check the temperature. We sample it to test for antibiotics. We make notes regarding the weather, time of year, time of day of the milking – all so we can study the information later and so we can trace every wheel of cheese back to the exact batch of milk it was made with. Lots of analysis.

Cheesemaker Kate Turcotte at work in the creamery.

The process for making each cheese is very precise, and varies from type to type. In general, we start by filling one of these big stainless steel vats with milk. Then we stir the milk with big paddles to blend in the cream, and we begin to heat it. We generally heat the milk to about ninety five degrees for a soft cheese. Milk for hard cheeses is cooked again to evaporate even more of the water content.

As the milk heats, we watch the temperature. There’s a precise time and temperature at which we add the culture to each cheese. Each culture is made from strains of bacteria that work together in specific ways to control the acidity of the cheese, which has a big effect on its final flavor. Some cultures come from very old cheesemaking operations in France. Others come from other places. We use several different cultures here, and we have specific culture cocktails for each of our cheeses. The cheesemaking process is very precise, but it’s also always changing. We have a big recipe book, but the recipes are always being adjusted just a little bit here or a little bit there.

After adding the cultures, the milk is left to ripen for a while, and then we add the rennet. Most rennet comes from the stomach lining of cows, but we use microbial rennet that’s made with strains of mold – it’s vegetarian. The rennet is what starts the coagulation of the milk – it starts the formation of the curds.

Here, cheesemaker Anastasia Gaszynski flips a mass of curd that after brining, drying, and aging, will become a wheel of Dorset, one of Consider Bardwell's cows' milk cheeses.

When the curds have thickened to the appropriate degree, we scoop them out of the vat into molds and let them drain. They’ll sit drying for a while – usually until the following day, and then are put in a brine for a few hours.

Kate readies a few wheels of Pawlet for brining. "In the world of cheese, getting a job at Consider Bardwell is like getting into Harvard," says Kate.

After brining, the cheesemaking process ends, and the aging process begins. The cheese sits on wire racks to dry for a few days, and when they’re absolutely dry, they go into the cave to age.

It takes more experience to really understand the aging process than it does to learn how to make the cheese. It can easily take a year to understand it properly. Each cheese ages for a different amount of time. Humidity and temperature for each cheese are critical, and the key is keeping them constant at all times. It requires a pretty exhaustive attention to detail. Each cheese has its own cave with ideal conditions for that specific cheese, and each cheesemaker focuses on a specific cheese and a specific cave in order to stay on top of it all.

And then there’s washing. Some of our cheeses are washed as they age and some aren’t. Washing the cheese usually gives it a stronger flavor, and washes vary by content and frequency for each cheese.

Leslie checks wheels of aging cheese in one of the farm's caves. Maintaining precise temperature and humidity levels in the cave are critical to the aging process.

So there are a lot of factors that work together to determine the flavor of a cheese. We can use the exact same recipe for a cheese three times, with cows’ milk from three different farms, and when we do that we find that the cheese made with the milk from each farm tastes slightly different. Because the environment on each farm is slightly different. The grasses the animals are eating are slightly different. And the flavors change as the seasons change, because what they’re eating changes. The cultures matter – there’s a specific culture of cocktails for each cheese and that affects the acidity and flavor. The temperature and humidity of the cave, the amount of time the cheese spends in the cave, and the type and frequency of the wash all affect the flavor too.

So, cheese is pretty complicated. [laughter.]


The Monger

After our crash course in cheesemaking with Leslie in the creamery, we wander the farm grounds with Poul Price, Consider Bardwell’s New York City sales manager, as he does some errands before his trip back to the city the following day. Poul lives in Bushwick, but visits the farm as often as he can.

Poul manages Consider Bardwell's NYC Greenmarket sales, which account for the single largest source of sales for the farm's cheese. He lives in Bushwick, but makes frequent trips to the farm.

So Poul, how goes the business of selling cheese?

Sales are the best they’ve been yet. If things continue to go as well as they have been, this will be our fourth profitable year. Of course, Angela, the owner, bought the farm about twelve years ago. When you do things the way we do them here, with a commitment to doing everything right at every step of the process, it takes a while to build up. Angela started with six goats in 2001. Real dairy operations on a commercial level didn’t start until 2004 or 2005, and they’ve been ramping up ever since.

Where does most of the cheese go? Where’s it sold?

The single largest source of sales for us is at the New York City Greenmarkets. They don’t necessarily account for the majority of all sales, but they’re the single largest source.

And we like that, because being at those markets allows us to really explain what we’re doing and why it matters – what makes Consider Bardwell cheese special. It’s much harder to communicate that to customers if you’re not there in person. In the retail environment, you give that information to one person who passes it on to their employees, who then pass it on to the customers, so you’re often four times removed from the customer at that point. It’s hard to get the story through that many links in the chain.

The farm recently opened a store, where they sell their cheese, eggs and meat on the honor system.

But at the markets, most of our cheesemongers have been up here to the farm at least once. They have a real understanding of what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and why that matters.

What do you find yourself explaining most to shoppers at the markets? What don’t people understand about the what, how and why of what you do up here?

One thing that’s always true in any context is that people like to see things in black and white. When it comes to cheese, they might want all organic, or purely grass fed, or not grass fed. They don’t necessarily understand the complexities that factor into producing a great cheese in the most responsible, efficient and sustainable way possible, which is what we go to great effort to do here at Consider Bardwell.

For example, our goats are not entirely grass fed. Some people find that scandalous. [laughter.] Yes, our goats are out on fresh pasture all the time, but we give them a little grain when they’re being milked. It’s a treat for them. They like it. It keeps them healthy. If an animal is eating on pasture and being milked twice a day? We find they benefit from the added nutrition of a little grain. And it helps them to continue to produce a certain amount of milk while doing the work of feeding on pasture, which helps us to keep the price of our cheeses within reason, which allows more people to buy it, which sustains the farm.

Poul takes some fresh farm eggs from the store to bring to the farm's NYC Greenmarket stands the following weekend.

Same with antibiotics. All of our cheese is completely antibiotic free. But if one of our goats gets sick, we’re going to take her out of the milking herd and treat her. If we wanted to be certified organic, we’d have to sell that animal or put her down. That doesn’t seem right to us. So it’s kind of ironic – the way you have to treat your animals in order to be certified organic is actually not sustainable. It treats animals like they’re disposable. And animals aren’t disposable. If our animals get sick we’re going to help them get better.

Another thing we often have to explain is the meat thing. We’re raising over a hundred goats now for meat, and we sell that meat at the markets. Some people are horrified by that. It’s important to us that people understand that what happens at any farm is a whole process. Anytime you’re creating milk to create cheese, you’re going to have extra offspring that don’t fit into the dairy part of the business. Those extra offspring are going to go to meat one way or another. Here, we’d rather raise them on the farm in the way we think is right rather than send them to a feedlot. It’s just how it all works.

The fact that cheese is seasonal comes up a lot too. At the markets, I’ll have the Rupert, one of our cow’s milk cheeses, made with milk from last August next to the Pawlet made with milk from December. You can see that the Rupert has a vivid yellow color, and the Pawlet is a milky white. The difference in color is caused by the difference in what the cows are eating at those times of year.

Poul sets up the Consider Bardwell Greenmarket stand at the Williamsburg/McCarren Park market. They also have stands at the Carroll Gardens and Cortelyou markets each week.

In December, they’re eating dry hay, which is just the dried-out grass from our fields that we collect all summer. It’s grass, but it’s dry, so it doesn’t have the live grass nutrients that give the summer milk that yellowish hue. What the animals are eating at any time of year affects the flavor of their milk, which affects the flavor of the cheese. On our farm, since the animals are pastured, they’re eating different things all year. So it’s seasonal, and a lot of people are surprised by that.

What, to you, is unique about Consider Bardwell? What sets it apart?

The coolest thing to me about Consider Bardwell is how young and dedicated the staff is. All the cheesemakers are under 25. They’re really passionate about what they do. Alex and Margot are in their twenties. The innovation and critical thinking that they bring to managing the animals and the fields is amazing. We’re on the cutting edge of cheesemaking technology and processes, at the same time as being totally committed to doing things ethically and sustainably, and in the way we feel is right. I think right now at Consider Bardwell, we’re raising up the next generation of cheesemakers in the Northeast. I think the stuff we’re setting in place now will last for generations.


The Owner

We finished the day chatting with Angela Miller, a literary agent to some of New York’s top culinary talent, as Margot, Alex and Poul prepared dinner for a few of the farm crew. Angela and her husband Russell Glover, an architect, purchased the property, then in a state of serious disrepair, twelve years ago. Since then, they, and partner Chris Gray, have built Consider Bardwell, largely by hand, into one of the nation’s finest dairy farms and creameries.

Angela, a lifelong New Yorker and literary agent to some of the city's finest chefs, purchased the property with her husband Russell Glover twelve years ago. They've built it from a tiny operation into one of the nation's finest dairy farms and creameries. The farm now supports seven families and produces 80,000 pounds of cheese a year.

So Angela, how did you end up here?

My parents both came from farms, but they weren’t farmers themselves. They bought a farm in Pennsylvania when I was a teenager. A ‘gentleman’s farm.’ We’d grow our own vegetables – that was all, really. But it planted that romantic notion in my head that stayed with me for all those years in New York City.

We thought about buying a farm in Vermont in 1984, but we didn’t, because life was too crazy – the city life and raising a kid and all that. We bought this farm in 2000. On a whim.

We were here for Thanksgiving. We had just sold a co-op in the city and had some money that we’d never had before jangling in our pockets. We were staying with friends. We were looking at properties. My husband Russell is an architect, so I’d always thought I’d like to live in a house that he designed and built himself.

At the end of the long day, Margot heads home. But the work on a farm never stops. Tonight, she and Alex will be hosting a few of the farm crew for dinner - not an uncommon end to a good day's work.

We couldn’t find any property to look at, but I noticed this place listed on the realtor’s bulletin board and I said, “What’s that?” The realtor said, “Forget it. It’s three hundred acres. An old dairy farm. Defunct. Disgusting. A mess.” He wouldn’t show it to us because he thought it was a waste of time.

We came over here ourselves the next day. I knew nothing about the history of the place. It stank of oil, because the oil burner had recently exploded. I could hear the gunshots of hunters in the woods all around us. I was from New York City. I was terrified. [laughter.] But there was some kind of magic about the place. I don’t know what the magic was, but it was there, and we bought it the next day.

We didn’t have a clear idea of what we were going to do with it. My husband’s a city boy from London. I’ve spent my whole adult life in New York. I thought, “Hey, maybe I can have a horse!” [laughter.] But it did feel in some way like whatever we did decide to do, the sky would be the limit with this place.

Margot and Alex live in one of the original farm buildings across a pond from the main house. In their kitchen, Poul slices some bread to accompany a cheese plate.

Over the next few months we learned that the farm had been the first cheese cooperative in the state of Vermont, founded in the 1860s by a man named Consider Bardwell. Cheese has always been one of my favorite things. I wanted to open a cheese shop on the Upper West Side when I finished college, but I didn’t have any money to do it, of course. [laughter.] So it all kind of coalesced around cheese. The history of the place and my own interest in cheese made it seem like an obvious path.

I was working with Max McCalman, who was the cheese guy for Artisanal Cheese and Picholine. He had done a book about cheese, where he’d travelled around Vermont. I told him about the idea of starting a creamery to make cheese, and I asked him, “Max, do you think I’m crazy?” [laughter.] He was supportive. He kind of nurtured my cheese fantasies.

I started researching it. I thought we’d have sheep, not cows. I didn’t even think about goats. I started going to dairy conferences. I did two years worth of studying farming at U.V.M. – every course, every workshop I could think of.

The fruits of much labor. All the work is for this. Some of the finest cheeses being made on the east coast.

We started working with dairy inspectors on plans for building the creamery and caves in the existing barn structure. We couldn’t build a new building because we didn’t have any money to do it. They helped us figure out how to organize it all so that it would be legal when we were ready to start production. Russell, being an architect, was able to design and build everything with his own hands.

Eventually, a lot of people, some of the farmers from around here, even some of the old time farmers who don’t do things the way we do them, came out to help us get things going.

I imagine that a couple of New Yorkers coming in to start a goat farm in rural Vermont might draw some skepticism. How did the community react?

It was a bumpy start. I had one guy who had been haying on the property. He’d come in and cut hay to feed his animals in winter, and he’d been paying the previous owner rent to do that. I assumed he was going to continue, and that that would help me pay the taxes on the place.

For dinner, a freshly-killed chicked from the farm's own flock roasts on Margot and Alex's grill.

Two weeks before the haying season began he came here and said, “I don’t need your hay. I’m not helping you guys from New York. You don’t know anything. You come here, you buy our farms. I would never pay you rent. You should just burn the place down for all I care!”

I was like, “You, sir, are sitting in my dining room!” [laughter.]

I know him now. The relationship is fine. For years we just got down there and worked. Russell built the creamery and all the caves in the old barn by hand. I was milking and they could see that I was willing to work, and when they saw that many of them were willing to help.

Another guy whose family has been farming for generations would come and help us mow hay. You have to keep haying the land or your pastures go bad. He did a great job of haying, and I’d buy hay from him. One day he came to the back porch and said, “You know, I really didn’t want to sell you any hay because I really don’t like people from New York. But I see that you people work, so I’ll sell it to you.” [laughter]. I almost fell over backwards!

Margot sets the table on a soft summer night.

We also pursue and have gotten grants for committing land to be preserved and that sort of thing. And the local farmers tend not to like that. They think we’re crazy and that we should be protecting the rights of future generations to use the land in whatever way they want.

So it was a little bit of a rough start, but things are working well now.

And how has it grown? Was it difficult to get established?

Our very first cheesemaker had almost no experience. He and his wife had worked at Murray’s Cheese and had done some training in Europe. But his wife was also a chef and she’d been a line cook at Craft with the guy who became chef de cuisine at Per Se, and because of that our fresh goat cheese was on the menu at Per Se the first week we started making it. They opened those doors for us, and that was hugely important.

You know, I’m a literary agent. I represent Mark Bittman from the Times, and Jean Georges Vongerichten and Marcus Samuelsson and a number of people like that. But I would never approach them about the cheese. The other guys would. If they liked it, I might deliver it, but it wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to try to get them to buy it. [laughter.] But we didn’t have to go and prove that we were real people, and that really does help.

Dining with a view on Margot and Alex's porch. The main house, barn, and outbuildings are just across the pond.

It’s all taken a while, but things are on the right track. We haven’t yet been able to make enough cheese to meet demand. We haven’t yet found that scary sweet spot where we have more cheese sitting around than we can sell. We’ve increased production from 68,000 pounds of cheese last year to 80,000 pounds this year. Oh the poor cheesemakers…they’re always the ones who suffer. [laughter.] If we can stabilize at 100,000 pounds per year, we’ll be in a good place.

We have to keep asking ourselves, “Who are we? What do we want to be? Where are we going? “ We don’t want to be a factory. We have a lot of people to support. The farm is supporting seven families now, which amazes me. It’s become a real community. Chris and Leslie have the creamery running really well. All of the cheesemakers are in their twenties and are very passionate about what they do. Margot and Alex are very creative, and skilled and dedicated to caring for the animals and the land. Our cheese is very good, and our sales guys have done a wonderful job getting it out into the world.

But it’s not easy making money on cheese. We’ve begun to make it work. It would be nice to take a rest from always increasing production, and always developing the infrastructure you need to increase production, but we’re not quite there yet.


Meanwhile, Back in Brooklyn…

Back in Brooklyn, we stop by Eastern District, a cheese and beer shop in Greenpoint, to taste, and talk Consider Bardwell, with owner and cheese maven Beth Lewand.

Beth Lewand of Eastern District.

So Beth, I understand you’re a big fan of Consider Bardwell. Can we taste a few of their cheeses?

We love Consider Bardwell. They do pretty amazing work. These are a few of my favorite Consider Bardwell cheeses – the Manchester, the Rupert, and the Pawlet.

The Manchester is their aged goats’ milk cheese. It’s firm, smooth, with a little bit of crumble, but it’s not too dry. It’s got a nice tangy flavor. Not overly strong or barnyardy, because they use really fresh milk. It’s got some nice salt to it. I like it very much on its own. I sometimes recommend it to people as a substitute for ricotta salata if they’re looking for something like that. Although it’s aged, it’s got a nice clean flavor like a fresh cheese.

I like to pair it with dried apricots. The tangy, fresh, salty flavors of the cheese contrast nicely with the rich, sweet, stone fruit flavor of the dried apricot.

Next up is the Rupert, one of their cows’ milk cheeses. One thing I really like about the Rupert is that I think you really can notice the difference in the seasonal flavors. Rupert always has a lot of rich complex flavors to it. Sometimes it tastes a little more beefy, oniony, meaty. What we have right now is something with a little more of a vegetal taste. It tastes of the grass and herbs that the cows are eating. It’s a little floral, and fresh. Some cheesemakers try to control flavor for consistency. Consider Bardwell lets them be, and I like that.

I like to pair the Rupert with Kelso pilsner. I wouldn’t pair it with just any pilsner. But the Kelso pilsner has a very full flavor – lots of malt and hops, so it can stand up to the complex, strong, and grassy flavors of the summer Rupert.

Beth pairs the Pawlet with pickles, the Rupert with Kelso of Brooklyn's pilsner, and the Manchester with dried apricots.

The last cheese one we’ve got is the Pawlet, which is one of their more powerful washed-rind cheeses.  The Pawlet is another cows’ milk cheese. It has that great funky smell and flavor, without being overwhelming. It has a nice milky flavor balanced by some saltiness and bitterness from the washed rind. It’s got a nice springy texture and it’s really great for melting – It’s perfect on a grilled cheese sandwich.

And it pairs really nicely with pickles. The spice of the pickles works well with the slightly funky and bitter flavor of the cheese, and the sweetness of the pickles compliments the sweetness of the milk.

We love Consider Bardwell’s cheeses. We really like that they allow the variations in seasonal flavors in the milk from the pastured animals to come through. And we really like Poul. He’s one of the only people we know who likes cheese and beer as much as we do. [laughter.]



Consider Bardwell’s cheeses can be found in Brooklyn at the Williamsbug/McCarren Park, Carroll Gardens, and Cortelyou Greenmarkets each week, as well as at Bedford Cheese Shop and Marlow & Daughters in Williamsburg, Eastern District in Greenpoint, BKLYN Larder in Park Slope, and Stinky Bklyn in Carroll Gardens.

All photography by Morgan Ione Yeager, who persevered even when rain at 5am dashed her dreams of photographing goats frolicking in the fields in dawn’s golden light, forcing her to shoot from inside a garbage bag instead. All rights reserved.

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49 Responses to Field to Fork: Cheese, From The Pasture To The Cave, At Consider Bardwell

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