|Producer of the Month Spring Brook Farm Cheese|
By Christine Holderness
In 1992 Karli and James Hagedorn created the Spring Brook Farm Foundation (later changed to the Farms for City Kids Foundation) and bought 1,000 acres of preserved architectural land in Reading, VT.
“We believed that the farm was a great natural classroom in which to teach not only the obvious subjects demanded by the children’s
curriculums, but a wonderful environment in which to learn team work, self-reliance, and gain an awareness of the cycles of nature and the importance of farms,” explains Karli Hagedorn, chairwoman of the board of the Farms for City Kids Foundation.
Currently over 750 kids a year—from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other urban centers nationally and internationally—come to Reading to study, work, learn, and have fun. Many have never been out of a city environment; very few have ever experienced a working farm.
In 2008, as a way to bring more value to the farm’s Jersey cow milk, and to enrich and make Farms for City Kids more sustainable, a state-of-the-art cheese house was built and a cheesemaking business was launched.
Cheesemaking (or caseiculture) dates back at least 5,000 years. There is evidence that cheese was made in the ancient Egyptian civilization. Cheesemaking may have originated from nomadic herdsmen who stored milk in vessels made from sheep and goats’ stomachs.
“For the children it completes the cycle of food production, as well as exposes them to the wonderful synergy of science and art that is cheesemaking,” explains Karli. “Our signature cheese, Tarentaise, is a farmstead cheese (created with milk from the farm’s Jersey cows) so the objective of being a self-reliant facility, where we produce (almost) everything that we need is clearly demonstrated to the kids.”
Tarentaise, the first cheese produced at Spring Brook Farm, is modeled after an alpine-style, semi-hard, French cheese. Originally produced at neighboring Thistle Hill Farm, Tarentaise was so successful that Thistle Hill agreed to partner with Spring Brook Farm and the City Kids Foundation to expand production.
According to Jeremy Stephenson, cheese program director at Spring Brook, “In Vermont there is a lot of collaboration. By helping each other we help ourselves.” As part of this unique arrangement, Spring Brook Farm can make Tarentaise, and call it by that name, as long as it is made according to certain stipulations: the milk must come from Jersey cows, the cows must graze on local pasture, fermented feed is prohibited, copper-lined vats must be used, the milk must be raw, and the cheese must be a “Farmstead Cheese.” A farmstead cheese, as defined by the American Cheese Society, is one that is made from the producer’s own herd of cows.
The French have long thought about the relationship of food to place and linked place to taste, developing values and practices and making such thinking a type of cultural common sense. The term le goût de terroir, the “taste of place,” is a crucial component in artisanal cheese making. In other words: the land, the Jersey cows and what they eat, the cheesemaking facilities, the brining process, the aging time, and the attention to detail all work together to create cheeses that are unique to Spring Brook Farm. The cheesemaking at Spring Brook Farm has been guided by a French cheesemaker; Stephenson is currently visiting cheesemaking operations in France, primarily in the Alps.
According to Stephenson, “The seasons, the land, and the direct input from the hand of the cheesemaker are reflected through the milk. All these subtleties combined result in a complex and nuanced product. This is the beauty and appeal of a raw-milk farmstead cheese.”
Spring Brook Farm’s Tarentaise is a fabulously complex cheese, with the classic nuttiness of an Alpine cheese underscored with herbaceous, savory, and vegetal notes, as well as a hint of butterscotch. This complexity is truly only possible using raw milk. The Tarentaise is aged for a minimum of five months on traditional wooden boards that are turned twice a week and washed with a solution that contains a culture that “ripens” the cheese. “The aging room is magical. You learn the craft by feeling it,” states Stephenson.
In 2012 the farm began producing Reading (named after the Vermont town the farm is located in). Reading is a semi-soft Raclette-style, raw-milk cheese, ideally suited for melting over vegetables, bread, or meat, yet it can easily stand alone on the cheese platter. It has a nutty flavor that is unique to cows grazing in Vermont pastures.
Both cheeses have won numerous awards. For example, Tarentaise Reserve won Best in Show in 2014 at an American Cheese Society (ACS) tasting and Reading was selected as best in its class at an ACS competition in 2015.
In addition to the Tarentaise and Reading cheeses, a Morbier-style cheese has recently been developed and introduced.
“We are extremely proud of our Vermont-made cheeses,” declares Karli, “but we are even more proud of the work we do at Spring Brook Farm with the city kids. Their enthusiasm and sense of pride for everything they help with at the farm is priceless.