I first interviewed John in 2010 when his farm (The Farmstead at Mine Brook) was located in Charlemont, MA, a “stone’s throw” away from our shop in Ashfield .
We have since moved to South Deerfield and he has moved to Maine, but we have kept in touch through the years. The last two summers, we have been able to catch up at the Big E Cheese Competition where I volunteer and he is a judge.
John began his career life as a 10th generation New England farmer, specializing in Jersey cows. His farm is located on 74 acres of flat, river bottom land in south central Maine, northwest of Portland.
He currently has 50 Jersey cows, 16 Suffolk sheep, 20 Nubian goats and a lot of chickens.
He is still breeding and showing Jerseys, but he is best known for his cow’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses. Because he is both a farmer and a cheese maker, he completely understands the process of making cheese, from the condition of the soil to the wrapping of the final product. He has made and sold a wide variety of cheeses since 2000 and they are always the “real deal,” full-flavored and award-winning. He is currently making:
From the Jersey cows:
Pub Cheese (a savory spread), winner of silver medal UK World Level
Renaissance – a washed rind, aged, raw milk cheese
From the Nubian goats:
Chevre (1st place ACS)
PLUS – Raw milk from both species
What is your daily routine?
I wake up at 4:30 everyday to get the coffee going, walk the dogs, check on the cows in the barn and sweep the feed “in” hay that they have pushed away during the night.
Then, I have coffee, watch the news a few minutes and get the weather forecast, then, check the emails quickly. Jump into the shower and on duty in the barns at 6 am. Chores start, my employees come in at 6 as well. We get all animals fed, watered, bedded and then the milking begins.
I still feed cows and milk twice a day. I love keeping in touch with the cattle in order to see how they are doing production-wise and health-wise. Extremely important to me – spending time with the animals.
Cheese making begins usually by 9:30am and, depending on orders of backing up inventories, finishes by 3pm, 4 days per week. Deliveries are usually 1 day per week and sometimes two of us going in different directions may do those.
Back to helping with the cows and goats. Adam and Amanda (staff) start afternoon chores at 1:30, unless Amanda is helping in the production room. Milking starts at 4:30 in the afternoon and we finish up chores by 6 pm.
What are your challenges?
Milking both cows and goats means we milk 4 times a day and we clean both sets of equipment. I have tried giving up the goats, but they always creep back. Even though they’re needy and loud, I love them. As the people who sold me my first Nubian said, ” Once they’re under your skin, you can’t get rid of them.” Besides, I won my first blue ribbon at the American Cheese Society Competition with my Garlic & Herb Chevre.
What is your best selling product?
Our cheese curds, made with Jersey milk are very popular. We can’t make enough of them.
Any advice for home cheese makers who might want to sell their cheese?
Jim Wallace (our technical advisor) gave me the best advice – Make only the cheese you’re passionate about. There are cheeses I could make and there would be a market, but I’m just not passionate about them.
Where can folks buy your cheese?
We’ve only been in production here in Leeds for 3 years because when we moved in, we had to stabilize the barn, etc. But, we go the the Farmer’s Markets, local stores and restaurants and we have a self-serve farm stand, open 7 days/week from 8-5. We sell our dairy products, lamb, pork and eggs.