Sheila Litchfield has been raising goats, making cheese and teaching cheese making for over 30 years.
Western Massachusetts is mostly rural, but Heath is about as rural as it gets (population – 706). It’s what we call “the middle of nowhere,” up on a hill and way off the beaten path.
Sheila Litchfield and her husband (Budge) moved there 43 years ago because they fell in love with the beauty of the area. She was from the South Shore of Boston and he was from New York. His family had a summer home across the street from the house where they now live. When their house came on the market, they leaped at the chance to buy it and they never looked back.
Now, Budge’s sister lives in the summer home and the couple’s son (Tucker) lives next door with his wife (Summer) and their 3 year old grand-daughter, Maeven. It’s a family enclave!
Her many accomplishments
For her entire working life, Sheila was a public health nurse and occupational health nurse full time and she still works 3 days/week. She was on the selectboard for 15 years and she served as chairwoman for 6 of them (towns around there are run by elected boards of selectmen). She’s on the annual Heath Fair committee and has run ADGA sanctioned goat shows at the fair for the past 8 years.
Four years ago, she and her husband started an after school 4-H program at the Hawlemont Elementary School where the kids learn weaving, baking, goat husbandry, cheese making, lego robotics, mindfulness and more. The school has a barn where 3 of Sheila’s goats live with other farm animals during the school year. (This is an innovative program in Agriculture and Environmental Studies and Sheila and Budge are on the advisory board.)
While accomplishing all this, Sheila manages to produce a lot of her family’s food. She maintains large perennial and vegetable gardens, cans her own produce, raises goats and chickens, and makes cheese!
She has 4 beautiful Alpine does at home and 2 of them are currently milking. (3 of her goats live at the school and she boards her buck up the road.) Coincidentally, her buck came from the Chateau Briant Farm in Saco, Maine which we wrote about last month.
Normally, she milks her goats twice daily and would get 1 gallon of milk/day from each goat. At this time of year, she’s milking two does who kidded last May, so their production is about half of what it was. This lower volume has enabled Sheila just enough milk to make cheese twice a week rather than more frequently. In the Spring, a third doe will kid.
10 years ago, Sheila converted a concrete cistern in her basement (that used to hold water) into a cave. She added a door to it and installed shelves. Before she put her cheese there, she monitored the temperature and humidity in it for an entire year.
At the moment, she has Parmesan, Colby, Tomme, Cheddar (all with natural rinds) and Camembert in it. In the winter she finds her cave temperatures tend to be on the
cold side with low humidity.
She also uses a small, wine refrigerator for brie and other mold ripened cheeses during seasons when the humidity in the larger cave fluctuates too much.
She teaches her cheese making classes in her fabulous kitchen.
Her classes are custom designed for the people who take them. When someone is interested, she asks them what cheeses they’d like to make and when they want to come. She has created classes focused on goat or cow milk, cream cheese, triple crème, aged cheeses, soft cheese, mold-ripened cheese and cheese desserts. She limits each class to 6 participants. Most of the classes are about four hours in length.
Here’s a slide show of one of her classes (from her website):