REMSEN, NY — If Little Miss Muffet was by chance sitting on her tuffet, eating curds and whey from the Grassy Cow Grazing Dairy Farm, the 1805 nursery rhyme might never have happened, because no spider would have scared her away from the pursuit of the freshest, tastiest cheese curd in the North Country.
Who is this passionate, hard-working farming couple rewriting the freshness quotient? Remsen’s own Leon and Angela Atwell, who have enlightened the local community’s palate from their “Management Intensive Rotational Grazing” seasonal dairy farm.
Their 140 unconventional herd of Holstein, Norwegian Red, Montbeliarde, and Jersey cows graze 3-acre paddocks per day during the growing season while being supplemented with a small amount of grain and homegrown forages necessary for their nutritional needs. “We have always focused on the quality of our milk coming from grass versus the quantity we produce, and rely on pasture in the diet to produce nutritional improvements, unique quality and flavor profiles that add to the nuances and richness of our cheeses,” said the Atwells.
The path to creative curds was stovetop and neighborhood driven. “I remember making a batch in the kitchen during a snowstorm and giving away 3 pounds to friends and neighbors,” said Angela. “The reaction from the impromptu tasters found it creamy and delicious with a taste they’d never experienced before. The experience was so personally rewarding that we thought: Could we make a small local business out of it?”
With an accounting career and a very ingenious husband, they began researching and formulating a business plan. This idea culminated in the fall of 2012 when they attended an intensive four-day training at Penn State University in the Science and Art of Cheese making. They learned the proper handling of milk, sanitation techniques, microbiology of milk, and the art of cheese making.
“When we returned, we were tuned up and dialed in with the idea that we just may be able to do this. But in our excitement we were cautious and hesitant that this may just be a crazy idea and not a sustainable business. We are big proponents of being self-funded and have an independent streak as most farmers can appreciate, said Leon. I like to spend money I earned yesterday not money I “might” earn tomorrow.”
The true catalyst was the community’s hunger for their venture. “In the fall of 2014, we decided to order lumber, ‘in case’ we may want to build our dream of a small creamery. That was the beginning of our adventure,” said Angela. “Before we knew it, concrete was getting poured, walls were going up, a vat pasteurizer was purchased from the Netherlands and a diligent effort to obtain necessary licensing and setting up our creamery with all of the necessary items was in place. Our family and friends came to our side to help build our dream into reality. The folks from NYS Ag and Markets were good to work with through this process. It’s not easy but absolutely necessary for food safety and our peace of mind.”
Little did they know how much work it would take to make their first batch of glorious milk into luscious, fresh curd on April 15, 2015. With the majority of their milk shipped to a milk cooperative to be processed into products made for retail sale, they divert a small amount of their whole milk on Wednesday evening into the vat pasteurizer to start the craftsman style of cheese curd making. While most are sleeping, the Atwells are busy at 1 a.m. on Thursday mornings; washing “and washing” equipment, adding rennet, separating the whey, cheddaring, salting and flavoring the cheese and packaging the squeaky curd with the distinctive, cheery, grass eating cow on the label. By 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon the customers pour into the driveway on Prospect Road to harvest the yummy fresh cheese from Angela, “The Chief of Cheese.”
Why curds? “We felt there was a market because of our customer’s excitement for fresh, local products with a story, said Angela. The recent craze over Poutine hasn’t hurt either.”
Folks can enjoy natural, Jalapeno, Tomato Basil, Spicy Red Pepper, Dilly Garlic, Horseradish Chive and Buffalo flavors of cheese curd and new to the farm is a traditional cheddar Grassy Cow farmstead cheese. “People need it fresh, that’s why we work so hard. Quality counts. It’s fun and rewarding to know customers want our product, appreciate supporting our farm financially and are eating it by the time they leave our driveway,” said Leon.
“Logistics and marketing keep us up at night, said the Atwells. We want customers to stop at our farm and see how we do things but we also need to get our products into the marketplace so they can taste the freshness away from the farm. We take pride in discussing our love for farming at farm markets, tasting events, festivals and on our website. Our cheese business is a wonderful way to meet new people and to share our experience as well as provide a farm fresh product to our customers.”
To learn more and to support this farm family, visit www.grassycowdairy.com.