The barn wasn’t being utilized. If anything, it was used for storage of hay and other miscellaneous aspects of the farm. But otherwise, the barn just sat there.
But in June 2017, the barn was officially opened as the Cheese Barn for the Muranda Cheese Company in Waterloo, NY.
There was never any plan for the Muranda Cheese Company or the Cheese Barn when Tom Murray established the dairy farm in 1991. When they decided to make cheese nearly 10 years ago, there was no plan for it to go as far as it has now. According to the Muranda Cheese website, their belief behind their cheese production happened “because only milk that has been deemed among the highest quality in the nation can make such exceptional cheeses.”
The Muranda Cheese Company creates over 10 varieties of cheese from their milk.
Blane Murray, a son of Tom Murray, runs the dairy aspect of the business while Tom devotes himself to the cheese and tourists.
“We have 200 head total,” Blane said. “Ninety are being milked right now. The herd is mostly Holsteins with a few Jerseys.”
The farms milks twice a day yielding 88 pounds per day. “Thirty percent goes to the cheese. Seventy percent goes to the DFA,” said Blane.
To keep their yield and quality of milk, Blane said the farm does their best for every little thing. The farm first starts with cutting some hay, but hires out some of their 163-acres of land to other farmers involved in crop production. Since it’s rare for the cows to receive grain, the Murray’s find it convenient to cut their own quality forages while feeding corn cut just right. “We want to grow our heifers well,” Blane said.
For comfort, the herd is given different beds depending on their progression in milk production. Dry cows are given sand. Compost and sawdust are used for wet cows and the calves have beds of straw. The Murrays have found these selections the best choices in preventing and treating the many troubles which may accompany a cow. The sand is kept deep to reduce swollen hocks and the stalls average 52 inches in width.
“Wide rumps and good legs” are the physical characteristics Blane looks for as the heifers grow and when it is time to breed. The Murrays use A.I. breeding, investing in top-of-the-line specimens to get the best milk.
“The calves are given colostrum the first three to four days with a reduced nipple size,” Blane said, indicating the majority of their calves don’t get sick on this technique.
Every once in a while, they’ll get a bull. Depending on the health and traits, the bull may be kept, but this does not happen often.
Now that the farm is open for agritourism with the Cheese Barn, the Murrays have made it a principle to maintain a completely open farm. “We are not hiding anything,” Tom said. “There are no stupid questions. We talk about educating the public, opening the barn.”
Tom never closed off his farm, but now that the Cheese Barn is up and running and numerous visitors come by each year, he has made it clear how open it is. All visitors are welcome to explore the farm and venture to see the cows, provided they refrain from touching the animals. The cow barns are also off limits, but due to insurance reasons.
“They don’t seem to go past the calves,” Tom said, indicating that the visitors who do venture past the Cheese Barn stop short of getting to the heifers. But as the Cheese Barn has opened just recently, it may just be unfamiliarity on the part of the public.
The Cheese Barn is actually an expansion. The original was a barn off the main cow barn that was outfitted to accommodate the patrons. Once the family began seeing buses arrive for cheese tastings, they decided to take the old barn which was underutilized and transform it into the barn it is today. They also were able to embrace the other aspects of agritourism, such as hosting weddings and other events.
They were even afforded a test run once the barn was built but before it was approved to be open for the public. Tom’s son (Blane’s brother) had his wedding in the barn, proving the venue to be acceptable for large parties.
The start of 2017 also marked another change in the plans. “We filed for a liquor license at the start of 2017,” said Blane. The plan behind their whole venture was to make a vertically integrated business, and one in which they can offer other products significant to the Finger Lakes region. The Muranda Cheese Company carries various local beers and wines which can complement their cheeses.
Along with Tom and Blane, the farm employs two part-time high school students and one fulltime worker. All together, they answer questions, show their work and bring farm life that much closer to the public, especially with the back deck on the Cheese Barn overlooking acres of the neat pastures and farm land.
“We try to keep the farm clean — make it nice,” Tom said.
For more information visit https://murandacheese.com.