by Chloe Zale, Murray’s Summer Intern
Greek yogurt with honey, steaming coffee, and the excited faces of Murrays’ employees Sascha, Louise, Michael, and Jason eased my pain at the Saturday at 7:30 AM meeting time for our trip to Nettle Meadow goat farm. It was early, especially for a college-aged intern on a Saturday, but don’t get me wrong – I had been looking forward to this Whey-cation for weeks. I literally dream about the farm’s famous bloomy-rinded, milky, oozy, sweet and just-tangy-enough goat and Jersey cow milk cheese, Kunik. Well, at least I had the night before the trip.
The forecast was dubious for our final destination of Warrensburg, NY, and sharp streaks of rain decorated our coach bus’s windows as Sylvester, our devoted driver, escorted us up the Hudson River. Jason (Murray’s Director of Wholesale) and I (Summer Intern) concentrated on manifesting good weather for the rest of the day, and before we knew it we were without rain and at our first stop of the day: New World Home Cooking, in Woodstock, NY, the proud establishment of locavore Chef Ric Orlando and his media-hyped blackened string beans. The café sits on the foundation of an old Olympic-sized swimming pool and features brightly-colored décor and a light-flooded back room that looks out onto Chef Orlando’s two-acre property.
We were immediately greeted with berry bellinis and generous portions of the green beans. The beans. Were. Otherworldly. (I really wish I could upload tastes to this blog). Dipped in a dusky orange paprika-dijon sauce, the spicy, crisp veggies were, as Jason put it so eloquently, “like crack.” Next on the menu were a few different options, including a ripe strawberry and basil crepe, a local egg frittata with seasonal vegetables, and smokehouse ham with grits and a fresh pea salad, which was the most popular dish of the morning. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more, we were presented with a parade of delectable mini cheesecakes made with Nettle Meadow’s fromage blanc (unsalted fresh goat cheese) and graham cracker crust, garnished with fresh peach compote. They disappeared. Quickly.
Rapidly descending into food-coma-heaven, we stumbled back to the bus and promptly passed out for the second leg of our journey, the star of the show, Nettle Meadow farm, where happy goats make great cheese. And are those goats happy! We awoke to Sylvester backing our oversized coach into the farm’s dirt driveway (at an impressive 90 degree angle to the road, I might add), and pampered goats, sheep, and even a llama or two perked up their ears in excited anticipation of their new playmates-to-come.
Lorraine and Sheila, who run the farm, showed us around their multiple barns and waited patiently as we cozied up to their prized herd. Some of us got perhaps a little too friendly with our new companions – one unnamed Murray’s employee almost lost her shirt to a curious goat’s overzealous mouth. But all order was restored when Sheila led us through the farm’s cheesemaking and aging facilities. We were privileged to see almost all the stages of the cheesemaking process at once, from pouring the first fresh curds into their perforated containers to sorting through the crisp, white cheeses as they age. Sheila also reminded us that although cheesemaking as a profession seems like a bucolic paradise, it is, in truth, a job that demands eighteen-hour work days. But when a passion like Sheila and Lorraine’s is the foundation for such a job, the result is truly astounding.
After our cheesemaking lesson, an array of savory and sweet chevre delights brought us to the end of our stay at Nettle Meadow. It seemed that each whey-cationer had his or her own personal favorite, since I overheard accolades of the ginger snap, walnut, and goat cheese cookies and the juicy figs with chevre and pepper, but I and a few others went gaga for the crunchy pancetta/Kunik/sweet pear/fresh thyme concoction that completely redefined my conception of finger food.
Bellies full and legs tired, we mounted the bus once more for an epic four-hour journey back to Murray’s. As the country landscape morphed into urban skyline, we began already to reminisce about our magical day at the farm and to look forward eagerly to our next Whey-cation at the Vermont Cheesemaker’s festival!