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Jonathan White's Bobolink Dairy


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We spent the day today with Jonathan White ("curdnerd" on eGullet) at his Bobolink Dairy in Vernon, NJ. Jonathan's land is right on the NJ/NY border--literally, the farm consists of land in both states--but the address is NJ so this is going in the NJ forum.

Camaraderie, recreation, and personal interest were the primary purposes of the visit, so we didn't take notes or ask a lot of probing interview-type questions. I did take a bunch of photos, however, and perhaps the curdnerd, the Fat Guy, and others will chime in and elaborate on what the pictures show.

We began in the milking barn at around 8:00am (which required a 6:30am departure from Manhattan). Jonathan introduced us to each cow by name. Here are his ladies.

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It's impossible to overemphasize how well Jonathan treats his animals. Many of them, he rescued from factory farms and nursed back to health. You can see it in their bearing and attitude, and especially in the behavior of the happy and inquisitive calves.

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The calves feed out of a simulated-udder contraption imported from New Zealand (much of the equipment for the kind of sustainable farming and grass-feeding that Jonathan practices comes from NZ).

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In the dairy, the curds are cut.

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Then they hang out for awhile until Jonathan decides it's time to put them in molds.

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Most of the whey is drained off (it will be fed to the calves). Today Jonathan was making blue cheese, so to the drained curds he added salt and bits of bread containing wild cultures. Then the curds are hand-packed into molds. An entire day's milking (actually half each of two days because it's the evening milk from the night before plus the morning milk from that day) at Jonathan's farm currently makes 8 blue cheeses of about 10 pounds each. He will grow (the farm is less than a year old and he is expanding the herd), but not by much. Now that's artisanal.

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The newly made cheeses go on racks in the dairy for a day or two (these are the previous days' efforts).

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Then they get moved into Jonathan's ripening room, which is one of the neatest places on the planet to hang out.

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Curdnerd, Fat Guy, and I tasted a bunch of cheeses, and it's no exaggeration to say that of the seven or eight that we tasted, all were superlative and three were better than any cheese we've had in the US and as good as any we've had in Europe--and significantly better than most. These are all raw-milk cheeses, aged the legally required 60 days (longer for blue, cheddar, and the like), and they rule. They're so good you laugh when you taste them.

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We also engaged in miscellaneous other tasks around the farm. Jonathan is the consummate multitasker. He has chickens and a rooster (Fat Guy was given the task of letting the chickens out of the coop; you should have seen the quick look of panic that came over him before he quickly recovered and put on his poker face.)

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Yes I know that's the rooster and not a chicken.

Jonathan also has a massive stone oven in which he bakes bread on weekends. He also teaches baking classes on some weekdays, so we got to watch him build a fire today in preparation for tomorrow's class. Here's Jonathan standing before the beast.

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And here he is out in the pasture checking on the readiness of the hay.

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Also in the pasture, Momo (our bulldog) and the cows enjoyed one another's company, engaging in several prolonged staring contests.

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Not sure what they were thinking as they watched him walk off the field.

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Finally, the makings of our lunch and cheese-tasting, which we enjoyed with Jonathan and his very lovely dance-instructor and business-manager wife.

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Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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First we had huevos rancheros of a sort: eggs we had just gathered, plus some really ripe cheese, served on corn tortillas (fried up in the bacon fat from the Amish bacon we also consumed). Also some Belgian beer.

The we ate pretty much all the cheese on that plate (well, all of the four on the right and a big chunk of each of the two hard cheeses), plus some bread from Sunday's bake. And some grapes.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Ellen, the photos are GREAT! Chanticleer the Rooster, as always, stole the show. Glad to know that the cheese makes you laugh: Fat-guy might have died laughing, though.

I'm glad that the happiness of our critters comes across so clearly: it is the one and only "secret" to the quality of our cheeses.

Nina and I hope that you'll come back on a baking day, so we can see that aspect of the farm through your amazing eyes.

Jonathan & Nina White, cheesemakers/bakers

mailto:Jonathan@cowsoutside.com

Bobolink Dairy & Bakeyard

Grass-fed raw milk cheese

Wood-fired rustic breads

Located between Warwick, NY & Vernon, NJ

Our Webpage

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Sounds like a great day: beautiful animals, gorgeous cheese!

I'm gonna just come right out and show my ignorance here, but I need to ask: in the first cow picture, two cows have horns and the others don't. Is that because they're different breeds? Or do some cows just have horns?

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Two of my children live in Vernon and after staying with me on the weekend I bring them to school Monday morning. After dropping my oldest off at 8am, I had a hour to drop my youngest at 9:10am. So we drove over to the Bobolink but it was a Monday morning and closed. Was disappointed and will have to try it on a weekend.

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Great photos, thank you. And I would encourage anyone to check out the link to Bobolink's website at th e bottom of curdnerd's signature. Their website does a wonderful job of expressing their philosophy and the wonderful reasons for their approach to cheese... and to parenting, too.

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I discovered Bobolink quite by accident on New Year's Day. We really enjoyed the tour and the cheese. We’ve ordered cheese from the website and were very happy with the varieties that came in the sampler. I heartily recommend a visit! This is some of the best cheese that I have ever tasted. By the way, Bobolink’s website is at cowsoutside.com, where more info can be found.

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I'm gonna just come right out and show my ignorance here, but I need to ask: in the first cow picture, two cows have horns and the others don't.  Is that because they're different breeds?  Or do some cows just have horns?

You'll also note that curdnerd's avatar is one of his cows.

Most cows are born with horns (there's a mutation that can occur, whereby they don't have any, but most do), but they're mostly removed by farmers. Reasons cited are safety and ease of getting into the milking stalls, but cows are pretty docile and they can get their heads in the stalls even with horns. So, whatever. It's just one of those gross things that factory farming does to animals but that probably isn't always necessary.

By the way I didn't know this until I asked yesterday -- I'm a total city-boy.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Ellen--thank you for the gorgeous pictures and delicious report. Where in NJ can we get these products?

The current list is:

NY/NJ FARMER'S MARKETS

Warwick, NY Sun 9-2

Sugar Loaf, NY Fri 11-6

Ossining, NY Sat 9-2

Hastings, NY Sat 9-2

Millburn, NJ Fri 9-2

Suffern,NY Sat 9-1 (begins 6/28)

...or, at the farm, Sat 9-5 and Sun 12-5

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This is a fantastic report.  If we were to choose but 2 or 3 cheeses, which ones would you recommend?

Buying these cheeses isn't like buying a slab of Jarlsberg. They're wild-ripened, raw, highly variable, subject to improvisation in the production process, not designed to be uniform or palletized, made in small batches each of which is unique, etc. You kind of just have to get what you can.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I have ordered cheese from Bobolink, and aside from a little dampness from the cooling pack in the box during transit, the cheeses were very good indeed.  I especially enjoyed the Fallen Pyramid.

The pyramid we tried was probably the best of the bunch.

Apparently the wrapping and packing issue is the most difficult one for them. They refuse to cryovac their cheeses, because the process would kill them. Even when we were there, they were talking about different ways to pack and ship cheese. I'm sure they'll find an ingenious solution at some point.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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curdnerd, congratulations on what seems to be lactic paradise.

Ellen, great photos.

Fat Guy, I'm glad you didn't die laughing but hope that, when you do go out, it's laughing.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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As a funny coincidence, we were just at the farm this last Saturday. We were visiting some friends in Sussex county and it was only 20 minutes away. By the time we got there at 3:00, they were already out of a couple of cheeses. We ended up with the cheddar, the spring frolic, and the wawayanda. The cheddar was probably the best I've ever tasted. The others were also very good...creamy and ripe with complex flavors. They said that unfortunately the fallen pyramid and the tower of bobel cheeses were not ready yet. We also picked up 3 breads: the cranberry walnut, rosemay, and garlic & cheese...all terrific. I wanted to mention to John that we heard about his farm on eGullet, but I didn't see him. There is also a nice place for fresh fruit and vegetables right down the road on 94, Heaven Hill Farms. I will surely be back next time we go up to Sussex.

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Ellen, the photos are GREAT! Chanticleer the Rooster, as always, stole the show. Glad to know that the cheese makes you laugh: Fat-guy might have died laughing, though.

I'm glad that the happiness of our critters comes across so clearly: it is the one and only "secret" to the quality of our cheeses.

Nina and I hope that you'll come back on a baking day, so we can see that aspect of the farm through your amazing eyes.

Yes Chanticleer cracked us up! We spared you our rooster story (I guess we can save that for next time--and our crowing as well) but every time he crowed, we'd glance sideways at each other grinning.

We'd love to come back for baking day--especially since we got to watch you build the fire. I'd suggest we throw a couple of extra loaves in the oven on our baking day--considering what we did to your left-overs yesterday! Sign me up for the raisin bread.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Most cows are born with horns (there's a mutation that can occur, whereby they don't have any, but most do), but they're mostly removed by farmers. Reasons cited are safety and ease of getting into the milking stalls, but cows are pretty docile and they can get their heads in the stalls even with horns. So, whatever. It's just one of those gross things that factory farming does to animals but that probably isn't always necessary.

Thanks for the explanation! This city boy was actually convinced for a very long time that only bulls, not cows, have horns (on the analogy with deer, I guess.) Good to have the lowdown on that pressing subject...

I gotta make that roadtrip one of these days.

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Well, Nina and I are truly flattered by all the attention here--we just hope that these photos and words move some of the readers to connect with their food producers one-on-one, as you both have. Middlemen thrive on the separation of producers and consumers, while consumers and producers thrive on direct contact.

We're here, trying to change the world a little by setting a good example, which we see as a better choice over preaching. We hope that some of you will decide to drop out for a weekend visit or a Wednesday morning bread-and-cheese class, or even a cyber-visit by ordering some cheese online.

One way or the other, we hope that our cheeses and breads are able to touch your life in a positive way.

njcalf.JPG

Jonathan & Nina White, cheesemakers/bakers

mailto:Jonathan@cowsoutside.com

Bobolink Dairy & Bakeyard

Grass-fed raw milk cheese

Wood-fired rustic breads

Located between Warwick, NY & Vernon, NJ

Our Webpage

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If you ever experience a cow having knocked a horn off, or accidentally gashing another cow, you quickly come to understand that there are legitimate safety reasons for dehorning cows. However, I will agree that the hazards of horns are greatly diminished in a smaller herd.

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We'd love to come back for baking day--especially since we got to watch you build the fire. I'd suggest we throw a couple of extra loaves in the oven on our baking day--considering what we did to your left-overs yesterday! Sign me up for the raisin bread.

Next time I'm going to attempt to coordinate a shipment raw-milk cheeses from France, so we can taste side-by-side and see just how well they stack up against Jonathan's cheeses. I can't say I'm optimistic on behalf of the French.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Call me an overly soft-hearted wuss, but this thread really makes me feel good about humanity. Making cheese this way, treating the cows so well, is just damned civilized.

Oh, and can I take home the one with the pink nose?

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Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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