Thursday, May 15, 2008

Local Artisanal Cheese

M's preschool went on a field trip today to the Valley Shepherd Creamery, a local sheep farm, for a Spring Lambing Tour. The sheep farm produces a number of sheep's milk and related products including artisanal cheeses and yogurt. The drive was a bit further than we anticipated, a good thirty minutes away. The creamery is nestled in a beautiful area with mountains and rolling hills in Hunterdon County called the Black River Valley. It is way off the beaten path, at least half an hour away from anywhere, but the scenery is postively breathtaking. A world away from the Newark Airport, the Jersey Shore, and the Garden State Parkway, it's hard to believe that such a scenic and pastoral countryside exists about an hour away from Midtown Manhattan.

The tour began a video about the farm and the cheesemaking process. Then they saw the ewes, the milking parlor, and the cheese room. After that, they went into the area where the lambs are kept and M and her classmates got to hold a one month old lamb. I held it too and it was so cuddly and cute.

This is all that remains of a small wedge of cheese an aged romano style cheese which we thoroughly enjoyed. This variety is called Black River and was amazing. It was sharp, nutty, and rich but more fragrant and pungent than the imported aged romano cheese we normally buy. It's the kind of cheese I would buy and eat with a baguette and a glass of wine at an impromptu outdoor picnic. I would have bought more, but it was kind of expensive at $19.00 per pound. I will keep it in mind if we ever want some really good cheese for a very special occasion.

On the ride home, after stopping at Dunkin Donuts for my free promotional iced coffee, we stopped by a farm and store called Alstede Farms, which is a well known local farm. We went into the store and bought some of their home grown asparagus. I was bit disappointed to see that their store offered only a small selection of locally grown produce and a fair amount of not-so-locally grown items. However, they regularly have stands at local farmer's markets throughout northern NJ, so their products are getting out to the larger market.
It was a fun and interesting outing for both of us. I'm going to do some research and plan a day trip to the area for the summer since it's relatively close and do a really nice picnic lunch. There are a lot of historical sights in the area to see, not to mention the gorgeous views.

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