||8 Jerseys a-milkin':
Clover Mead Farm depends on certified organic
Jerseys and a functional farmstead.
Posted May 13, 2003:
Some folks decry the decline of small, “family farms”.
Some folks also try to do something about it. Sam and Denise
Hendren are trying to do something about it.
Sam grew up on a small family dairy farm in Ohio. The family
farm -- owned and operated by Sam’s cousins -- now milks
about 1,100 cows and has 4,000 acres of crops. Sam has always
wanted to farm and could have stayed and worked on that farm,
but that’s not the type of farming he wanted.
Like many farm kids, he was told that farming did not offer
him a good future, and that he should go away, get an education,
and go into business. He did that, but found himself driving
around on lunch hour looking at cornfields. Finally, Sam and
Denise sold their business. Sam got the farm he wanted and
Denise got the contemporary crafts shop she wanted. Sam says
they have less money but a lot more fun now.
He wanted a farm style that provides multiple benefits for
many people: for the farm family, a pleasant lifestyle that
could be attained by people without huge financial resources
and the business acumen to manage those large investments’
and for the community, a farm operation that supports the
local economy and re-energizes rural communities.
at Keeseville farm
||Hendren cheeses aging
in the farm's cooler. Cheese curd is made from pasteurized
milk, but the cheddar, feta, and Appenzellar are raw milk
The Farmstead Creamery at Clover Mead Farm, northeast of
Keeseville, New York, is his attempt to develop and model
such a farm. This is a rebirth of sorts for the farm. Milk
was bottled and sold here when it was known as the Signor
farm during the first half of the last century.
Sam likes the idea of a small farmstead creamery because
it doesn’t take a huge financial investment and is very
flexible. Sam knew there would be a learning curve, but the
investment in the cows and cheese-making equipment was such
that they could survive for a year without selling any product
if need be. His start-up investment was less than $5,000 for
the milking system, $9,000 for certified organic cows, and
$35,000 for the cheese room expansion and equipment. He bought
good quality used equipment for the cheese plant and could
have gotten started for less money.
The farmstead creamery concept is very flexible. Sam is currently
milking cows and making cheese. Instead, he could buy milk
and not milk cows. He could raise heifers and beef animals
instead of milking. If milk prices got high enough he could
add more cows and sell milk rather than make cheese. He could
make other types of cheese, make yogurt, cottage cheese, or
butter, or sell milk and cream. Vegetables can supplement
the cheese sales. He could switch to goats or sheep for those
special cheeses. The investment in the small milking setup
and cheese equipment does not lock him into one particular
Sam started milking his small herd of six Jersey cows and
making cheddar cheese in June of 2002. His farm and the cheese
produced there are “certified organic.” The cows
have lots of pasture, and are milked from May through December
to take advantage of the pasture season and the nutritional
values associated with milk from cows on fresh pasture.
||Cleanliness next to ... Dairy
farmer and cheesemaker Sam Hendren keeps his milk-handling
areas scrupulously clean. He invested $35,000 in renovating
this area and purchasing used but serviceable milk-processing
Sam admits his milk production won’t impress other
dairy farmers, but he had very limited selection of certified
organic cows to choose from. A couple of his cows are wonderfully
typed purebred Jerseys who would probably do very well in
a confinement barn where the feed is brought to them, but
they don’t aggressively utilize the pasture. They were
also all first-calf heifers. This year he culled those not
well suited to pasture and brought heifers on line so he is
milking eight cows.
Sam participates in the New York State Cattle Health Assurance
Program to protect his herd’s health and provide high
quality milk as the foundation for his cheese. He focuses
on “passive sanitation” to keep his facility exceptionally
clean and prevent problems and to minimize the need for harsh
sanitizers. For instance, he has boots that are used only
in the cheese room, and other boots for the milking parlor,
and other boots that are used in the barnyard and fields.
By maintaining a very calm environment for the cows, he keeps
the milking parlor area clean. The cows very seldom manure
in the parlor.
Sam makes cheese three days a week. When I got there for
my tour, the milk was in the pasteurizer/cheese vat so we
donned hair nets, lab coats, and cheese room boots, then stepped
on a sanitizing mat as we entered. The cheese curd is made
from pasteurized milk, but the cheddar, feta, and Appenzellar
are raw milk cheeses. The pasteurizer/cheese vat is a double
duty piece of equipment. It was in use as a cheese vat for
making English-style cheddar cheese the day I was there.
To start the cheddar cheese, the milk in the cheese vat is
heated to 86° F. He inoculates the milk with a bacterial
starter culture that looks like bread yeast granules and lets
it set for an hour. Then he adds rennet that makes the milk
turn the consistency of thick yogurt as the bacteria consume
the lactose in the milk, now called “curd.”
Cheese “harps”, frames strung with what looked
like monofilament fishing line, are used to slice the curd
into peanut sized cubes. This curd is then slowly heated to
100ºF and held there for half an hour while it is stirred
constantly. Whey is expelled from the curds during this process
and protein is concentrated in the curds. The whey is then
drained off and the curds are stacked into clumps to further
drain and compress, a process called “cheddaring.”
The curds are then salted and put into press molds for about
36 hours. The wheels of cheese are taken out of the molds
and allowed to dry for 24 hours. Then the wheels are coated
with a clear wax sealant and put in the cooler to age. Sam
is also making cheeses with different types of rinds, including
That’s how the cheese is made, but dairy farmers may
wonder what the profitability and economics look like. Sam
made about 200 pounds of cheese in 2 ½ and 15 pound
wheels each week last year. Commercial scale (as opposed to
artisanal or small farmstead) organic cheddar cheese is selling
for $8/lb. Although his cheese certainly is “artisanal”
Sam retails his cheddar cheese for $8/lb, and wholesales it
for $5/lb so it will be affordable for the general public.
This is about equivalent to a farmer getting $60/cwt for his
milk, rather than the $10/cwt dairy farmers are currently
Sam currently sells fresh cheese curd, mild English-style
cheddar, and feta and applewood smoked feta, and Appenzellar
cheeses. His first sales year was so successful that he is
getting low on stock and glad the cows are freshening so he
can make and age more cheese. The last of last year’s
cheddar is almost aged to his standard and will be available
soon. He will be trying some new cheeses this year also.
There is $11 billion of cheese sold in the U.S. each year.
Certainly there is room for some small cheesemakers, particularly
to replace some of the high-end imported cheeses. There are
at least 30 farmstead cheesemakers in Vermont. It’s
nice to think that Essex and Clinton counties of New York
could be dotted with small farmstead cheese plants.
Sam is committed to trying to revitalize family farms and
the communities that depended on them. He is active in the
Adirondack Harvest efforts (www.adirondackharvest.com/)
to link local farmers with consumers and help consumers identify
local farm products to buy and is revitalizing a local Grange
chapter. He would love to see a farmstead creamery, with its
own distinctive products and characteristics, in every town
in Clinton and Essex counties.