||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
Cheese again at Keeseville
||Hendren cheeses aging in
the farm's cooler. Cheese curd is made from pasteurized milk,
but the cheddar, feta, and Appenzellar are raw milk cheeses.
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
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 production
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 equipment.
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
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 cloth.
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
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
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
Sam is committed to trying to revitalize family farms and the communities
that depended on them. He is active in the Adirondack Harvest efforts
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