Upstate and back to the land for a perfect hands-on weekend
- Last Updated: 10:59 PM, April 18, 2012
- Posted: 5:56 PM, April 16, 2012
In a long white apron, hairnet and latex gloves, I look like Laverne or Shirley, or, at the very least, a lunch lady ready to dish out tater tots and fish sticks. Not exactly how I’d envisioned my weekend starting, but then again, Sprout Creek Farm in New York’s Hudson Valley is hardly the Four Seasons hotel.
Instead of lying by a pool, as would be my typical preference on a weekend away, I was making cheese. And not just any cheese, either. In production the day I arrived was Sprout Creek’s Ouray, a hard cheese that’s won some pretty impressive awards — Wine Spectator recently named it one of the top 100 cheeses in the world. Not bad for a little farm outside Poughkeepsie.
While my goal was primarily to relax and eat cheese for a day or two, I was also keen to experiment with the concept of a farmstay, an old-world tradition popular in Europe, but increasingly becoming an option stateside. Anyone can drive up the Taconic State Parkway (Sprout Creek is barely an hour north of The Bronx) to visit the region’s growing number of worth-a-trip farm stores and stands. But I was looking to dig a bit deeper — get back to the land, if you will. An overnight stay and cheese workshop at Sprout Creek was a snap to arrange; off I went.
The man responsible for creating Sprout Creek’s tasty lineup — a dozen or so varieties, depending on the season — is Colin McGrath. Like an enologist with wine, McGrath looks for specific tastes and textures when creating cheese, achieved by controlling the fermentation and ripening process.
And as with great wine, which starts with the quality of the grapes, so it goes for cheese and the quality of the milk.
“I actually refer to it as the ‘terroir’ of the milk,” says McGrath.
Terroir is obviously defined by what the animals eat, mainly the grass that grows naturally in the farm’s pastures. And also by the herd itself — several breeds of cows and goats, who produce different qualities and quantities of milk. But I’d also like to think it’s because the animals at Sprout Creek seem pretty happy. Their days are spent roaming in the fields; when it’s milking time, the farmhands handle them gently, often calling them by name.
And when there’s a group of school kids at the farm — which hosts educational programs year-round — the animals get even more attention. On my visit, a gaggle of ‘tween girls from St. Louis were spending a week learning how to milk cows and goats, muck out barns and do other chores — though they clearly relished coddling and bottle-feeding the newborn kids. (To be clear, this is a working farm, not a petting zoo.)