Most of the time (except in the winter of 2011) I feel pretty lucky to live in the amazing Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We’ve got some of the most beautiful beaches and coastline in the Northeast, lovely countryside, delectable seafood, and some stunning seasons, especially fall and summer. I guess the winter is nice too, if you are into that sort of thing.
Since I started blogging, I have made it a priority to discover Massachusetts businesses and to support them, getting food from farmers markets, wine from local winemakers, and taking day trips all around the state and region to truly appreciate what it has to offer.
As a result, I was delighted when I received an invitation to take a trip along the Massachusetts Wine and Cheese Trail to toast its expansion along with Governor Patrick. A small group of us departed from Boston and made our way out to Hardwick for a great day of touring, tasting, and networking.
Our first stop was Ruggles Hill Creamery in Hardwick, MA to learn about their award winning goat cheese.
First we got to meet some of the goats who were friendly, gentle, and smart. They even know their names!
This is Rose, who is snacking on beet pulp which happens to come from Great Britain because US beet pulp is not guaranteed non-GMO, and Ruggles Hill is a non-GMO farm. Rose is on the milking platform; farm owner and cheese maker Tricia Smith brought Rose into the milking room just to demonstrate for us but did not actually milk her. Tricia told us a little bit about the goats. In exchange for being able to milk them for 22 months, the goats here are allowed to stay with and raise their own kids which I thought was nice. All of the goats seemed quite happy!
We said goodbye to the goats, took off our shoes, and entered the space where the cheese making happens at Ruggles Hill Creamery. It was absolutely pristine, slightly chilly. Ruggles Hill makes small batches of fine, French-style cheeses.
At the creamery, we tasted the Chabicou-style cheese which was only 4% butterfat but still very creamy and rich. . . and absolutely delicious! Tricia noted that the creaminess of this cheese was due to the fact that it’s a lactic acid cheese. The balance of the acidity keeps the cheese from becoming chalky as some lower butterfat cheeses tend to be.
You can see by the awards below that Ruggles Hill Farm is a favorite! If you live in the Boston area, you can get Ruggles Hill cheese at Formaggio Kitchen and Debra’s Natural Gourmet in Concord, as well as at some farmers markets.
Our next stop was at Robinson Farm, also in Hardwick, to try raw cow’s milk cheese. The brief tour started with another tasting. The signature cheese at Robinson Farm is Robinson Family Swiss. Owner and cheese maker Ray Robinson told us that they decided on the name first and that dictated the type of cheese they made.
Before we could go into the creamery, we all got suited up with plastic booties over our shoes and paper nets over our hair. Then it was time to check out what goes on in cheese making.
Below is the press, used to remove excess liquid from the cheese.
The cheese curds are actually made in this temperature controlled vat below. Milk is pumped right from the cows through pipes in the wall, minimizing the amount of exposure to the outside the raw milk receives.
Once the cheese is made, it’s taken to one of the cheese caves to age. All of the cheeses made by the Robinsons are washed rind, aged at least 120 days, made with raw whole milk, and hard or semi-hard in nature.
For a complete list of places to find Robinson Farm cheeses, you can visit their website, which contains a complete list.
Before we left the Robinson’s, we took a quick trip to see where it all begins for their cheese, the cows. Beautiful calves kept their distance from us, but it was still so fun to be able to be out in the country to see the source of the food we all enjoy. Experiencing this artisan food making process really made me stop to appreciate how well-made, quality food comes to be and the people and animals behind it.
It’s exciting that Massachusetts is really starting to have a resurgence in local food and wine, with farmers markets, CSAs, food festivals, dinners in the field, and agritourism taking off.
There’s so much going on right here in my home state, and it’s great for residents and visitors alike. For more information on all of the delicious food being grown in Massachusetts and to learn about farms and other places to visit, check out the MassGrown website.