In the dairy business, a ‘farmstead’ product is one that’s been crafted on the same property as the animals producing the milk are raised. This means the cheese, yogurt, or ice cream is fashioned start-to-finish in one location and that a very select group of people oversee the entire production process. Unlike terms such as non-GMO, organic, and local, there are no loopholes with the term farmstead: it’s such a specific label that there’s really no way to fake it! Farmstead producers are rare — much rarer than we’d like to think — so I’m always thrilled to sample a new farmstead product.
What’s most significant about farmstead items is that the whole process is so controlled; there’s no room for slip-ups. A celebrated cheesemaker once told me that great milk starts in the dirt: “If you don’t have good dirt, you can’t produce great milk.” Good dirt is needed for great grass, which becomes nutrient-rich food for the animals. The animals are much healthier as a result, and it’s a no-brainer that healthy animals produce the best milk. The best cheese, yogurt or ice cream can only be made with the best milk, and the only way of ensuring you’re using the best milk is by milking those cows yourself!
In my Hooked on Cheese column, I’ve written about some of my favorite farmstead cheeses: Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Capriole Dairy’s O’Banon, and Meadow Creek Dairy’s Appalachian for starters. More recently, I made a truly unique farmstead discovery: Bellvale Farms’ Ice Cream from Warwick, New York. I was referred to Bellvale by a friend who lives upstate in the Hudson Valley; she said their unique flavors had caught her eye. Their cows are grass fed and they pasteurize the raw cows’ milk on site at their dairy, as well as sourcing all of their flavor ingredients as locally as possible. When I finally had the chance to try the dense, creamy ice cream, I noticed that I could distinctly taste the rich flavor of the milk itself underneath all of the gourmet trappings of Blueberries & Crème and Maple Cinnamon. Wow.
Bellvale Farms is a testament to the significance of being farmstead. Farmstead producers focus on churning out high quality milk, not necessarily the highest quantity production. They’re determined to control all aspects of the care, diet and treatment of their animals and then monitor a product’s every step from raw milk to finished product. Needless to say, being farmstead makes for a hugely complex operation, but as they say, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Next time you have the opportunity, sample a farmstead product and discover the difference for yourself.