hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues April 2018


A pioneer of local cheese making

Consider Bardwell Farm aims to grow while keeping focus on flavor


Leslie Goff, the creamery manager at Consider Bardwell Farm, inspects 10-pound wheels of cheese in the “cheese cave” where the farm’s Pawlet variety, made from raw Jersey cow milk, is aged. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


The arrival of dawn means more than roosters crowing at Consider Bardwell Farm.
At 5:30 a.m., the creamery barn on the 300-acre property begins to hum with the activity of a half-dozen full-time employees who work under the supervision of creamery director Leslie Goff.
Beginning with the sterilization of the vats, the process of making award-winning artisan cheese rolls on through the afternoon. There’s the culturing of the milk, the setting of the curds (whose acid and bacterial levels are monitored and tested nonstop throughout the process), the separation of the whey, and the molding and brining of wheels of cheese. Once the wheels are placed in the nearby caves for aging, there’s the matter of hand-brushing them with a bacteria-yeast solution in order to foster a perfect micro-environment on the rind.

When the cheese is ready for consumption, it’s packed and shipped to specialty shops, wholesalers and restaurants around the country. Some of the packages travel as far as California’s Napa Valley, where wedges of Consider Bardwell’s raw goat’s milk cheeses (named for the local towns of Danby and Manchester) make their way onto the curated menu of The French Laundry, which the chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain once called “the best restaurant in the world, period.”

Goff, who began working at Consider Bardwell Farm in 2005, when she was 15, said her enthusiasm for the farm’s processes and products has only grown.

“I love everything about cheese-making,” Goff said. “Raw milk is changing all the time, based on the diet of the cows and goats plus the weather. You have to adjust the process to make the cheese consistent. It’s very satisfying to start with raw milk and create a product that’s shipped all over the country.”


From leisure to passion
In its 14 years, Consider Bardwell Farm has evolved into a small cheese-making operation with a serious mission: to make outstanding raw-milk cheese from its growing herd of goats and from the Jersey cows of two neighboring farms.

The farm’s owners, Angela Miller and Russell Glover, never intended to make cheese when they bought their bucolic property along the New York border in 2001. At the time, the couple imagined themselves enjoying three-day weekends in the Green Mountains.

“I wanted to ski on Fridays when no one was on the mountain,” Miller recalled. “I’ve skied once in 18 years. … My priorities have changed.”

Not long after Miller and Glover moved in, neighbors told them that the property had been the site of Vermont’s first cheese-making co-op, begun in 1864 by a blacksmith named Consider Bardwell. Suddenly, the couple’s new weekend retreat seemed to have so much more potential.
“I’ve always had a strong preference for eating cheese rather than anything else,” Miller said. “After college, I wanted to open a cheese shop in New York City.”

The couple’s respective professions meshed nicely with their developing plan to revive cheese production at the farm.

Miller is a literary agent who specializes in handling the best-selling cookbooks of top chefs and food writers, including former New York Times columnist Mark Bittman and chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Glover channeled his expertise as an architect into the construction work required for the operation. He built the six cheese caves and gave the creamery barn’s interior a high-tech makeover.

“Russ has proved to be the secret weapon in all this, the way he built and planned the infrastructure.” Miller said. “A lot of different things coalesced into this happy accident called Consider Bardwell Farm.”


Finding a niche
The revival of cheese making at the farm may have started by happenstance, but both the process and subsequent marketing of the cheese has been done with precision planning.
At the outset, Miller and Glover gathered as much information as possible on craft cheese making and the care of livestock, even studying with Kathy Biss, a British cheese maker known for her book, “Practical Cheesemaking.”

Consider Bardwell Farm started production in 2002 with nine purebred Oberhasli dairy goats, whose diet of pasture grass and hay yielded the rich flavor and texture the couple was hoping for. Samples offered locally drew favorable reviews. Two years later, the couple got a Vermont creamery license, and the rest has been specialty food history.

It didn’t take long for New York City restaurants and greenmarkets to take notice, and soon Consider Bardwell products were available at such venerable establishments as Murray’s Cheese on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village.

Consider Bardwell’s offerings now consist of three raw goat’s milk cheeses and three raw cow’s milk cheeses. Each of the varieties is named for a town in Vermont, with the exception of the Slyboro variety. The latter is so named because the rind on the raw goat cheese is washed in the hard cider made at Slyboro Ciderhouse, just across the state line in Granville, N.Y.
Each variety of cheese produced at Consider Bardwell is assigned its own cave to help elicit distinct qualities. The aging process ranges from two months to six months or more, depending on the cheese.

“Our cheeses are farmstead-made and vertically integrated, meaning we own the soil and grow the grasses and hay for the feed,” Miller said, noting that some of the flavor notes -- “umami, milky, lemony-bite, brothy, and pineapple-finish” -- vary as the goats and cows are rotated among different pastures.

“Our caves mimic underground cheese caves,” she said. “They’re creek-block structures with cooling systems maintained at 50 to 55 degrees with 85 percent to 95 percent humidity … and when you walk in, they smell amazing.

“Raw milk has great flavors caused by beneficial microbes and bacteria that pasteurization kills,” Miller explained. “Raw milk cheeses have a certain terroir, and it’s only now being publicized how microbes are beneficial to digestion.”


Honors and certifications
The national and international awards for Consider Bardwell’s cheese began in 2008 and haven’t stopped. Among other honors, the farm’s cheeses have earned multiple medals from the American Cheese Society and from the World Cheese Championship contest organized by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. In 2013, the Vermont Sustainable Agriculture Council named Consider Bardwell its Farm of the Year.

In January, Consider Bardwell garnered a Good Food Award from the national nonprofit Good Food Retailers Collaborative for its Rupert cheese. The retailers group, based in San Francisco, annually honors 10 American craft food producers in categories ranging from cheese and charcuterie to pickles and preserves. The competition considers food excellence as well as socially and environmentally responsible practices employed in production.

“When I learned we’d become a finalist, I had to write an essay on our sustainability practices to prove we make good food in a good environment,” Miller said.

Consider Bardwell Farm is a member of the Vermont Cheese Council and the American Cheese Society and is certified by Animal Welfare Approved and Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

“We like the idea of being AWA-certified,” Miller said. “It’s the only certification organization you don’t have to pay to join, so you’re not buying their approval. Auditors are sent to the farm annually to ensure animals have enough living space, are getting the right feed, and basically living as close to their natural ways as possible. It may sound silly, but we want our animals to be happy.”

Prices for Consider Bardwell cheeses begin at $5 for a quarter-pound and range to $30 per pound, depending on the variety. Locally, the cheese is sold via an honor system at the farm’s self-serve store, at the Dorset Farmers Market (where Glover passes out samples and oversees sales), and at specialty food stores such as Al Ducci’s in Manchester, the Berkshire Co-op in Great Barrington, and Honest Weight Food Coop in Albany.


Staying true while growing
As the farm’s business and the reach of its cheeses has grown, so has its staff. In addition to the cheese-making production crew, there’s a national sales manager, a food safety manager, and a full-time sales representative in Manhattan who handles more than a dozen greenmarkets as well as the restaurant trade.

“We have a lot of employees for a small business, and we try to pay them well,” Miller said. “At this point, Consider Bardwell pays for itself. But it’s farming: Equipment and labor are expensive, and you’re not going to become a millionaire.”

Farm life is nonstop by nature and often grueling, but Goff said there’s an inherent bonus.
“Probably 80 percent of our work involves cleaning and sanitizing. It’s hard work,” she said. “But I love the cheese we make here. My favorite is the Pawlet, melted onto pizza or in a grilled cheese.

“I’ve discovered my palate,” Goff added. “Mass-produced cheese is bland by comparison. I think every one of us who works here is lucky to realize what good food is.”

The farm’s herd has expanded from a handful to some 140 Oberhasli, French Alpine and Nubian goats.

“We make 115,000 to 120,000 pounds of cheese per year, and we’d like to grow,” Miller said. “We’re in the middle of creating a five-year plan to increase production and distribution while staying committed to being handmade and Animal Welfare Approved.”

But as Miller and Glover look toward the farm’s 15th anniversary next year, they already seem very satisfied with what they’ve achieved.

“Russ was somewhat reluctant in the beginning,” Miller recalled. “But now he’s very happy and proud of it all. It’s the child we never had together.”


Visit www.considerbardwellfarm.com for more information about Consider Bardwell Farm.