Are you a cheese lover? Is it salty, tangy, creamy bites that you crave? Well if you haven't yet been introduced to the amazing variety and quality of local Massachusetts cheeses, now is the time to start. And the best place to start is a visit to the Appleton Farms shop at Boston Public Market where you will find over 100 different cheese varieties from Massachusetts farms.
In addition to their BPM shop, you can also visit Appleton Farms in Ipswich, MA to see first hand how traditional farming is influencing local food production. This working farm is a Trustees property, one of many in a large agricultural portfolio The Trustees maintain as the nation's oldest land trust and as part of their agricultural stewardship work. Visit the cows, walk the pastures, look in on the cheesemaking and you will soon see why this place is so special.
In order to provide more information about the farm, local cheese and cheesemaking, I met with three experts: Beth Zschau - Engagement Manager at Appleton Farms, Kristian Holbrook - resident cheesemaker at Appleton Farms and Khrysti Smyth - manager of Appleton Farms shop at BPM.
Can you tell us more about Appleton Farms and what is has to offer? What is the mission of Appleton Farms as it relates to local food production? (Beth Zschau)
Appleton Farms in Hamilton and Ipswich is one of the oldest continuously operating farms in the United States. Established in 1638 by a land grant to Samuel Appleton, it is the oldest working farm in Massachusetts, and at 1,000 acres, one of the largest. Perhaps more importantly, the farm preserves a bucolic, pastoral landscape, agricultural traditions, and historic farm buildings that are rapidly disappearing in the eastern part of the state. Appleton grows and raises dairy and beef cows along with 24 acres of vegetables, feeding our community the best products, raised in the most sustainable and humane ways that we can.
Appleton Farms offers a menu of programs throughout the year to introduce children and adults to our working farm. From tours to hands-on service projects, seasonal special events and culinary workshops, we invite you to come enjoy this educational farm all year long. Children and families love our summer farm camp and casual Friday Farm Dinners while adults rave about our hands-on culinary classes. Join us for our Father’s Day Bluegrass BBQ on June 18th to get a taste of our programming.
What is special about cheese making in New England and Massachusetts?
(Kristian Holbrook) Each cheese-making region has its own special climate which contributes directly to the qualities of the cheese produced there. Here at Appleton Farms we are lucky enough to have ample grazing and hay ground which is the main contributor of the character of our cheeses. We are also in close proximity to thriving communities of people who appreciate and support our farming efforts.
(Khrysti Smyth) Having lived all over the U.S., I find that here in New England we have a strong connection between local communities and their own rich agricultural history, and most of our farms operate on a much smaller scale than, say, in the mid-west. This means that we have the benefit of that longstanding agricultural tradition, passed down since well before the country itself even existed! It also means that we have a wide variety of cheese-making traditions that are being followed, from our own alpine- and Camembert-style cheeses made at Appleton Farms, to rich goat's-milk cheeses from Ruggles Hill Creamery in Hardwick, MA, to the Spanish Manchego-like, cave-aged sheep's milk cheese from Couët Farm & Fromagerie in Dudley, MA.
What types of cheeses does Appleton Farms produce and what makes them unique? (Kristian Holbrook)
Pinnacle - Aged for a minimum of three months this is a rich , buttery farmhouse tomme.
Goodhue - Aged for a minimum of 6 months this is Appleton Farms answer to the cheeses of the Alpine regions of Europe. Nutty and savory this cheese develops wonderful mineral dairy notes as it ages.
Sunset Hill - This is a whole Jersey milk soft ripened cheese made in the style of a Camembert. Our milk is especially suited to this creamy, decadent style of cheese.
What can people expect to find at your shop at Boston Public Market? (Khrysti Smyth)
The Appleton Farms booth at the Boston Public Market carries the largest selection of Massachusetts-made cheeses anywhere in the world! Through our partnership with the Massachusetts Cheese Guild, we have cheeses from twenty Guild-member farms from across the state, representing over 100 different individual cheeses, and they are all absolutely delicious. Whether you are looking for a gentle, creamy blue cheese like Grey Barn's Bluebird (Chilmark, MA), a buttery, creamy brie like our own Appleton Farms Sunset Hill (Ipswich, MA), a super-sharp, semi-firm Alpine-style cheese like Robinson Farm's Robinson Family Swiss (Hardwick, MA), or any of more than a dozen other styles, our staff is there to help you find your perfect cheese.
Given that there are so many fantastic foods available at the Market, it's a fun personal challenge of mine to find a cheese to pair with whatever someone is eating or drinking as they walk by, too, so come on by with your coffee, ice cream sundae, smoothie, or falafel plate and I'll find you a cheese to go with it!
What are some of the things people should look for or consider when selecting a cheese to purchase? (Khrysti Smyth)
Everyone's palate is different, so the most important thing to consider is what do you like. I can tell you the qualities of the different cheeses, and do a quick "question-and-sample" session to help narrow it down, but ultimately it comes down to your preferences and the nature of the situation.
Are you looking for a softer cheese to spread on bread, or something for a particular recipe? Some cheeses lend themselves better to cooking/baking than others or might have a more or less subtle flavor.
Are you looking for something to pair with fruit or wine? If so, we'll want to know what type of fruit or wine - is it sweeter, more dry, more tangy, more bitter...?
For example, we have an amazing aged goat's-milk cheese called Pingree Hill from Valley View Farm (Topsfield, MA) that I describe as a "goat parmesan" - the flavor is so delightfully subtle that I tend to recommend against using it for grating over a pasta dish with a strong-flavored sauce because it will get "lost", but it's my absolute favorite for shaving over a nice fresh-veggie salad! (For pasta we have the amazing creamy-yet-sharp Asiago Classico from the Foxboro Cheese Co.) For wines and fruits, the Maggie's Round from Cricket Creek (Williamstown, MA) has creamy start and a delightfully tangy-sour finish and is perfect for tangy fruits or bolder red wines, while Appleton Farms' own nutty, alpine-style Goodhue is one of my favorites for pairing with sweeter fruits or white wines. But again, it all comes down to which ones you like best!
What is a common misconception about local farm cheese and small batch cheese making? (Kristian Holbrook)
I think people don’t understand that we raise and milk our own cows-7 days a week 365 days a year and that the weather and quality of life of animals on a small farm is intimately linked with the quality of our products. Its not just a sales pitch but an entirely different production process from start to finish as compared with most cheeses available commercially.
What is your favorite type of cheese and your favorite way to enjoy it?
(Kristian Holbrook) Today it is Reblochon with a Belgian style triple ale!
(Khrysti Smyth) I like to joke that asking my favorite cheese is like asking which is my favorite child! That said, lately it is Appleton Farms' rich, cheddar-like Broad Meadow, melted inside one of Swissbakers' chocolate croissants!
Visit Appleton Farms at Boston Public Market where you can sample and purchase cheese from Massachusetts farmers.
Learn more about Appleton Farms visits, events, farm store and The Trustees at:
To learn more about Massachusetts specialty cheeses visit:
Massachusetts Cheese Guild
Photos: Melissa DiPalma