A Trip to Bobolink
Sunday is a good day for a cheese tour, and this past week I had the good fortune of riding out to Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse in Milford, New Jersey with my painter friend Mike Geno. The occasion: a chance spin in Geno’s new Honda. It is a car funded by cheese portraits. More on that later.
Bobolink is a farm built on eccentricity — it is run by an engineer and a dancer, Jonathan and Nina White, who specialize in strong cheese, quirky cows, and rustic bread which they bake on site in a gigantic wood-fired oven. I first saw them on an episode of Anthony Bourdain, and I knew they were my kind of people: whimsical gourmands who produce peasanty cheeses with dragon-ish rinds. I had to meet them.
Tours at Bobolink start on Sundays at 3 p.m. Beforehand, the couple teaches a three-hour cheesemaking or breadmaking class, rotating them each week. I can only imagine that these are intoxicating. Of the breadmaking class, Jonathan offered, “You take home five loaves, plus starters.” At his cheese class earlier that day, students had feasted on sourdough rye with cheese and peaches.
At Bobolink, nothing is usual and everything is fabulous. For example, there are no cows on site when we arrive, but that’s because they have wandered up hill to hug some shade overlooking a splendid gully of whey-fed pigs wallowing in mud. The cows are a majestic bunch with wild horns and carnival-mask faces, a mixture of ancient Irish Kerry cattle, Ayrshires, Guernseys, and Jerseys that have been bred to produce a flagship breed that the Whites call “Bobolink Blacks.”
“The queen of the herd is twenty,” Jonathan tells the tour. “She just had a calf in March. Keep in mind that the life expectancy of a dairy cow is three to five years.”
Later, we roam through the cheese cave to inspect feathery mattresses of cheese with names like Amram, Baudolino, Drumm, and Frolic. They sound like Celtic dances, or Shakespearean sprites. Of course, they taste just as powerful — pure raw-milk drum beats. Here are my cheese notes:
Amram: A cheese named after the jazz poet David Amram. Small, buttery, pungent, with a hint of bog and wild onion.
Frolic: A collaboration with the Amish, a firm, sweet cheese. Mild-tempered but tweaky on the finish.
Baudolino: Inspired by the novelist Umberto Eco, a yeasty giant that smacks of dandelion greens. A Brie gone wild; it tastes like a washed-rind in drag.
And then there’s the bread. Each evening, the Whites stoke the fire, then rise before dawn to begin baking. They begin with 10-minute baguettes and epis, then work their way toward hour-long ryes in the diminishing heat. The loaves are fairytale-like in appearance and taste. Here are my favorite breads:
Golden Flaxseed Armadillo
Roasted Garlic and Duck-fat Ciabatta
The oven is majestic. The bread is hearty, flavorful, made with local oats and heritage grains from Ithaca, New York. “We’re trying to get someone to grow local, organic grain,” Jonathan says, as he offers samples of bread and cheese to a crew of about twenty people who are ecstatically munching.
Thirty years ago, Jonathan and Nina met and bonded over the fact that they loved to bake bread. Now, they supply hungry mobs with grass-fed raw-milk cheese and organic wood-fire breads. Their peaceful farm is a wonderful place to find inspiration.
If you go:
- Arrange a Bobolink Tour (cost $5, reservations required) or bread/cheese class
- Dine at The Ship Inn (craft brews, gourmet pub fare)
- Spend the day exploring Milford and Frenchtown
Bobolink Dairy has a stand at the Union Square Market in Manhattan on Fridays, and the Stockton Farmers’ Market on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Additional markets are listed here.