Cricket Creek Farm
Earlier this year, my friend Paul Lawler left his job as a city cheesemonger to become a cheesemaker in the middle of nowhere. And by nowhere I mean rural Massachusetts, on a farm in the Berkshires where pigs outnumber people and you can’t get any cell phone reception unless you climb up to a deck and stand in just the right spot overlooking the treetops (the spot is marked with an X).
The cheese Paul is learning to make reflects the farm — its wildness, its craggy horizon. One cheese, Tobasi, has a rind that is exactly the color of the dusky sunset I watched fall across the fields. It’s wild and unfettered like the cats that roam through the tall grasses, past cow skulls and tractor furrows.
Another cheese, the award-winning Maggie’s Reserve, looks a little bit like the gravel road that leads up to Paul’s place, a yellow farmhouse he shares with other farm interns. The texture of the rind looks like bicycle tracks left in the dust. The taste calls to mind sweet raw milk and yeasted bread, the very things we ate at a community potluck on the night I arrived. As the sky darkened, we nibbled cheese and drank hard cider in the grass until the crickets sent us inside.
I live in a city and buy farmstead cheese so that I can go somewhere rural in my head. I do; I think this is the whole reason I love ferreting out curious backwoods, off-the-grid, Grizzly-Adams-style cheeses. Some people buy second homes in Maine, I buy rounds of rural cheese. Some of us must travel by taste bud.
Nothing made this more clear than visiting Paul and smelling the night air and peering into the cheese cave, where milk from 22 ladeez of Jersey/Brown Swiss descent sat in moon-like rounds, shivering toward ripeness — just feet from the cows lowing in the darkness beyond the windows.
Note: Paul Lawler is one of several cheesemakers at Cricket Creek Farm, where cheese is produced collaboratively. He works alongside Suzy Conecky, Jamie Ott, Matthew Ball, Mike Fox, Jenni Logan, Nicole Warren, Topher Sabot, and the silver-haired visionary Jude Sabot (owner and original cheesemaker). The farm offers a CSA for butter, eggs, cheese, meat, and homemade bread baked on site; there’s also a terrific farm store that stocks goods from neighboring farms.