Our first visit to Smith’s Country Cheese in Winchendon, Massachusetts was on a blustery, but sunny, November morning. They had received a light dusting of snow the night before that still survived on the shaded sides of hills, refusing to give in to the sunlight. We rolled up with the truck and trailer, parked, and went to find Dave.
As the owner of one of the largest independent cheese producers in New England, Dave Smith is a busy man. There is always more milk to culture, more orders to fill, and more special projects to work on than there are hours in the day. But when we found him that morning he didn’t make us feel rushed, that we were taking time away from him that he needed to spend elsewhere. He took the time personally to show us around the shop and the property, pointing out some of passion projects, showing where the cheese made and the cows were milked, and talking excitedly about the stone we would take and turn into beautiful Food Slabs.
While walking through the property on our tour, we were lucky enough to see the miracle of birth in all its slimy, amniotic, glory. There were a number of cows that were pregnant and sequestered as their birthing time was nigh. Though we didn’t see the calf actually being born, we could tell that it had been within the moments before our arrival as it was still dripping with bodily fluids and had yet to be covered with the heating blanket the farmers use to fight the harsh conditions and allow the infant to thrive. It was still laying there, shuddering from the cold, discovering the world for the first time. It looked right at us, clearly confused about what sort of entity we were, but also probably hoping we were there to clean and warm it.
Now that the tour was finished it was time to get to the heavy lifting, to begin picking the lucky stones that would become Food Slabs. We picked half of the fieldstones from a side hill that was partially eroded and half from a stone wall that the cows had trampled to form a thoroughfare between fields, displacing the once well stacked wall and uncovering the well-protected stones that were less likely to have structurally damaging fissures. While hand-picking stones, the cows were all around us, huddling around the truck and trailer and eyeing us, trying to figure out what we were up to all the while clumsily tripping and stumbling over many of the stones we would select. We like to think that instead of plodding along and just trying to stay upright, they were actually trying to help us pick which stones would make the best Slabs, but I guess we’ll never know for sure.
Aside from their award-winning cheeses, Smith’s is also proud of their commitment to sustainability initiatives and reuse of waste products. They have installed 112 Photovoltaic panels on site and expect to reduce the amount of energy required from the normal power grid by upwards of 50%. They have also built two massive tent-like structures to recycle cow waste and produce a high quality fertilizer. Both of the tents are roughly the size of football fields!
While at Smith’s we also had the pleasure of sampling some of their delicious cheeses. Though they were all wonderful, we especially loved the Smoked Gouda. (And we aren’t alone, at the L.A. International Dairy Competition, yes, International, the Smoked Gouda received the silver medal!) Check out some of their cheese at a number of New England farm stands, grocery stores, and other specialty retail establishments or order it online.
20 Otter River Road
Winchendon, MA 01475