Alex Jones, Farmstand Product Manager
In late June, I trekked up I-476 up to check out Cranberry Creek Farm and meet the farmers, Jeff Henry and Mary Jean Bendorf (and their two-month-old son, Everett). I was invited by cheesemaker Paul Lawler, whom Henry and Bendorf brought on this winter to streamline their dairy operations and boost production - a sound idea with a baby on the way.
If Paul’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s worked all over the Philly region’s food scene - with Fair Food, Di Bruno Bros., Keswick Creamery - as a buyer, cheesemonger, and cheesemaker. I wasn’t about to turn down a weekend in the Poconos with lovely people, beautiful animals, and amazing cheese, so my man and I packed up our bug spray, hiking boots, and appetites and headed north.
I can’t tell you how exciting it is to have new farmstead cheese come onto the scene - because of the sheer quantity of land it takes to pasture livestock, it’s less common to see young farmers starting out with 100+ acres and a plan to raise animals for dairy or meat.
Lucky for us, some are reviving family land - used for farming long ago - for these purposes. On the way to Cranberry Creek from the highway, you’ll pass through Henryville - named for Jeff’s family generations ago.
He and Mary Jean live in the house his grandfather built, while Paul and the farm interns live across the road in his great-grandfather’s house. The cheesemaking facility is his generation’s contribution.
While the goats are the main focus at Cranberry Creek, lots of critters make their homes here. Let’s meet some of them.
There are a couple of geese, whom everyone regards as kind of unpleasant.
Ma and Pa Pig and their babies (not pictured).
Two shaggy Scottish Highlands.
A handful of farm cats. (Also pictured: My man/photographer/travel buddy.)
And farm kittens. (That’s me in the second picture.)
And, of course, the kids. This year, Henry and Bendorf are letting them keep their horns. That should be interesting.
Time to check out the cheese house. After sanitizing feet and hands, changing clothes, and donning hairnets, we were ready to head into the make room.
Recipes and HAACP plans (food safety plans) and records of data from temperature to ingredient volumes to humidity are kept here - the info for each batch is recorded after being read by those fancy machines behind us.
Tools of the trade - molds to hold curd during hooping, measuring utensils, and of course hair- and beardnets.
This jacketed vat heats the cheese at different stages of the production process.
First, you’ve gotta milk the goats - and knowing who’s who is key.
The ladies line up to be milked, under strict feline supervision.
To save time and motivate the goats, they’re fed at the same time they’re hooked up to the milker. Paul and his crew were milking about 50 of the herd that day - about a dozen can be brought in at a time and the milking process is quick - just a few minutes.
We got a glimpse inside the aging cave, too. Paul has been honing their recipes over the past few months, so some of the wheels pictured are experimental. Others became Monomonock (their first raw goat’s milk tomme), St. Juni (a lighter, milder version of the tomme featuring the addition of juniper berries), Silver Lining (the ashless bloomy rinds) and Kittatiny Ridge (the ones covered in a mix of vegetable ash and paprika). Silver Lining is my favorite - it’s got a satiny smooth, oozing paste with earthy notes from the rind and a whiff of mango (yes, mango) at the end. Amazing on bread or crackers, nestled inside a wedge of apricot, or by itself.
A close-up with batch info. The green outer mold will be brushed off when the cheese is ready for sale.
Bloomy rinds, two ages.
Before we headed back to the city, we met up with Jeff for a short hike through the woods behind the cheese barn. The teen goats are friendly like puppies to the point of being insistent. The brown ones with the black noses are Nubians, but the herd also features Alpines and other heritage breeds.
If you ever want goats to follow you, just take off - they like to go on a romp. Try to stay ahead of the herd - they’re a bit like a raging livestock river if they overtake you.
They may have been so motivated because they know where they’re going - out into the brush with Jeff to do some forestry work.
As soon as we get into a shady spot with lots of brush, the goats start munching on seemingly any leaves they can get their choppers on. Jeff tries to have the goats taken out once a day - it’s good for them and helps clear paths in the rocky woods.
To head back to the cheese barn, we walk through one of the few clearings on the farm. While Jeff originally planned to use the land for cattle, the vision has changed to adapt to the landscape.
You can find Cranberry Creek cheeses in the Fair Food Farmstand’s cheese case and their delicious Maple Drinking Yogurt in the dairy fridge. And we’ll be featuring their cheeses in our next local beer and cheese tasting series, matching them with selections from Sly Fox Brewing Co., on August 15th.