Located in the small town of Cheshire Massachusetts, is a large cheese-press monument, which commemorates a significant event in Berkshire history.
At the 1800 presidential election, every town in Berkshire County voted for incumbent John Adams, with the exception of Cheshire — the only non-Puritan settlement in all of Massachusetts – which favored Thomas Jefferson. When Jefferson won, Baptist preacher John Leland persuaded his fellow townspeople to make a grand gesture in celebration of the new president.
This impressive act involved the creation of an historic “Mammoth Cheese”. Measuring more than four feet in diameter, 13 feet in circumference, and 17 inches in height, this gift of cheese weighed 1,235 pounds. Although it is unclear in what style this colossal cheese was made, it was a noteworthy effort in the history of cheese making.
Much preparation and material were required for such a monumental project. On July 20, 1801, the cheese was distilled from a single day’s milk production of 900 or more “Republican” cows. (Because this was a gift for the new Republican president, the milk of “Federalist” cows was strictly excluded.)
In November, Leland transported the epic cheese by sleigh from Massachusetts to the Hudson River, by sloop to New York and Baltimore, then by wagon to Washington, where it arrived at the White House and was presented to the president with great fanfare on New Year’s Day in 1802.
In the Berkshires today, small-batch cheese-makers are working on a more practical scale. The political designation of cows, and goats for that matter, does not seem to be a factor in the artisanal process. For cheese lovers interested in tasting their way across the region, visitors can look to the Berkshire Farm & Table Cheese Taste Trail, highlighting local artisans and chefs who make their own cheese.
On the north end of the Berkshire cheese spectrum, Cricket Creek Farm in Williamstown is one of the oldest, grass-based dairy farms in the county, raising dairy cows for milk, grass-fed beef, whey-fed pork and laying hens. The farm store (open from 7 AM to 7 PM every day) sells raw milk and artisanal cheese from their farmstead creamery plus local baked goods. They also sell goods through a diversified year-round CSA, at local farmers’ markets and various regional cheese shops, food co-ops and restaurants. Cricket Creek Farm makes Maggie’s Round, Tobasi, Berkshire Bloom and several other cheeses as well as farmstead butter, buttermilk and whey. Visitors can stop by at any time, walk around the farm, meet the animals and shop in the farm store.
At the other end of the cheese trail and a little off the beaten track is Rawson Brook Farm in Monterey. This small family-run farm, carved out of the woods and built from scratch, is the birthplace of Monterey Chevre, a soft, fresh goat cheese (made from the milk of Rawson Brook goats only.) The farm and self-serve store are open to visitors during daylight hours. Guests can look around, read the informational signs and visit at milking time to watch and buy cheese.
Nestled in between these two stops in Great Barrington is the cheesemaking facility for Berkshire Blue, a raw Jersey cow’s milk cheese crafted by hand, working with small batches of milk picked up right after morning milking at a nearby farm whose herd is dedicated solely to supplying their dairy. No hormones, preservatives, colorings or flavor enhancers are added during the process here, which is identical to that in England, except for an additional 15 days of aging. Tours are available by appointment only and Berkshire Blue is available in shops and restaurants throughout the region.
For visitors looking to sample the cheese makings of farm-to-table restaurants on the Taste Trail, Nudel in Lenox and John Andrews: A Farmhouse Restaurant in Egremont create house-made Ricotta made with High Lawn Farm milk for delicious Ricotta Gnocchi and The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge makes High Lawn Farm Ricotta Gnudi year round.
Garnering the same type of widespread attention as the Mammoth Cheese more than 200 years ago, many of the cheeses crafted in the Berkshires have won national awards and recognition in the good food world. Stop at the Berkshire Mountain Bakery in Housatonic for some gorgeous sourdough bread and take the day to explore the Berkshire Farm & Table Taste Trail for some mouth-watering stops along the way.
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