Increasing markets for artisanal cheesemakers
Given the financial challenges of producing and selling fluid milk in Massachusetts under the federal milk order system, “many more of Massachusetts’ dairy farms would be out of business if they weren’t making cheese,” says Barbara Hanley, treasurer of the Massachusetts Cheese Guild. The Guild was established in 2012 to help support artisanal cheese makers; its membership now includes 25 producers making goat, sheep, and cow milk cheeses.
Most members make cheese from their own herds, while a few purchase milk from a nearby farm. The cheese is made from milk that is not blended or homogenized, and it comes from a single herd, so the cheese is considered artisanal. “Because the milk changes every day, making a cheese from single-herd milk is more of art,” says Barbara.
The Guild helps promote its members’ cheese through festivals, promotional materials, and partnerships with restaurants and makers of local products that complement the cheese. “Massachusetts has won more awards for artisanal cheese than any other state in the country. It ought to be a no-brainer to buy local cheese,” says Barbara.
Members of the Guild include Ray and Pam Robinson of Robinson Farm in Hardwick. They make various alpine and other cheeses from organic, raw milk from their 35 grass-fed cows on a Massachusetts Century Farm. Ray is a fifth-generation family farmer; Pam retired from her job to focus on the cheese-making business, motivated by “the love of cheese and the cows.”
The Guild provides other support to cheese makers. It serves as a network for its members to share equipment and knowledge, hosts classes, and organizes group purchasing so its members receive reduced prices for lab work and consulting. They also mentor beginning cheese makers and continue to welcome new artisan cheese makers to their membership.