As the rest of the AP staff was preparing to feed the masses filling up East Broadway on St. Patrick’s Day, I was hopping into the backseat of a rental car with a few other city mice from my alma mater, Northeastern University, and heading to Hardwick, MA to nibble on some cheese at Robinson Farm. As I met up with the students I was greeted by familiar faces and new ones, all of us connected by our involvement in the NU chapter of Slow Food, an international organization dedicated to promoting good, clean and fair food for all.
These students work to promote food education on campus through weekly discussions of our food system, cooking lessons and incorporating local and sustainable food into the dining halls. If it weren’t for Slow Food, I may have never found American Provisions, where we have a similar mission of providing the most delicious, mouth-watering food made with little environmental impact at a fair price. This allows artisans to uphold the quality & tradition of their product.
Though I’m sure we’d all like to think of ourselves as mature adults, this drive reduced the students and I to squealing children as the land became dotted with herds of cows, chickens and one of the best sights of the day—Shetland ponies! We rolled up to the classic big red barn that signaled we had reached our destination.“The feeling of stepping out of our little rental car and going from breathing recycled city air to air that has made its way through through grass, cows, trees—it is indescribable,” said Slow Food Executive Director Allie Smith. “I’m pretty sure I literally jumped with joy. Something so simple as inhaling in a natural ecosystem is grounding and invigorating.” Greeted by farm owner Pam, we were whisked away into the farm stand and soon found ourselves prepped for a tour of their cheese operation looking stylish in our plastic booties, hair nets and big white lab coats.
Pam and her husband Ray had been operating a dairy farm for years, but began making cheese in the unlikeliest place, their laundry room.“I love that Pam and Ray started off making cheese in their washroom. It began as something as integral to their life as doing laundry, and because of that there is real love in the product that they make,” said sophomore Lena King after our visit. After years of experimenting and receiving certificates from the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheesemaking, the duo began selling their Alpine-style farmstead cheeses in 2006. Their operation is humble with just a maze of a couple small rooms for tempering curd, brining, aging and packaging, but magic truly happens here as one can see from the numerous awards they’ve won for their cheeses.
Our next stop on the tour was the barnyard, where we could finally meet the cows who were working hard gnawing on hay before their next milking. Pam and Ray were never interested in making a classic cheddar and instead used their family name, Robinson, as inspiration for their Robinson Family Swiss. Alpine cheeses have their roots in, well, where else? The Alps, where herds of dairy cows munch on hay during the winter and are moved to the high grasslands to graze in the warmer months. Though central MA doesn’t have mountains that rival the Alps, the rolling hills provide a similar atmosphere for their dairy cows and certainly give them the same enjoyment—as Pam told us, the cows frolick, kick and play when they’re released into the fields.
I think us city kids felt the same joy as the cows do when they get to freely roam the countryside. “I will always remember the crispness of the air, the bright sunshine on my face, the smell of the farm, the taste and feel of the milk in my mouth and on my tongue, and the excited gasps and cheers of my friends around me when they saw that I was drinking the Robinsons’ and the cows’ hard work right there on the farm,” said another Slow Food member Taylor Hogan. “It was wonderful to then pass around the milk, a new experience, I think, for everyone who was there.”
But the joy I really felt was for the opportunity to bring together a young generation of food activists and the people they stand for, to meet the faces behind the cheese and ultimately to share the bounty of our hard work—together.