This past Sunday on route 2E about ten miles southeast of Hartford,
I realized that I spend very little time in that part of the state. This was
not exactly a revelation since I spend most of my time in Canton in the
opposite corner, but it is rather beautiful out that way. However, I wasn’t
just out for the colloquial “Sunday drive” (though I wouldn’t have minded); I
was on a mission. For goat cheese.
While attending a party in Simsbury at a colleague’s house,
I met a Latin teacher named Mark. Though he insulted the French language
(pronouncing it “badly spoken Latin”), which normally removes people from the
Christmas card list, he quickly redeemed himself by sharing some of the goat
cheese be had brought. There were four different kinds of fresh chevre on the plate—chive, herbes de Provence, black pepper, and
dill—and all were delicious. When I
inquired where he acquired such bon
fromage, Mark further endeared himself to this gourmand when he said “we made them at our farm.”
The “we” Mark was speaking of includes his husband Paul, the main cheesemonger and their farm—already well-known to more local residents—is called Beltane Farm located in Lebanon, CT. Mark and Paul breed, raise, and milk their flock of Oberhasli and La Mancha goats twice a day to bring lucky Connecticut residents their fresh goat’s milk and cheeses. And from my own experience, the goats appear really happy to be there, too. And why shouldn’t they be?
Raised on a diet of local hay and grass (as well as a little grain while they’re being milked), they have all been bottle-nursed to become accustomed to human interaction and error towards the overly-friendly side towards those gathered at the fence. Though Paul began the endeavor as a hobby, professional cheese-making became a reality in 1999 while he working at Highwater Farm in South Glastonbury. With the success of the first few years behind him, Paul and Mark moved to their current location at Beltane Farm in 2002.
The cheeses and seasonal goat cheese spreads (e.g. their
current offerings of maple-walnut and pumpkin) have all been well-received,
even being carried by Whole Foods Market in Glastonbury and West Hartford
Center—call your local store to inquire about availability. I called up the
Glastonbury store to ask about the public reaction to the cheese, as well as
the cost—not exactly chump change at $7 per 4 oz. package. You math whizzes
will already have figured this out at $28/lb., more than most imported cheeses
out there, and approximately double the price of the near-omnipresent Montchevre
from Wisconsin that retails for $3.49 for the same 4 oz. log.
When I asked
Becky Smith, the Specialty Foods buyer at Glastonbury if people balked at the
price she said some people will put it back after they see the price, but
others don’t even bother—in fact, folks complain when they run out. Apparently,
Whole Foods has trouble getting their hands on the cheese during the summer
time as Beltane cherishes its local reputation and provides first-dibs to the
farmers’ market goers when the season begins. You can guess this makes their
loyal fan base even more loyal. And as the saying goes, you get what you pay
The cost-focused consumer will always miss out on the best. I like a deal as much as the next person, but when it comes
to artisan cheeses (and food products in general) you just can’t get a product
like this from a more mechanized operation. Unintentionally, I had two logs of
Montchevre in the refrigerator when I got home from Beltane and I decided to
taste-test. Montchevre got Mont"crushed".
The herbal cheese from Montchevre is blended with herbs, which
actually gave it a little more zing than just rolling the log in it—something Mark and Paul may want to
consider at some point. From this former chef’s perspective, blending anything
will give more balance than rolling. However, the texture of the Montchevre paled
in comparison. I don’t know a lot about goat milk, and even less about goats,
but I do know that in the world of chevre
I prefer a smooth, even, mild cheese that has that goes-with-anything appeal
that culinary folks love. The Beltane had all of these qualities: spreadable
right out of the package (I squeezed mine out…) with just the slightest hint of
cultures and the brisk snap of herbes de
Provence…what’s not to love?
Plus, I was at the farm; I’ve met Mark and Paul; I petted the goats; I saw the room where they make the cheese; and I can’t help but feel better about eating it as a result. As the saying goes, no use going to the goat’s house for wool. If you should go to Beltane Farm, ask for the cheese instead.
(don’t forget the area code!)
Whole Foods Market- Glastonbury, CT
55 Welles St.
Glastonbury, CT 06033
Whole Foods Market- West Hartford, CT
50 Raymond Rd.
West Hartford, CT 06107