Michael Nolan met his wife, Donna, after buying cows from her father to show at the county fair. For nearly 40 years now, the couple have been farming together on Kenyon Hill Farm in Cambridge, New York. Both were raised on farms in the area, and their kids have followed in their footsteps, managing a herd of more than 800 cows and over 1,000 acres of cropland. The Nolans are just one of the farm families highlighted in the recently released Cabot Creamery Cookbook: Simple, Wholesome Dishes From America’s Best Dairy Farms. The debut volume from the cooperative features 150 recipes, many of which have come from the people who produce the milk.
With cooking instructions that have been collected for years and years, the book aims to showcase what can be done with the cheeses, butters, and yogurts from Cabot, but also to showcase the cooperative itself. Cabot has been around for a century, and it’s completely owned by the farm families who produce all the dairy. There are currently 1,200 of those families spread throughout New England and upstate New York; they all share 100 percent of the profits. “They’re all over,” says Cabot spokesperson (and NYC native) Margarita Martinez, “all the way as far north as Maine to Westerly, Rhode Island, to Connecticut and upstate New York. It’s a really good smattering of farm families.”
Each one has its story, like PAPAS Dairy in Malone, New York, a 4,000-acre homestead with 4,200 Holsteins (along with a few Jerseys and Norwegian Reds). For 84 years, the land has been in the Poupore family; in 1998, brothers Peter, Alan, Patrick, Aaron, and Scott consolidated their individual farms into one massive plot. Unfortunately, Patrick passed away in an accident, but the four remaining brothers are involved in every aspect of the farm. Three members of the next generation have joined in with cropping the acreage and caring for the 2,000-plus milking cows. The matriarch of the family, Claire Poupore, still lives in a farmhouse on the land.
No two stories are alike. In 1987, Bob and Bonnie Hodge bought Echo Farm in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. Their original plan was to house a few sheep and horses, but after their teenage daughters Beth and Courtney were introduced to 4-H (a youth organization overseen by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture) and attempted to breed and sell their first five Milking Shorthorns, they were hooked into dairy. Both sisters pursued agricultural studies and have since grown their herd of five to one hundred and eighty cows. Echo Farms was the first dairy farm in the United States to receive certification from Humane Farm Animal Care, and the family actively works to incorporate innovative practices like using recycled cotton from local mills for animal bedding.
“These are different stories that you get the perspective,” says Martinez. “How big is this farm family: Is it four brothers working on the farm along with their parents? Or, is it just the husband and wife and son, or what have you? You really get an idea of the different challenges and different passions of different Cabot farmers.”
Each of the sixteen farm families profiled in the book has shared at least one recipe. The dishes included are simple instructions for meals served to family, friends, and farmworkers. Given the nature of the industry today, many of the farmers operate side businesses like bakeries, dairy stores, catering operations, and bed-and-breakfasts.
Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, Vermont, has one such side business. There, husband and wife Bob and Beth Kennett — and now sons Tom and David — offer farmstays for overnight guests, in addition to milking 110 cows, raising replacement milkers, and breeding bulls. They won the award for 2013 Vermont Innkeeper of the Year for their bed-and-breakfast. “She has huge spreads for breakfast and dinner of really great food,” says Martinez. “And she has a turkey pot pie and I always knew of pot pie as having a pastry crust, but actually in Vermont, they use biscuits for their pot pies. So that’s a thing that’s a little different.”
Much of the fare is typical of New England (such as Beth Kennett’s biscuit-topped pot pie), but with diverse backgrounds, the assortment is wide. One Polish farmer submitted old family recipes for pierogi and cookies. Farmers from Vermont incorporate maple syrup into recipes like maple cheesecake and cinnamon maple rolls.
Farmers aren’t the only recipe contributors for the book; many of the instructions are official Cabot recipes from employees, some are from fans, others have been sourced from chefs who use the product, and one came from musician Grace Potter of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. “I’d like to think that this is a greatest hits of all the different tried-and-true recipes that they have compiled,” says Martinez.
Martinez, who was most recently the host of Emmy Award–winning New England travel and food series “Neighborhood Kitchens” on WGBH (PBS), has included a few recipes of her own, including a grilled cheese with red onion, apple, and apricot jam, as well as a Monterey jack, guava, and arugula sandwich. But she’s impressed with the range and selection featured in the book — one of her favorites is the Ver-Monte Cristo. “This cookbook is made up of a wide array of recipes that are great,” says Martinez. “Nothing’s too intimidating in the book, for people who are new to cooking. And what I’ve learned, for more seasoned cooks, different tips for doing things. I just think it’s a really solid cookbook.”
The Ver-Monte Cristo
Based loosely on the French croque-monsieur, the Vermont version of this fried ham-and-cheese sandwich is rich and delicious. For a fully Green Mountain State experience, eat it drizzled with pure maple syrup.
1 large egg
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
4 slices favorite local bread, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. butter, divided
1/2 Granny Smith apple, sliced
1 whole shallot or very small onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded sharp cheddar
2 cooked sausage patties or thick slices ham
WHISK together egg, half-and-half, and vanilla in a shallow bowl. Add bread slices, turning to coat with mixture, and set aside to soak.
MELT 1 Tbsp. butter in a small skillet set over medium-high heat; add apple slices and shallot or onion, and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 7 to 9 minutes. Add vinegar and cook 1 minute longer. Set aside.
MELT remaining 1 Tbsp. butter in a large skillet set over medium heat. Remove bread slices from egg mixture (discard remaining egg mixture), and cook 2 minutes on one side.
TAKE skillet off heat, and flip 2 of the bread slices uncooked sides down. Sprinkle each with 1/4 cup cheddar; then add sausage patty or ham slice topped with half of the apple mixture. Top each with 1/4 cup cheddar and a second slice of bread, cooked side down.
PLACE skillet back over medium heat, and cook about 2 minutes or until golden on underside. Turn sandwiches over, and cook 2 minutes longer or until golden on second side and cheese is melted. Cut in half, and serve warm.
MAKES 2 sandwiches
TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT:
For a simpler and lighter version we call Cheddar Cheese Dreams, make sandwiches first with your choice of bread spread lightly with mustard and topped with thinly sliced cheddar of your choice and smoked turkey breast. Press sandwiches together firmly. Whisk together 2 eggs with 1/3 cup milk (enough for 4 sandwiches), and briefly soak each side of sandwich in the mixture before cooking in skillet per step 5 above.