In a previous post, I wrote about how my research for a new novel took me to the wonderful markets of Santa Barbara and into the kitchen of a talented chef to learn how to cook the foods we purchased. On Monday, during what was the first in a series of visits I’ll be making to local farms and chef’s kitchens here in Connecticut where I’m spending the month of July, I got the grand tour of Arethusa Dairy Farm, the premier maker in the area of milk, yogurt, cheese and, most scrumptious of all, ice cream.
The “dairy built on stiletto heels,” as the New York Times dubbed Arethusa, it’s the brainchild of George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis, who gave the world Manolo Blahnik shoes. Set in the Litchfield hills, it’s as picture perfect as its dairy products are the best you’ll ever taste.
My tour guide was Matt Senecal, the farm manager. Matt escorted me into the building’s reception area where there’s a bar, a conference table and a bazillion trophies and banners won at prestigious shows by Arethusa’s cows.
Next we went into the main barn where the cows were feeding between milkings. There are Holsteins, Jerseys and Brown Swiss breeds, with the black-and-white Holsteins being the predominant breed. I tried to strike up a conversation with a few, but they were more interested in eating lunch and who could blame them?
Get a look at this Holstein’s udder and teats.
What’s striking about these cows as well as the facility itself was how spotless it is. The cows are not only shampooed daily but conditioned with Pantene (seriously), and their tails are hosed down frequently to prevent manure from coming anywhere near the udder. Hence, the purity of the milk products. There’s even a guy who comes to give the cows a pedicure. Well, he cuts their toenails.
The show cows get their very own barn so they’re kept separately from the others; apparently, their special barn is closer to the exercise area where they’re encouraged to stay fit. (No, they don’t do Pilates.) And the pregnant ladies have their own space so they can spread out in comfort until they deliver.
After asking all my questions about the cows and the milking process – questions I should have asked our science teacher in junior high – Matt sent us on to the Arethusa creamery where the milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream are processed with state-of-the-art machines that nonetheless produce old fashioned flavor.
I interviewed Chris Casiello, the manager, about how the milk gets processed and distributed and how he accomplishes the feat of making such intensely satisfying products. The cheese and ice cream are so rich and creamy they defy description. And yes, I sampled some products. Their “crybaby” cheese, for example, was a Swiss variety with a touch of sweetness – heaven.
I loved spending part of the day at Arethusa and conjuring up ways to use what I learned in the plot of my novel. But what I’ll love the best is dining at their restaurant Al Tavolo, which is adjacent to the creamery and serves up truly great dinners.
We have a reservation for next week and I’m already fantasizing about their salmon.