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Milking the goats at Big Picture Farm

Milking the goats at Big Picture Farm

Big Picture Farm has caught the attention of many a candy-eater, gift-giver, artisanal-food junkie and Tumblr user, and the farm’s award-winning goat’s milk caramels are fully deserving of hype and high praise. We proudly stock their precious packages in the bakery window, and hold onto their idyllic postcards behind the bakery to cheer us up. Behind their stunning pictures and doodles of goats, dogs, and garden harvests, however, is a working farm and growing business driven by passionate people.

Louisa Conrad and Lucas Farrell own Big Picture Farm on more than 150 acres of southern Vermont hillside, in the tiny town of Townshend. There, along with two dozen goats and a small staff, they oversee every step of making their caramels, from field to gift box. (They also make small batches of a tomme-style cheese, a winner at this year’s American Cheese Society Awards!) Their goats spend as much of the year as possible rotating through the lush pastures and woods, gobbling up the seasonal buffet. Louisa and Lucas first fell in love with goats after working at Blue Ledge Farm, another farmstead creamery in Vermont, then came to Townshend to work at the former Peaked Mountain Farm, milking sheep and making a variety of cheeses, all while starting their own small goat herd. Over the next five years, the creation of their caramel recipes, their adorable packaging, and the expansion of their wholesale and mail order business has put Big Picture Farm on the fancy food map.

I spent the past spring and summer at Big Picture Farm, mostly focused on caring for their Saanen, Alpine and Nubian goats, and making and aging cheese. It was hard work that asked a lot of my body and mind each day, but the rewards were endless.

Future goat milk caramel and cheese makers

Future caramel and cheese makers!

A typical day at Big Picture Farm begins with milking and chores at 5:30am (don’t skip out on the coffee), and the goats are always waiting to be fetched for their morning massage and snack. About three hours later, the goats are back out on pasture, napping or browsing, and their fresh, creamy, floral milk is in the tank, ready to be transformed. When most people are starting their workdays, I would be heading in for a second cup of coffee and a farmer’s breakfast, happy to have been up with (or before) the sun and to be in such a beautiful place.

The rest of the day fills up with various work projects, between mucking out the barn, changing the goats’ pasture, caring for dogs, cats, and chickens, and the garden, as well as helping out with packaging and shipping. On cheese making days, one person milks while two others spend all morning around the comforting smells of warming milk in the vat and ripening cheeses in the cave. In what seems like the blink of an eye, it’s 3:30pm and time to prepare for the evening milking. If the confectioner has been at work, the milking parlor has a great mixture of earthy and sugary aromas. Walking out of the big red barn in front of the setting sun, I can pick up ingredients from our garden on my way in for dinner; then, it’s to bed, to do it all over again the next day.

Since moving back to Massachusetts and joining the team at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, I now see the hard work that goes not just into those caramels, but all of our products.

Big Picture Farm Caramels

Big Picture Farm Caramels
(photo courtesy of Big Picture Farm)

We rotate through all four of Big Picture Farm’s glorious goat milk caramel varieties, and currently have three flavors at the Cambridge shop: the original Sea Salt and Bourbon Vanilla, winner of a gold SOFI award in 2012, the Chai, winner of a Good Food Award in 2013, and the Maple Cream. Visit bigpicturefarm.com to find more information about the farm, farmers, and the most adorable and tastiest gift ever. We <3 our small producers!

 

Leah Wang is still a farmer in Vermont and Maine (in her heart and mind), but loves being a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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Get ready for Thanksgiving turkey!

Get ready for Thanksgiving turkey!

As a young girl my family would travel every year to share Thanksgiving dinner with family. I remember singing “Over the river and through the woods…” ad nauseam at least one of those trips. I grew more and more excited as the car crossed the Connecticut River, then through the mountain forests; the Appalachian Mountains. I knew with each landmark I was that much closer to seeing my cousins and the feast they would have prepared. Images of the giant bird, dripping with juicy gravy, made me anxious to arrive.

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Formaggio Kitchen Chocolate  Section

A snapshot of part of the Formaggio Kitchen chocolate section

Not many people get to study food for a living, but even fewer study chocolate. Carla D. Martin, a Lecturer in the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University and “Professor of Chocolate,” studies social issues in the cacao and chocolate industry, from production and processing to personal consumption. She has also co-taught our class on chocolate here at Formaggio Kitchen, and stops by regularly for her favorite bars.

The world of chocolate, and North American craft chocolate in particular, has exploded in the last few decades. Building off of the rising popularity of fair trade and single origin products in the 1970s and 1980s, the French companies Bonnat, Valrhona, and Cluizel were the first to introduce single origin chocolate, bringing the concept of terroir formally to the world of chocolate consumption. Today, the number of artisanal, single-origin chocolatiers has skyrocketed, with our selection of around ten different producers making up just a small sampling of U.S. craft chocolates. When I first started trying the chocolates in our selection, I found defining craft chocolate, let alone picking a bar, pretty overwhelming. As part of my personal education efforts I sat down with Carla to talk about her views on the exciting world of North American craft chocolate, and what it all really means for chocolate lovers!

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Higher Ground Rooftop Farm

Higher Ground Rooftop Farm

We climb narrow metal steps from the top floor of the Boston Design Center, set out through a heavy, metal door, and over a final raised ledge at the bottom of the door that can only be intended to discourage entrance onto the roof. Even before my eyes adjust to the brilliant sunlight, with my first breath, I can feel the farm in my lungs. It is not exactly just the smell of things growing; more the feeling of being given pure, new oxygen, in even exchange for the CO2 I am offering. When, still squinting, I first see the careful rows of vibrant life, I have that feeling of gazing at a mirage – it seems a bit of that visible, liquidy heat shimmers up into the air just beyond the edge of the rooftop, slightly obscuring the Boston skyline, at eye-level, off in the distance.

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Dizzy feasts on buttercups

Dizzy feasts on buttercups

A cow named Dizzy munches on buttercups, a goat named Isabelle ruminates under the shade of an old oak tree; in Vermont, the rolling green pastures are shadowed only by the cheeses that its distinct flora promotes.

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Consider Bardwell Farm

Consider Bardwell Farm

Four years ago, when I first moved from New York to the Boston-area, I can only describe it as a collision of worlds. Although the change of pace is less noticeable for some, it took me extra time to adjust to the relatively gentle mobility of Beantown as compared to that of the Big Apple.

After finding work at Formaggio Kitchen, and as I established a comfort zone with my newly adopted environment, I was given the opportunity through the shop to visit a series of farms in western Vermont. I had never traveled that far north in the United States before, so I jumped at the opportunity.

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Farmers Jane Field Blend WhiteIn celebration of Independence Day weekend, we’re featuring one delicious American wine. The Farmers Jane project is run by friends and wine lovers Angela and Faith in southern California. This tasty white is made from grapes purchased from a Santa Ynez valley vineyard belonging to the Native American Chamush tribe. In this vineyard Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussane grow together, and the grapes are harvested, pressed and fermented all together at the same time, old-school style. (more…)

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