It’s Sunday Morning: Time to Talk Cheeses – Interview With Bob Stetson of Westfield Farm
Westfield Farm has been handcrafting award-winning farmstead cheeses in Hubbardston, Mass., since 1971. Located on 20 acres in Central Massachusetts, the farm turns out a little over 1500 pounds of cheese per week. In 1996, their Bluebonnet Capri won Best of Show at the American Cheese Society Competition. Their cheese is available in specialty food shops like Murray’s and finer restaurants. You can also order their fine chevre through their website.
Spaulding: First of all, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for our readers. I really appreciate it!!!
Spaulding Gray: Your farm has been making chevre since 1971. Tell us about the evolution of your farm. Did you begin with goats and if so, what drew you to goats rather than sheep or cows?
Bob Stetson: My wife Debby and I did not begin making chevre until 1996. Bob and Letty Kilmoyer began making goat cheese at Westfield Farm sometime in the 1970s, as a hobby that developed into a commercial enterprise. What happened is that one of Bob’s students at Clark University (where he was a mathematics professor), entrusted him with a couple of goats over the summer, and then never retrieved them. Before long they were wondering what they could do with a steady supply of goat milk when someone suggested they try making a fresh chevre. It was a big hit among their friends and they eventually decided to try to sell it to some adventurous cheese shops in and around Boston. By 1980 they were operating a real business from their home. Letty had quit her job as emergency room nurse to tend the business full time and Bob soon left his job at the university as well.
By 1995, they were milking a herd of some 80 Nubian and Alpine goats, as well as purchasing goat milk from several area farms. But it had gotten to be too much and they decided to retire. They sold their herd of goats (since they were already buying more milk than producing, and put an ad in the Boston Globe offering their farm and their business as well as some training to anyone interested.
Debby and I, who had been in the shipping business for pretty much all our lives, had sold our interest in a business we partly owned about five years earlier. Still living in Boston, Debby was managing the store at Allandale Farm (the last working farm in Boston), and I was writing for a trade paper on shipping issues. We were both looking for something a little more challenging when I saw the ad. It was the first and only “business opportunity” ad I ever responded to. We came out to Hubbardston in June to look at the place and fell in love with it. In September we moved in with the Kilmoyers and for the next month they taught us all they could about the art and science involved in making their different cheeses. In October they packed up their stuff and embarked on a circuitous route to the Florida Keys, where they had already purchased a retirement home.
Fortunately, the Kilmoyers were about as keen as we were that the transition be a success, and we never lost touch. I couldn’t count the times we had to call to have Bob or Letty walk us through mechanical problems and technical issues. And although we’ve since learned to handle just about anything that comes up, we have maintained a close friendship with our mentors.
Spaulding: Some dairy farmers name their animals? If you do, how do you choose their names?
Bob: As noted above, there are no longer any animals on our property. The Kilmoyers sold them, figuring it would be a lot easier to teach someone how to make the cheese without all the issues of animal husbandry. But I know the Kilmoyers named their goats, usually with a different theme each year. For example one year it was candy (Candy Cane, Butterscotch, Lollypop, etc.) and the next year it was mythological figures (Andromeda, Aphrodite and the like). It made for picking a bunch of names pretty easy as well as keeping track of ages.
SG: What is the most obscure cheese or cheese dish you have tasted. How far did you travel to find it?
BS: I’m not sure what an obscure cheese dish would look like, but we do fool around with different ingredients and ideas right here, so I certainly don’t have to travel far for a weird cheese dish. We’ve experimented with some habañero peppers and goat cheese combinations that could blow your head off, but were unable to find a palatable compromise. We also, (at the express request of a local chef, apparently impressed with Rogue Creamery’s Smoky Blue) tried smoking a Classic Blue Log with terrifyingly poor results. Nothing really to write home about, though.
Spaulding: What is your favorite grilled cheese sammy?
Bob: My Favorite grilled cheese is an open-faced sandwich of Sour Dough bread (from Nashoba Bakery) topped with grated sharp cheddar (from Smith’s Country Cheese), chopped tomato cubes and a few jalapeno slices, all broiled to a toasty, melty mess.
Spaulding: I believe in thinking globally but eating locally… which of your cheeses would you pair with a Massachusetts local delicacy, Scaphiopus holbrookii? And would you prefer the pairing with beer or wine?
Bob: I’m having a hard time coming up with what might be considered a Massachusetts delicacy. But when local peaches or pears are in season, I like to make tapas out of slices of French bread, smoked Capri and a slice of that fruit, broiled until the cheese starts to brown. It’s really simple and delicious, and it goes very well with a Sam Adam’s Summer Ale.