Rawson Brook Farm
Susan Sellew isn’t much into marketing. It just isn’t something she has to worry about very much. Indeed, in recent years she has cut back the production of her highly popular Monterey Chèvre cheese because the demands of growing New York City and Boston markets were getting to be too much.
“I don’t need to go far to sell all my cheese because it is held in such high esteem,” she said. “I used to make about 500 pounds of cheese a week and now we make about 400 pounds. I used to ship out 50 percent of my cheese and sell 50 percent locally. Now I only ship out 15 percent of the cheese and all the rest is consumed here in the Berkshires.”
The excellence of her cheese is founded in the breeding and care her 35 Alpine goats receive. “Chèvre is a fresh, soft goat cheese,” she explained. “The quality of every cheese starts with clean, healthy goats. The quality of the cheese is indicative of the quality of the milk you start with. I am heavy into nutrition.”
She has been making cheese on Rawson Brook Farm since 1984 but that was not her first career. A New Marlborough MA native, she went away to college, where she was an art major, and didn’t come again until she was in her 30s. Her only previous connection with dairying was vicarious: she had an Italian grandfather who was a dairy farmer.
But in the 1960s and ’70s she was swept up in the back to the land movement and by the early 1980s she and her former husband were ready to revisit the concept. “I missed the Berkshires,” she said. “We came back specifically to farm.”
Choosing a section of family land, she and her husband set to work, clearing away trees, “carving out our farm from scratch.” They set up a sawmill, cutting the native timber to construct all the farm buildings.”
There were several different kinds of cheese they could have made but they settled on Chèvre, producing it in a traditional smooth and creamy version and improvising two other flavors: thyme with olive oil and chive and garlic.
She now works with a team of part-time workers. “We are a trained-up team,” she said, “very much a ‘we.’ We have a good time doing it.”
The team’s work begins in early spring each year. The does are all bred at once the previous fall and 80 to 90 kids are born within a 10-day period in April. Because goats have multiple births, Sellew says she has to assist at many of the births. “There is always the likelihood of so-and-so’s feet getting tangled up with so-and-so’s,” she said.
With all the does coming due at one time, it is an exhausting week with more than 10 kids often being born in one day. “One day we had seven goats freshen,” she reported. “Then we have to bottle feed the babies. We have all the bottles set up with the moms’ names on them so they get their own mothers’ colostrum. We are tired and wet and cold, but it is a wonderful time. It’s birth.”
With the does again producing milk, cheese production begins again. Goats are herded into a milking parlor where they are milked by machine—“I’ve got carpal tunnel wicked bad,” Sellew explains. “That’s a lot of goats to milk.”—before the milk is pasteurized and made into cheese. Chèvre is a fresh cheese and is completed and ready to be packaged and delivered in two days.
Sellew sells her cheese in local stores and there is always a waiting list of those who would like to buy it. It is for sale, on the honor system, at the farm, but Sellew does not encourage too many visitors.
“People do come to the farm,” she said, “but this is a working farm and not a place to bring children to play. If people are interested in food, it’s a place to come visit. People do have the right to know where their food comes from. I don’t do tours, but I have a lot of signs telling people what they can do—they can pet the baby goats, but they can’t feed them.”
For more information or questions, contact Susan Sellew
Rawson Brook Farm, PO. Box 426, Monterey, MA 01245