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Dairy farm diversifies to changing times

Cheesemakers Roberto Laurens Jr. and Matt Schweizer. (Photo contributed)

LEE — As dairy milk consumption remains on the decline, the future is looking cheesy for one Lee-based dairy farm.

The more than 100-year-old, family-owned High Lawn Farm built its brand on its milk courtesy of Jersey cows. Over time, that label has expanded to include cream, butter, ghee and ice creams. Last year, the dairy farm diversified its agricultural portfolio even further by offering farmstand cheeses. Serious planning and purchasing for the creation of the cheese-making room, equipment and the aging room began in 2018, said Roberto Laurens Jr., a cheesemaker at the farm and son of general manager Roberto Laurens Sr.

“People are drinking less fluid milk, so we’ve started to diversify the farm’s portfolio and provide artisanal cheeses,” said Laurens.

Together with fellow cheesemakers, Matt Schweizer, a former chef, and Gina Molinari, and through instruction from trained professionals, lots of reading and admitted mistake-making, High Lawn Farm has created a selection of eight different cheeses. Currently, the farm has seven different kinds of cheese for sale, including High Lawn Cheddar, Wilde Field, Comanche Queen, High Lawn Blue, Pasto Alto, Siegfried’s Pride and Sunny Sumayah.

Laurens said his favorite type of cheese changes from day to day, but is leaning toward Siegfried’s Pride as the cheese’s umami notes were something he was particularly proud of. At the moment, Schweizer says he’s favoring Comanche Queen, which includes a rind with yeasty, fresh dough notes. As it ages, the rind takes on a hint of mushroom.

“We tried over and over to get [this cheese] right. We failed often,” said Schweizer. “Now it’s a crowd-pleasing treat.”

The farmstead cheese has since been made available at various south county locations, including Guido’s Fresh Marketplace in Great Barrington, and Nejaime’s Wine Cellar in both Stockbridge and Lenox. The farm is also working to be able to sell the cheese at Whole Foods.

On May 21, the farm’s cheesemakers were slated to showcase their product and hold a cheese testing through a partnership with Lee Land Trust. But like most scheduled events throughout Southern Berkshire County for March through May, the event has been postponed due to the coronavirus, said Linda Cysz, president of Lee Land Trust. Both High Lawn Farm and Lee Land Trust are hoping to hold the event at some point in the fall.

“We’re not a big group, but we do what we can to support our town and our community and work toward maintaining what’s here,” said Cysz. “Events like this help our community know what’s available and who our neighbors are.”

The land trust works with the Trustees of Reservation to protect more than 200 acres of land off of Route 20 in East Lee. The land trust, with the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, is also a steward of 208 acres on Beartown Mountain in South Lee. High Lawn Farm is also slated to host the Massachusetts Cheese Festival in the fall. “For now, we’re just taking things day by day,” said Laurens.

And even with the current global pandemic and a stay-at-home advisory in place, the farm continues to adapt to the rapidly changing world. High Lawn took a big hit to its wholesale business, said Laurens.

Fortunately, the business has not had to lay off or furlough any of its nearly 30 employees.
To adjust to the needs of the community, the farm has implemented a no-contact pick-up service at the farm as well as a shipping service. Both types of orders can be placed at highlawnfarm.com. Order pick-up times are available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon, at the farm’s loading dock.

On average, the farm has been providing 50 to 70 pick-ups each day, according to Laurens.
“We’ve been busier than ever. The specialty foods items have been particularly busy,” said Laurens. “There’s other things in the works even in the face in the pandemic … people still need to eat.”

Ice cream, cheese and butter sales have doubled, he added. While flavors like black raspberry chocolate chip tend to be a popular one, vanilla still sells twice as much as the others.

In the meantime, the farm is finishing construction on an expansion to the aging room for the farmstead cheese and is hoping to open a 610 square-foot farm store this fall.
Within the next week, High Lawn hopes to also begin offering cream cheese and ricotta cheese.

“In these times, people are seeing the importance of having farms in their back yard,” said Laurens.

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