Ashlee Kleinhammer moved from the Pacific coast to Vermont, and eventually Upstate New York, for love.
“I fell in love with dairy cows.”
After college, the California native moved to the northeast, where she spent the next six years working on educational farms in Vermont and New York, including a one-year stint as the head of the dairy operation at the pioneering Essex Farm, about 30 minutes south along Lake Champlain.
However, it wasn’t until she and partner Steven Googin purchased the 112-acre Clover Mead Farm in 2012 that their dairy farming sights expanded to cheese. They hired Sam Hendren, the farm’s former owner, to teach them how to make cheese and pass along his recipes, including his award-winning Couronne, a French tomme packed with earthy, grassy flavor.
North Country Creamery at Clover Mead Farm makes four aged cheeses, aged on local white pine boards inside a cave dug into the north side of a hill on the farm: Northland, a gouda; Herdmaster, a hard, nutty Alpine cheese; Couronne, a Camembert and a semi-soft Havarti.
“I enjoy cheese making a lot more than I thought I would,” Kleinhammer said with a laugh.
All their cheese is made with milk from 100-percent grass-fed cows raised on the farm, which Kleinhammer said gives the cheeses a boost of earthy flavor. The farm is also Animal Welfare Approved and while the farm is not certified organic, they raise their animals without added hormones or antibiotics.
“We’re very committed to [raising the cattle on grass],” Kleinhammer said.
Compared to its sheep’s milk cousin, the cow’s milk feta North Country Creamery makes is milder and melts easier. Their farmers cheese, made from pressed cheese curd with a taste and texture like mozzarella, is perfect atop poutine.
The eighth and final cheese they make is Cheeseville, a fromage blanc Kleinhammer compared to cream cheese, available in a variety of flavors.
They milk 20 Shorthorn and Jersey cows and buy between 100 and 200 gallons of milk from a farm in nearby Westport, but they’re looking to expand. Kleinhammer said they plan to add 10 cows to their herd and buy all the milk the other farm produces. They’re also looking to expand the size of the aging cave, which currently holds about 2,000 pounds of cheese.
All told, they plan to eventually double or triple the size of their current operation.
They sell their cheese at their on-farm restaurant, Clover Mead Café & Farm Store, as well as at farmers markets and other spots in the Adirondacks. They’re looking to expand past the Capital Region and eventually into the downstate and New York City markets.
The café, open year-round, delights breakfast- and lunch-goers with baked goods, sandwiches, frozen yogurt, candies and more, all made on the farm.
Like the rest of the farm, that too they plan to expand.