Milk and Cheese From a Fish
Fish Family Farm, Bolton
August 7, 2009
No, the Fish Family does not raise or sell fish. They raise cows and chickens and sell milk and ice cream and cheese eggs and other related items – and they are awesome. Readers of this blog know I don’t toss that word around lightly. But this place really is a great little oasis of days gone by and of deliciousness.
In fact, I think it may be the place that inspired me to create a separate blog section for Connecticut’s working dairy farms and cheesemakers. Sure, I’d been to UConn’s Dairy Barn previously (CTMQ Visit here), but it didn’t inspire me like the Fish Family Farm did. My first visit truly was a (very small) life-changing experience for me.
I’ll break down my visit in three sections: The farm, the cheese and the milk. But note: All three are equally excellent.
Y’know, as I look at these pictures of my son on a beautiful warm summer’s day… These are the moments I cherish as a parent. Okay, before I get all misty on you, let’s get to it.
Another day with Damian looking for stuff to do… I decided, quite randomly, that we’d drive over to Bolton and check out the Fish Family Farm. My plan was simply to see the animals and maybe get an ice cream, for I didn’t really know what else they had to offer. Even though it’s in Bolton, which sounds so exotic and distant to many Nutmeggers, it’s right off of I-384 and I got there surprisingly fast. (However, once on their long and winding driveway, don’t drive like an idiot. There are two blind corners and if someone is also driving like an idiot coming the other way, watch out. I had this experience at a later visit and had a very, very near miss.)
Don Fish always dreamed of owning a farm that he could share with other people, so in 1981 he bought the farm and he opened it to the public. “We just feel like we have 200 acres and we should share it.”
Damian and I began exploring the farm and he was immediately drawn to the chickens. The chickens here live in an inside/outside coop and seemed rather happy as they clucked about – even as Damian poked at their heads through the mesh.
Around back is a large pasture with some of their cows grazing about. All of their cows are Jerseys and they were born on the farm. The Fish Family Farm are one of the state’s few remaining dairy farms that milk, pasteurize and bottle their own milk. I’ve read there are only three others in the state… And I’m very curious to visit all of them. For as you’ll read below, the milk here is simply the best I’ve ever had. There are a bunch of “raw milk” places and I know of some goat’s milk joints, but I really am curious about the pasteurized cow’s milk ones. Anyone?
There is also an barn we walked through with a few cows milling about. It’s all very open and Damian and I were allowed to go anywhere we wanted. We watched the cows for a while but it was pretty hot, so it was time for some ice cream.
We went into the farm store and I was stopped in my tracks. As I mentioned, I had no idea they made cheese and milk here. In the meantime, I bought Damian a little cup of black raspberry ice cream and we went outside to the bench to enjoy it together. Mmm-mm, delicious. Rich and creamy, just the way I like it. My son and I sort of just sat there for a while, enjoying the peacefulness of the farm (and Bolton in general), which was pretty nice.
I just love finding places like this and while I’m not sure they’ll be around forever, I want to be sure to enjoy them for as long as they are. (Read this article to see what I’m talking about. It’s interesting to learn (just now, from that article) that the owner of the Fish Family Farm is the same DW Fish from DW Fish Realty company, which is a nice way to finance his “hobby” farm.
Depending on when you’re on the farm, you may catch the milking operation. You are welcome to observer the milking and bottling process right there in the barn. You can also watch the bottling and ice cream making processes through the observation window from the little shop area as well.
Once Damian and I were finished up with the farm and the ice cream, we went back inside and I bought some milk and cheese. Then we poked around Bolton a bit (even finding a tiny little playground which Damian enjoyed) and a town history trail before heading home.
I bought 2% milk but upon reflection, I should have gone for the real stuff – the whole milk. It’s funny, I grew up drinking milk as a kid. I was only allowed milk at dinner every single night of my life until I could drive. I never hated it – but I didn’t love it either. Milk was just milk.
Oh yeah, I bought it at lunch every day (for 15 cents) through middle school. Shout out to Hy-Point Dairy in northern Delaware!
Anyway, I put milk on my cereal now, but never really just drink it. But since the Fish Farm milk was fresh and supposedly better, I thought I’d give it a shot. As their website says, “Some of our visitors have turned into regular customers. They even come out in a winter snowstorm to buy glass bottles of milk.”
Wow, this must be some kinda milk. After all, no one actually lives in Bolton (do they?), so that means they must drive a ways in bad weather to get this stuff.
Here’s the thing: The milk is extraordinarily good. I took a sip and had a reawakening. All the sudden the milk triggered some taste memories for how milk used to taste when I was a little kid. It was actually pretty weird and startling.
I’m not kidding either; this milk – real, fresh milk – is sweeter, creamier, and I could taste the grasses and grains the cow ate. It was delicious and I couldn’t wait for Hoang to get home and have a taste herself.
Upon doing so, she felt the same exact way. Damian, for his part, just drank it up and asked for some more. I didn’t think it at the time, but yes, this stuff really is worth $4.50 (and I don’t even think it’s a gallon) plus another $1.50 for deposit on the old school bottle.
I tried returning the bottle several times to get more milk, but they were always out of it so I finally gave up and just got my $1.50 back. But rest assured, I’ll definitely pick some more up next time I’m out that way. And if I’m lucky, maybe they’ll have some cheese too…
Great atmosphere at the farm, check. Great ice cream, check. Great milk, check. Can they go four for four with great cheese? Yes.
I had never had so-called Farmer’s Cheese before, but I’d seen it here and there at farmer’s markets and also up at UConn. But what is it? It’s as quick and easy as it gets in the cheese-making world…
Farmer cheese is most often an unripened cheese made by adding bacterial starter and rennet to acidify milk. After coagulation it is cut into curds and whey, then the whey is drained off. The drained curds are cottage cheese. Further pressing out of the moisture yields the malleable solid results of pot cheese, whilst even more pressing makes farmer cheese, which is solid, dry and crumbly.
As a result, farmer cheese has the mild flavor associated with cottage cheese, but it is firm and dry, not watery at all. It may also develop a slightly tangy flavor, especially if yogurt or buttermilk are added to the milk while it is curdled. A farmer cheese has spreadable curds, rather than spoonable ones like fresh cottage cheese.
Sounds kind of gross, but man, it’s delicious. Hoang and I ate the package of it right up, with some simple olive oil with it on some water crackers. The flavor was subtle, yet complex.
If this place was in my hometown, I’d drink 6 dollar milk and eat farmer cheese every day. Fortunately, I guess, it’s not.
I can’t recommend the Fish Family Farm enough. They are producing real locally made dairy products with superior flavor. Of course, the business model is not practical for mom and pop dairy operations, but we still need to appreciate what we can get from “hobby” farmers like Don Fish.