Big Skyr Country
Woodstock Creamery at Valleyside Farm, Woodstock
Woodstock is rural with a capital R. Dirt roads and farms abound. It’s firmly in Connecticut’s Quiet Corner and a big part of the Last Green Valley – the swath of land in the eastern megalopolis that isn’t megalopolissy. Real farms… working farms. Fighter farms with sweeping hillside views of other sweeping hillsides for miles and miles.
One of Woodstock’s working farms is Valleyside Farm. The Young family has been farming this land for 11 generations with 4 generations of Youngs currently living and working together on the farm. And get this: The Lyon family established Valleyside in 1819 and since then – and I can’t follow this – it’s been in the same family tree. First a “Lyon” daughter who married a “Child,” (surname, not an actual child child) and then more recently, a “Young” married a “Child” daughter. I’m certain everything makes legal and genetic sense. Even if this is Woodstock, it’s still Connecticut after all.
The Lyon family got a rather large chunk of land directly from King George III because they were loyal to the crown. Apparently that deed still exists and it’s how the Lyon-Child-Young families have kept the farm all this time. And way back in the day, Valleyside ran a cooperative creamery that lasted until the early 1900’s. Local dairies closed all over the place and for more than a century, Valleyside’s retail operation laid dormant.
But with the 2000’s came the movement towards more local and fresh food, and the Youngs got to thinking. They decided to revive the creamery operation; first with the basics and then to conservatively expand over time. Up first: milk. Real milk. Cream line milk. From their website:
Millennials shopping at Valleyside might encounter a product they have not seen before, and that is cream line milk. Almost every container of milk in the supermarket is homogenized, but not here – you can readily see the cream line in the top of the bottle. It then becomes the consumer’s choice to decant it off and use it in their coffee or shake it up to mix it to the consistency at which it came out of the cow.
(Many years ago, when almost all milk was delivered to the consumer’s doorstep, there was a unique bottle which allowed the cream to be captured. The bottle had a large bubble top into which the cream rose. The consumer was supplied with a large spoon with a curved handle that she inserted into the bottle and used to pour off the cream.)
I learn something every day. And I’m hardly a Millennial.
I also learned here that there’s a movement to return whole milk to public schools. I had no idea this was a thing, but it’s a thing. At Valleyside Farm anyway:
You’re welcome to join the fight at the website on the sign. They are very passionate about the health benefits of whole milk. And chocolate milk for that matter. Some of the claims on that site are a tad dubious, but the main point is that “whole milk” is usually 97% fat free; which isn’t that much fattier than what people are buying. And that the fat is healthy fat. Mmmm, fat.
Random aside: There I was, way out in northern Woodstock on a chilly weekday afternoon. I pull up to the cute little retail building and two more cars came in behind me. Pick-up trucks, actually. One guy ran in and bought a gallon of whole milk. The other guy picked up a bottle of cream line milk. They went back to their pick-ups and took off. The experience had a surreal quality to it, sure, but it also speaks to the deliciousness of Woodstock Creamery’s milk.
Real, fresh, whole milk from local farms is otherworldly and it’s true, my kids have no idea what it even tastes like.
Alas, I was visiting this place because they make cheese and I’m the guy going to every cheesemaker in the state. At the time of my visit, Woodstock was making two types of cheese, and I’m not sure one is actually cheese: Labneh and Skyr.
Labneh is a soft cheese, similar in texture to cream cheese, made from strained yogurt and very popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. You may see it spelled lebneh, lebnah, labaneh, labane, labne, or labni. At about half the fat and calories of standard cream cheese, it’s a healthier alternative.
Skyr is an Icelandic cultured dairy product originating in Norway. It has the consistency of strained yogurt, but a milder flavor. Skyr can be classified as a fresh sour milk cheese, similar to curd cheese consumed like a yogurt in the Baltic states, the Low Countries, Germany and Russia. It has been a part of Icelandic cuisine for centuries.
Skyr has a slightly sour dairy flavor, with a hint of residual sweetness. It is traditionally served cold, either plain or with cream. Commercial manufacturers of skyr have added flavors such as vanilla, coffee, or fruit.
The retail operation here opened in 2018. It’s small, but bigger than you’d think it would be while coming out here. There’s burlap and gingham and cow art, antique milk bottles, and farm clocks. All the usual suspects. There’s even a drive-through option, which is funny to me. (It’s for elderly or those with difficulty walking – but it existed in 2018, well before the pandemic. Geniuses, these Youngs.)
I poked around the store which sells various meats from their and other local farms. There’s ice cream from Ekonk Hill in Sterling and We-Like-It in Pomfret. Honeys, crafts, and snacks from locals as well, in addition to all their own milks (including chocolate and coffee), yogurts, and cheeses.
I selected a roasted red pepper labneh and a garlic chive skyr.
I probably did not choose wisely. At least with the skyr. The labneh was fine; it could stand a bit more heat, but knowing the clientele in Windham County, I’ll forgive them. I used it as a spread on bread and sandwiches and I liked it well enough.
I think when it comes to skyr, for me, choosing savory was a bad move. I love yogurt… fruit yogurt. My skyr was like a garlic chive thick yogurt, and that just didn’t work for me. I was trying to buy more on the “cheese” side of skyr, which is barely a cheese anyway… being more of a yogurt… but is officially a cheese.
Oh well, next time I’ll get a fruit variety. They also sell frozen skyr, which I guess is more like frozen yogurt. Or maybe like cheesecake. But I really don’t like cheesecake. Skyr is a mysterious beast, for sure, but lots and lots of people do love it. You probably do and don’t even know.
As I left the store and the lovely woman who helped me out, I gazed across the fields again. Valleyside Farm has 250 head of cattle here and they are well cared for, and to my memory, those cows are the only ones making milk that making skyr in the state. The sky seemed to go on forever up here on Child Hill, so I took it in one last time.
Woodstock is… Big Skyr Country.
First and last pictures are from the farm’s website.