The sounds of a gypsy-jazz quartet and the intoxicating aromas of a whole roast hog are not what one typically expects to be wafting through the air during a dairy farm visit. But then again, Jonathan and Nina White are not typical dairy farmers. Their Milford, New Jersey farm, Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse, is a testament to cheese and to food production that emphasizes responsible stewardship and a love for the land and animals. And so, on this Sunday morning—amidst all the activity of their annual pig roast and jazz concert—the Whites were kind enough to share with me their unique views on cheesemaking and farm life.
Those familiar with Jonathan might remember him from his days at Egg Farm Dairy in New York’s bucolic Hudson Valley, where he began the process of transforming his part-time cheesemaking hobby into a full-time, small-scale artisan dairy business. The mission then, as to this day, has been clear and focused: to produce cheeses “as they were produced hundreds of years ago on small farms.” Only raw milk from their grass-fed “Bobolink Black”—a cross-breeding of several common dairy breeds such as Ayrshire, Guernsey, and Jersey, with the ancient Kerry cattle of Ireland) is used in cheesemaking.
One does not find even a drop of starter culture in Bobolink’s supply room. Instead, they reserve a small container of whey from the previous day’s cheesemaking—rich in a variety of microbiological flora—and allow it to flourish overnight, resulting in a house-made lactic acid starter culture for use in the next day’s cheeses. According to Jonathan, the only ingredients that they do purchase for cheesemaking are “a little bit of rennet and some salt.”
All the cheeses are then hand-ladled into molds; none are pressed but rather left to drain solely under the weight of their own curds, with the use of rennet kept to a minimum. The size of the molds, curd formation, and aging process are the primary factors that determine the style of each cheese. Their ultimate goal is to produce a variety of cheeses that embrace and reflect the ever-changing nature of the milk.
Soft-ripened Baudolino sings with an intense farmhouse flavor and a mouth-filling creaminess that snapped me to attention, instantly redefining for me what a true domestic fromage fermier made from superior raw milk can achieve. And Amram—a small soft cheese named for their close friend, composer and author David Amram—was recently awarded a silver medal at the first annual Farm Cheese Awards held this June in Lyon. The farm was also named Best Food Artisan at the Garden State Culinary Arts Awards and the Edible Jersey’s Local Hero Awards.
It might come as no surprise that for the Whites, treating their herd with the utmost love and care is a high priority. In keeping with their staunch individuality as cheesemakers, they milk the cows only once each day. While that’s virtually unheard of in dairy farming, Jonathan states emphatically, “We are actually getting more, and higher quality milk by doing so.” Only in winter is the herd provided with hay, but no cheeses are produced. More significantly, Bobolink’s calves are raised on mother’s milk while grazing and playing outdoors for the first two to three months of their lives, and they are not pastured themselves until fully weaned.
Blessed with an abundance of energy and an undying passion for the work of the dairy farm, Jonathan and Nina are not content to make only cheeses. Their farm also produces pasture-raised beef, pork, and veal, as well as brick oven-baked bread, cultured butter, buttermilk, duck fat, and artisan charcuterie. They also host farm tours, numerous events, and classes throughout the year. As if that weren’t enough, Nina, who is also an accomplished dancer and dance teacher, bakes delicious cookies that incorporate the farm’s cultured butter and farm-fresh eggs.
Beyond their commitment to the animals, the Whites focus on human wellbeing, too. They are just dedicated to improving the lives of those with autism, with passion and knowledge that stems from their firsthand experiences. Jonathan and Nina are strong proponents of the benefits of farm work for those living with autism. Currently, they are developing an agricultural-based residential community for those who would benefit.
Bobolink Dairy cheeses and products are sold at the farm, regional farmers markets, and online. They are also featured in select fine dining establishments. Visit their website to learn more about the farm and its mission, register for events, or to order products.