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When Milkmaids Meet: A Movement Finds Its Footing

Milkmaids pose for a picture after a great day of connection. Photo Credit: Babs Perkins.

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the second annual (yes, I said annual) Meeting of the Milkmaids at High Lawn Farm in Lee, Mass. 

The Meeting of the Milkmaids (MOTM) is a gathering of women in cheese organized by a group of women from different areas of the cheese industry. The goal of the day is to provide a space for women to come together, connect, and build community. 

This year’s event was a grown-up version of the inaugural meeting. Last year, 35 women were packed like sardines into a small, hot room above a barn. This year, 50 women leisurely meandered in a spacious, breezy barn with sprawling views of the Berkshire mountains.

Last year, no one knew what to expect other than a day spent alongside women in cheese. This year, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting myself into. There would be women, comradery, positivity, emotional connection, and most likely a few tears. But even with my well-informed expectations, I was still blown away by the event.

The Meeting of the Milkmaids Organizers (from left): Rachel Waschitz Banks, Kate Truini, Becky Collins Brooks, Indigo Munoz-Weaver, and Lily Orr.

“Last year, the test run was amazing. This year, with our sea legs and a tighter plan, it felt like the Milkmaids has its identity, and it’s valuable in the way of giving women a voice,” said MOTM founder Becky Collins Brooks. “And all those voices together create a really rare thing where differences aren’t just honored but celebrated, and in fact are necessary toward building a very strong community.”

“I thought it might be hard to match (let alone top) the experience of last year’s inaugural gathering,” said MOTM founding member Babs Perkins. “But honestly, the heart and humanity, knowledge and community spirit present in that space was nothing short of magic. There’s a sort of alchemy that happens—kind of like cheesemaking.”

The day was structured perfectly. Attendees had plenty of time to mix and mingle (we are women after all), pet calves, and take in the scenery. And the speakers did an excellent job of filling their daunting 90-minute time slots with engaging and interactive content.

First, we heard from writer Hannah Howard, who, after reading an excerpt from her book Plenty, served us a writing prompt: “How I fell in love with cheese.” After taking a few minutes to jot down our responses, we had the opportunity to share with the room.

I was struck by how eager everyone was to share their story. Often, when a speaker asks people to share with the group, it can be like pulling teeth to get volunteers. That was not the case here. The room was immediately filled with raised hands, patiently waiting to be called on. People shared how cheese had saved them, how it made them feel of service, connected them to their family, and brought them purpose in life.

Then, we heard from Kate Arding, co-owner of Talbott and Arding in Hudson, NY, who shared about her time championing British farmhouse cheeses at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, followed by her experience working on the team that launched Cowgirl Creamery. I’ve spoken to Kate many times and was familiar with her resume, but hearing her personal anecdotes and seeing photos from this transformative time in American cheese underscored just how novel this was at the time.

For my generation, organizations like the American Cheese Society and makers like Cypress Grove were well established by the time we started working in cheese. It’s easy to forget that the American artisan cheese scene was started by a group of “goat ladies” in the 1980s as a part of a back to the land movement.

Listening to Kate talk about her history, I was struck with a feeling that we were at a similar inflection point. I know that may sound corny, but all movements start somewhere. And this one seems to have taken hold by tapping into women’s deep desire for community and authentic connection. “Women are a life force in the cheese world…The passion women bring is the 5th ingredient to cheese,” said Olivia Haver, affineur at the Farm at Doe Run. 

I could go on and on about how special the day was, but I don’t want to evoke any more FOMO than you may already be feeling. I look forward to seeing what connections will arise from this year’s meeting and am eagerly awaiting MOTM 2025.

Related Reading: When Milkmaids Meet: The Power of Women-Only Spaces

Josie Krogh

Josie Krogh is culture's Digital Strategy Lead. She earned her master's degree in Agricultural and Applied Economics from The University of Georgia. Josie developed a love of food while working at farmstands in the D.C. area as a young adult, and discovered her love of cheese while living and working on a dairy farm on Martha's Vineyard. She is passionate about the food supply chain, fresh stone fruit, and dogs. Josie currently lives in Catskill, NY.

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