Tag Archive | "mecox bay dairy"

Where’s the Beef? At Mecox Bay Dairy

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Mecox Bay Dairy owner Art Ludlow casually chatted with customers Friday morning at the East Hampton Farmers Market as he cut hunks of his celebrated Mecox Sunrise, Sigit, Atlantic Mist and Shawondasee cheeses from large wheels. For many, this moment was not out of the ordinary — the fourth generation farmer is a staple at literally every farmers’ market on the South Fork, hawking his prized cheeses produced from the Jersey cows raised on his Bridgehampton farm.

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But for those in know, a Styrofoam freezer sat discreetly behind Ludlow representing a new era for followers of the Slow Food movement on the East End. The cooler held various cuts of grass fed, Bridgehampton beef, which has been unavailable for legal commercial sale since the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) began regulating meat production over 100 years ago.

“It’s not in my nature to display myself,” said Ludlow on Monday as to the lack of signage announcing this almost historic moment in local food. “I do want people to know though. I was reluctant to get too public with it at first — one issue being was it going to be fit to eat. But then we had some for dinner and that cleared that up right away. It was excellent.”

Sitting in a stall next to Ludlow, Amagansett Food Institute Director Jennifer Desmond said she and Amber Waves farmers’ Katie Baldwin and Amanda Morrow sampled some of Ludlow’s steaks at their farm the evening before.

“It was delicious,” she said.

“This is historic,” East Hampton Farmers’ Market Director Kate Plumb said while walking around the market later that morning.

Plumb noted that while the East End is known for local seafood, produce and even chickens, it has long lacked locally raised meats.

And now that has all changed.

For Ludlow, expanding the use of his dairy farm, where he produces a variety of artisanal cheeses, was a natural extension — not just as a businessman, but as a farmer and member of the East End community.

Nestled on the northeast border of Mecox Bay and the northern end of Swan Creek, Ludlow, his wife Stacy and their sons Peter and John began producing raw milk cheeses at Mecox Bay Dairy in 2003.

Mecox Bay Dairy was founded after Ludlow decided to focus his efforts on the dairy farm, which is the last Jersey cow dairy on Long Island.

Making the transition to include selling the grass fed beef used to produce his cheeses, said Ludlow, was an idea his family has talked about since they started the dairy farm.

“The difference now is since we have gotten involved with the farmers’ market we can see there is a real demand for it,” said Ludlow.

While he briefly considered setting up a shop on the farm to process the beef, Ludlow said he quickly realized the small-scale of his production didn’t lend itself towards building his own facility. Instead, he chose to take his cows to upstate New York where they are processed and packaged under the watchful eye of the USDA.

While the demand for a product like his grass-fed beef does exist, Ludlow said taking this leap also came from a desire to ensure his animals are treated in the best possible way for their entire lives.

“This way I do have control over my animals, who I want to make sure are treated in the best possible way, from birth to death,” he said. “So when a cow is no longer milking, I don’t have to ship them off to some miserable place.”

Ludlow added that as a fourth-generation farmer, this is also a part of the farming tradition, and therefore has been a part of his whole life.

“I grew up doing this,” said Ludlow. “We have had animals on this farm since I was a child. I grew up familiar with slaughtering, butchering and eating our own animals. I do understand the issue that some people have with it — eating a steak with a name — but it is something that is natural for me because I grew up with it. It is a fact of life. Death is a part of life.”

This summer, selling the beef is truly a pilot program, as Ludlow feels out the demand through farmers’ markets and weighs that against the numbers in his herd. He added he could run out of beef before the season is over, and is already coming up with formal plans for next year.

So far, just two weeks into selling the beef, Ludlow has heard that his efforts appear to have paid off.

He is selling a variety of cuts, in an attempt to waste as little of the animal as possible, including short ribs, ground beef, all cuts of steak, London broils, pot roasts, rump roasts, and shanks, the last of which he has yet to try, but expects will be delicious.

“We have a philosophy about how we want to produce food,” said Ludlow. “I only sell what I choose to sell, what I choose to grow. I am not compromising my standards by fattening my cows with grain. When I say grass-fed, I mean grass-fed.”

“I’m doing something for other people,” he said. “I have to sell to stay in business, but business is not how I look at this, it is providing nutrition. What is more important than what you put in your body? The more people recognize that and take it seriously, the more I feel small farms like mine will become important and profitable.”

A Slow Food Celebration

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While residents and visitors alike spent this past Labor Day weekend celebrating the culinary culture of the East End by enjoying the bounty of local seafood and produce at their dinner tables and favorite restaurants, that same weekend, 3,000 miles away in San Francisco foods of Bridgehampton were being honored in a different manner. 

San Francisco’s Slow Food Nation 2008 brought 85,000 people to various tasting pavilions over Labor Day weekend in an effort to unite those committed to the slow food movement, one focused on the promotion of local, sustainable, organic food products from across the nation.

Among those products featured at Slow Food Nation 2008 were a trio from Bridgehampton. Art Ludlow’s Mecox Bay Dairy cheeses were displayed in the event’s taste pavilion. Mary Woltz’s honey from Bees’ Needs — which is produced in Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton — was also shown in the event’s honey and preserves pavilion and Channing Daughter’s wines in the show’s wine collections.

In honor of that event, and in an effort to reach out to the local East End community, the East End Convivium of Slow Food USA will host a tour of Ludlow’s Mecox Bay Dairy in Bridgehampton this Sunday, November 9 at 1 p.m.

According to Slow Food member Michael Denslow, Ludlow will guide participants through the cheese making process. Wine from Paumanok, Channing Daughters and Jamesport vineyards, Ludlow’s cheeses and honey from Woltz’s Bees’ Needs will be featured in a special tasting following the tour.

Sag Harbor resident and American Hotel owner Ted Conklin founded the local chapter of Slow Food USA seven years ago. The organization is dedicated to education and outreach and in addition to celebrating the biodiversity and land that sustains a bountiful local food culture, the group also seeks to promote respect and economic support for East End artisans like Ludlow and Woltz.

According to Denslow, in a nutshell, the slow food movement’s motto is “good, clean and fair.”

In addition to promoting events like the tour of Mecox Bay Dairy, Denslow said the group also sponsors farmers’ markets (including the one held in summer and fall in Sag Harbor), has educational initiatives like the Slow Foods-sponsored greenhouse at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton and holds dinners at various restaurants also committed to the same philosophy on food.

The organization is making an effort to reach out to year round members of the community with events like the Mecox Bay Dairy tour, said Denslow, which is $55 for non-members, $27.50 for members. After highlighting some of the achievements of sustainable food producers in Bridgehampton, Denslow said the chapter was looking towards the waterfront.

“Next up we would really like to do an oyster tasting,” he said. “The water where an oyster comes from enhances its flavor.”

While the slow food movement is about food, Denslow reminded its core philosophies ultimately protect some of the greatest aesthetic resources. When someone chooses to support a local farmer, for example, they are helping to save the vistas that make the East End one of the most desired locales on the eastern seaboard.

“Otherwise when you drive by that empty field what you will see is a condo,” said Denslow. “The last thing we need is more big houses, if you ask me. I would rather drive by and see a corn field.”

Art Ludlow

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The proprietor of Mecox Bay Dairy on “slow food,” farmer’s markets and leaving potatoes behind

It’s a beautiful property here, how big is it?

The whole farm is roughly just under 100 acres

How many cows are there here on the property?

 I’m milking 10 right now, we’ve got about a dozen or so that are of lactating age. Then in total from babies to full grown there is about 27. I am the only cow dairy left on the island. There are some goats and there are some cows, but I am the only operating cow dairy.

How long has your family had the farm?

It’s a family farm –I grew up on the farm – I grew up in this house actually. This house was built by my great grandfather in the 1870’s and we used to grow potatoes. Back when I was growing up my dad had cows and potatoes and around the 1960’s is when he got rid of the cows and went with potatoes, which is where we stayed until 2001. And that was my brother and me, in 2001 we decided to separate our businesses. So he does the corn maze, the farm stand and the vegetables, and I do the cow farm, the cheese and the dairy.

So you have two sons, Peter and John, do they help out around the farm as well?

Yes they are both in college now but they have been helpful, they help me a lot during the summertime. My oldest one is going to graduate this year, but he actually wants to come back and farm. That’s Peter, my oldest. And John my youngest is a sophomore in college.

Could you tell me about the different kinds of cheese?

I’m actually making five different types of cheese. There are a couple different reasons why I’m doing that – it’s kind of a lot for 10 cows, but it enables me to sell more cheese locally, it saves on transportation. I am selling 80 percent or more or better of my production within a 15 mile radius from here. The five different cheeses are really five different styles of cheeses. It goes from the camembert, that’s the Atlantic Mist, which is similar to a brie and a camembert. And then I have a washed rind cheese which is a type of tomme. And the washed rind means that instead of having the opportunistic molds grow on the surface and create the rind of the cheese, I wash it with salt and water and that allows a bacteria to grow on the surface. That bacteria is what gives it its flavor, it makes it a strong pungent flavored cheese so when you think of stinky cheese, you are thinking of a style of cheese that is a washed rind. And that one is called Mecox Sunrise. I have another tomme, which is a natural rind tomme, it is really almost the same as the washed rind, but it’s a natural rind, where I let the opportunistic molds grow on the surface. And they create the rind. So that’s the third type. I make a cheddar which is the fourth type and I make a gruyere, which is another type, that is what may be called an alpine style of cheese so its typically aged. I had some this year that were aged a year and a half. It just really adds character to cheese, and it was really popular. So it’s a very firm cheese and it will age for a very long time and it improves over time.

What was your inspiration to switch from potatoes to dairy?

Well let’s see, I always liked cows, ever since I was a kid and I used to work on the farm here when we had cows. I never expected to get into having cows. But when my brother and I were into raising potatoes, we were just thinking that, here we are, growing a commercial crop, that we are really selling off the island and we are competing with the whole Northeast in potato production. When you are producing a crop, the main goal is to have a low cost production, so you produce as much as you can for as little as you can and try to sell it for as much as you can. Which is difficult. We are then selling to a broker, who then sells it to a wholesaler, who then sells to a retailer, who then sells to a consumer. We are so far removed from the consumer that the product actually loses its identity before it gets to the consumer. We thought in this area, what’s the point? Is there something better we could or should be doing? And mainly because we have such a long growing season and we have such excellent soils to produce these things, and we really have a market at our back door because of the people here and the proximity to New York City, we just thought that potatoes were not the best we could do. The other thing was that growing the potatoes – we didn’t have enough land of our own so we had to rent land from other people and that was becoming a scarce resource. We’d lose a little bit each year, and we thought if our kids really wanted to farm – the next generation, would potatoes be a viable thing in the future? So we said let’s make a change. And we both had these ideas of our own that we wanted to pursue and remember thinking that at that time we might be a lot better off doing it than ten years later. To put it in a nut shell – I like to say that when somebody is visiting the farm and the question they ask is why are you growing potatoes? And the answer is – because we always have – that is not sufficient, that’s not a good answer so I decided to change it.

So now what’s your answer for visitors to your dairy farm?

Aside from the initial answer of having lost all of my senses and totally gone off the deep end, I find it challenging, rewarding – not necessarily financially but it is rewarding to produce something and be able to sell it directly to the person who is going to eat it, and have them comment on it. Most of the comments are very favorable, and that is about as rewarding an instance a farmer could ever get. That is the short answer. The other thing is that it is the part of the challenge to create something that is sustainable, so we are experimenting with a system where I can utilize the waste products. I’ve got the manure from the cows; I can stock pile and make fertilizer to use on the land. I have pigs I am feeding the whey that I would normally throw out.  It’s all a matter of producing the best quality food that is possible; this is something that people are interested in now. So I want to be a part of the desired element.

There does seem to be a greater interest in buying locally, and using organic products and because of that the farmer’s markets are doing very well. I know you are a part of the Sag Harbor Farmer’s Market, can you tell me how you got involved in that?

Brian Halweil initially started that, he had the vision of a farmers market, he came out and visited. He was testing the waters, and I think that first year he asked me and I said sure. It went on again the next year and I would say in the last two years it has really taken off. That’s a very positive development.  Since then, there is now a farmer’s market in East Hampton, which I just started this year, and I like doing that, but I can’t be in two places at one time. And my time is needed here. So I figure one market is all I can do in a week. This summer, since I have two sons that came home, I said John you are going to East Hampton and Peter you are going to Westhampton Beach. 

What kind of sales do you get from the Sag Harbor Farmer’s Market if you could put a percentage on it?

I would say 15 percent. I’m guessing that it’s not as much as 20 but its more than 10. It’s really a good thing. It satisfies many purposes. One is, well, I enjoy doing it. I enjoy the interaction. The people that are buying at the farmers market like that because they are getting that same interaction from the people who are producing the food and the vendor can sell for a retail price rather than a wholesale price. And you can spend a little more time, and you are getting more for your time so that really makes it a positive.

So how is your production split up? Where does the bulk of your cheese go?

Year-round I’ve got some shops; Schiavoni’s IGA, Cavaniolas Gourmet Cheese Shop, and then in Bridgehampton I have Bobs Village Market, Lucy’s Way, in East Hampton, she just opened. Then Citarella in East Hampton is taking some cheese.  And then in Southampton I have The Village Cheese Shop and they also have a shop in Mattituck. So that’s what I do year-round. In the summertime I have the farm stands, Sang Lee on the North Fork, the Green Thumb, Country Market on Millstone Road and my brother has a farm stand here, and he sells an awful lot of my cheese here. He probably sells another 15 percent right there. And then I have a few shops in New York, so really restaurants are not a big item. But the Maidstone Arms gets it, the American Hotel gets its, and Atlantica, but they all buy it from time to time, they are not regular. And a lot of restaurants might get my cheese from the cheese shops but I wouldn’t even know it.

Can you elaborate on what the slow food movement means to you?

Slow food is part of the whole movement of getting people interested in where their food is coming from and the nutritional value of what they are eating. Slow food is an organization that is getting people familiar with this sort of this thing.