By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook
I have seen a lot of farms in my day, but none compare with the overall beauty and cleanliness of Arethusa in Litchfield, CT. My wife and I spent a most enjoyable afternoon visiting there a couple of weeks ago. I would go so far as to call this magnificent place the Disney World of dairy farms.
We were very fortunate to connect with Erin Hubbard, who was kind enough to offer us a tour of the facilities that day. We started with their exceptional ice cream shop, Arethusa Farm Dairy. Here you will find the best Ice cream ever, made from simple ingredients: milk, cream, eggs, sugar and natural flavors. As their motto states, it “tastes like it used to be.” They offer chocolate, vanilla, coffee, mint chocolate chip, strawberry and other seasonal flavors.
At the adjacent cheese-making plant, we were then introduced to production manager Chris Casiello and cheesemaker Matt Benham, two gentlemen largely responsible for the great cheese production we were soon to enjoy.
Afterward, we visited the actual dairy farm in Litchfield, but our trip was far from over. We headed back to Bantam where we enjoyed a great lunch at Arethusa a mano, the company’s lunch café where everything is made by hand.
My only regret of the day was that we could not stay to enjoy a fine dining experience at Arethusa al tavolo, their upscale restaurant. This upscale establishment offers mouthwatering dishes like seared Berkshire Pork Tenderloin, wrapped in prosciutto, Nova Scotia Halibut, gently poached in olive oil and Rohan Duck Breast, lacquered with orange blossom honey. Need I say more?
Named after a local orchid, Arethusa started originated as a small dairy operation owned by the Webster family in the early 1900’s. With just a small herd of Guernsey cows, it grew its business and eventually became one of the first farms to use electric milking machines. With the addition of its own bottling plant, it was also one of the first farms to offer home delivery of milk. But by 1981, the changing economy had put an end to this service and they soon wholesaled to a dairy co-op.
The story has a happy ending, however. Hearing that the farm might be subject to development, a nearby piece of property was purchased by George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis, who knocked on the door and asked to purchase it, promising to save the farmstead and agreeing to revive the name Arethusa. The deal was made in 1999 and they held true to their promise.
The re-established Arethusa soon acquired its own herd, along with purebred Holsteins and Jerseys. By 2004, these cows brought home top honors from prestigious shows around the world. One of their Holsteins, Melanie, was named Supreme Champion of the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin, and her Jersey mate Veronica won Reserved Supreme Champion. We actually met Veronica, who now lives the life of a famous purebred race horse in her own private pasture. Did I mention that all 300+ cows have their own name, not just a number?
I noted earlier how well-kept the farm is. As we walked through the main barn, home to eighty head, we were pleasantly surprised by the overall conditions. It was free of the barnyard-type odors typically associated with this kind of environment. And we found the barn floors extremely clean due to a twenty-four hour work staff.
Animals are treated as pets at this farm. An overhead ventilation system keeps the barn cool. I might add that the temperature was in the mid 90’s the day we visited, and we were very comfortable. Some cows feeling the heat more than others had individual fans placed near them. As if this is not enough, how about a huge shower stall where all cows have their tails shampooed each day before returning to their stalls?
I cannot tell you enough how pleased I am to find a local cheesemaker with such standout varieties of cheeses and qualities of taste. Here they are, as described by Arethusa Farms:
With Arethusa Blue, we sought to capture the rustic elegance of our favorite farmhouse blues from the British Isles. Chocolaty and toasty, sweet yet pleasantly salty, firm yet creamy, Arethusa Blue boasts a deep, multidimensional flavor.
This is a great cheese for the washed rind, French Munster lovers. The aroma is full and pungent but the finish is delightful. Try it with a nice dry cabernet.
With the comforting aromas of fresh buttered popcorn, Bella Bantam is supple and creamy, making it the perfect snack time staple.
Whether served with crusty bread alongside your favorite midwinter soup or tucked in the picnic basket with a bottle of crisp white, our Camembert is truly a cheese for all occasions. Rich and buttery with a milky sweetness and subtle minerality, our Camembert is a surefire crowd-pleaser.
We set out to make a Swiss-style cheese that was as at home on a cheese board as it was tucked in a ham sandwich. Meet Crybaby, so named for its multitude of tiny “eyes”. Crybaby features a subtle, nutty aroma, while still delivering that unique Swiss cheese bite.
Our take on a classic Dutch Gouda, Europa features wispy aromas of butterscotch and toasted nuts that give way to a savory, brothy flavor. Its smooth, dense paste makes Europa a great cheese for melting – on burgers, sandwiches, or a bowl of piping hot soup.
Bright, lightly tangy and utterly versatile. We dress ours up with raisins and a touch of maple syrup for a sweet treat, or toss it with pasta and fresh herbs for a simple, hearty meal. Whether sweet or savory, Arethusa Farmer’s Cheese provides the perfect canvas to let your creative side run wild.
Inspired by the cheeses of the Swiss Alps and named for our own local alpine monolith (all 1,325 feet of it!), Mt. Tom is sweet and nutty with a light, mouthwatering tang.
Our homage to the monastic cheeses of the French countryside, our Rotondo straddles the line between milky sweetness and all-out stink. With a sweet, tangy flavor and a nutty, lightly pungent aroma, Rotondo is assertive, but never aggressive.
Local lawyer Tapping Reeve formed the Litchfield Law School in the late 18th century, educating scores of politicians and justices who would go on to shape a fledgling nation. What better way to honor that legacy than with a cheese? We hit the history books and developed a savory Colonial-style cheese to please the most discerning connoisseur – past or present. Our Tapping Reeve is both sharp and refined, not unlike its namesake.
As with all cheeses, try to sample before you buy to ensure they are to your liking. I do believe that you, too, will find some new personal favorites.
Ice Cream and More
In addition to all of Arethusa’s remarkable cheeses, many other products are available. This includes butter, yogurts and a selection of assorted milks, including chocolate, coffee, egg nog and, of course, half & half for coffee. Last but not least is the great ice cream. I will be bringing it in as soon as I can, but I have yet to make up my mind whether I will sell it or just keep it for personal use.
Arethusa Farms is a great place to visit. If you cannot make it for dining, try to at least stop by the ice cream store in Bantam for a waffle cone. You might be surprised by the line of people waiting.
I would like to thank Erin Hubbard for all of her help and time on our day at Arethusa Farms.
Arethusa Farm Dairy
822 Bantam Road, Bantam, CT 06759
Hear Paul discuss this topic and more the first Wednesday of every month on Talking Cheese, an iCRV talk radio show airing live at 9:00 am and re-airing at 2:00 and 7:00 pm the same day. Go to www.icrvradio.com to tune in.