Life on Mecox Bay Dairy Farm

published Dec 27, 2014
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(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

Making friends and partners with local farmers has been one of the key elements of success for Katie and Amanda at Amber Waves Farm. One good friend has been Pete Ludlow of Mecox Bay Dairy.

A CSA Partnership

Pete and his father Art Ludlow have become fixtures at local farmers markets on the East End of Long Island – including the Montauk Farmers Market where Katie and Amanda met Pete in 2009 and struck up a mutually beneficial relationship.

After casual trading of cheese for vegetables each week at the market, their partnership was formalized this season now that cheeses from Mecox Bay are available as a weekly add-on for Amber Waves’ CSA members.

Pete at home on the farm (Image credit: Mallory Samson)

Pete Ludlow’s Farming Background

Although he is younger than both Amanda and Katie, Pete has a lifetime of experience on his family’s farm and has helped and mentored the girls, storing and repairing their tractors and offering advice whenever needed.

Pete’s childhood, growing up on the family farm on Mecox Bay in Bridgehampton, followed by his time at Vassar College where he was a tennis player and music major (he is a talented piano player and is the church organist at a local congregation), make him an incredibly interesting, knowledgeable and gentle person.

It is clear from the way he thoroughly explains each system on the farm that this is second nature to him, but his innate artistry shines through in his plans for the future of the farm and the craftsmanship of the family’s cheeses. Farming runs in Pete’s bones. The land he’s farming has been in his family since 1875 – and he works side by side with his father Art, who worked with his father before him.

(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

Life at Mecox Bay Dairy

Mecox Bay Dairy proudly produces hand-crafted, small batch, raw milk artisanal cheeses. And they are delicious. The small herd of Jersey cows produce a rich, creamy milk that can only come from contented cows. How could these cows not be happy? They have the most beautiful view of lush, green fields that reach all the way down to Mecox Bay. They are fed on grass and in the winter sweet hay. They have a lovely life on the farm.

Bourbon Red turkeys patrol the barnyard. (Image credit: Mallory Samson)

I’m lucky enough to visit the farm on a clear sunny day. Pete stands in the middle of the farmyard as a posse of Bourbon Red turkeys wander by. They throw their heads back and actually do emit a clear “gobble gobble gobble” at us before trooping over to a tree and roosting on its limbs. Their plump bodies defy gravity as they perch precariously on the branches.

Two geese stroll past like a set of old friends out for a dander and a chat. A flock of chickens scratches and pecks while in the distance the lolls and huffs from the cows echo from the barn. It’s a menagerie of farm animals and it feels like it should: a farm busy and hard at work.

(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

How Cheese is Made at Mecox Dairy Farm

There are no days off on a dairy farm. The cows that are out in the fields placidly tramp into the barn twice a day to be milked 365 days a year. The milking barn is warm with the bodies of the cows and their grassy breath. They stand in a line and docilely swish their tails and wait to be hooked up to the milking machine.

It’s an efficient system: the milk goes straight from the cow through a pipeline that leads to holding tanks where it is chilled. The whole system is self-cleaning and takes about a half hour to complete.

The milk is crafted into cheese directly from the holding tanks, and since the milk is not pasteurized or homogenized, each of the five cheeses produced on the farm has a rich and unique flavor. (Nothing is wasted on this farm – the milk whey from the cheese-making is used to feed the drove of Berkshire heritage breed pigs – one of which was featured at Amber Waves’ OktoberFeast!)

(Image credit: Mallory Samson)
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The Five Cheeses of Mecox Bay

  1. Shawondasee: Mold ripened, aged 4-5 months, this semi hard cheese is named for a Native American word meaning “prevailing southwest wind.” It has a subtle mild “nutty” flavor which pairs well with fruit. Made in 8” diameter, 4” thick wheels, when allowed to dry further, it becomes excellent for grating.
  2. Mecox Sunrise: Washed rind semi hard cheese aged for 2-4 months, named for its characteristic orange rind. A more intense flavor than Shawondasee, Mecox Sunrise is made in 7” diameter, 2” thick wheels and was awarded second place in its category at the 2004 American Cheese Society annual competition in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
  3. Atlantic Mist: These 4” diameter by 1½” thick discs are rich, creamy and delicious with a white and gray rind produced by P. candidum and P. album molds.
  4. Sigit: This is the farm’s most flavorful hard cheese, requiring the longest aging time of any of the cheeses produced on the farm: at least eight months but up to a few years. This gruyere-style cheese has complex and unique taste and creamy, crystalized texture. This fan favorite also has a sweet story, its name “Sigit” is the childhood nickname of Pete’s paternal grandmother.
  5. Cheddar: Still in the experimental stage, Mecox Bay’s cheddar is currently aged at seven months. It has a typical cheddar flavor with a nice creamy finish, slightly sweet rather than sharp due to its youth.
(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

Cheese Shares

This season, the Amber Waves CSA members who signed up for a cheese share got a rotating weekly supply of one of these cheeses throughout the season.

After dropping the cheese shares off to Amanda and Katie at the Montauk Farmers Market each week, Pete returns to his very full day of work and responsibilities at the farm. He welds and repairs the farm’s tractors and equipment, grows much of the feed for the cows, sells cheese at weekly farmers markets, takes over milking on Sundays when the herdsman is off duty, and still makes time to play the organ at weekly church services and weddings.

Pete is a busy guy, but he always has time to help out his friends, for which Amanda and Katie are endlessly grateful.

A New Generation on the Farm is a season-long exploration of the work at Amber Waves Farm, and it is a partnership between The Kitchn, photographer Mallory Samson, and the Peconic Land Trust. Founded in 1983, the Peconic Land Trust conserves Long Island’s working farms, natural lands, and heritage. This is the first in a series about first generation farmers the Trust is working with to ensure that protected farmland is used for farming on Long Island’s East End.

Photographer: Mallory Samson

Mallory Samson is a storyteller who uses photographs. Mallory was a former Fashion Editor at J. Crew and Photography Editor at Nike. Mallory’s photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and she has authored two books featuring her photographs. Mallory has been a professional photographer for 17 years and lives in Southampton, New York.