There are two handsome white ducks on the lawn as I arrive at Mecox Bay Dairy. They look like they are madly in love until I exit the car, at which point they lose interest in each other and start to follow me across the lawn. There is farm equipment everywhere, hens out for a peck, and Tom the turkey inflating himself to the size of a float in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Suitably intimidating, Tom joins the ducks. Now there are three handsome fowl on my tail. I hear cows lowing in the barn. It smells earthy and inviting. How nice to find myself on a rainy Wednesday morning at a working dairy farm.
Sitting in the shingled main house, and talking comfortably with Art Ludlow about the farm and the artisanal cheeses he and his family produce, every name tells a story, from cows to cheese. Here are a few of those stories, along with tasting notes and delectable pairings for Mecox Bay Dairy cheeses.
Mecox Bay Dairy
Situated at 855 Mecox Road, in the town of Bridgehampton, adjacent to Mecox Bay, the dairy’s name makes sense. Ludlow would like his cheeses to be associated with a location, not a family or personal name. The essence of artisanal is after all, handcrafted foods marked by locality.
Fourth-generation farmers. Art and his wife, Stacy, and their sons, Peter and John, run the dairy. Claes Cassel works the dairy with them. Before the Ludlows switched from farming potatoes to dairy farming, they had one Jersey cow named Nora, not their current 28 (plus two bull calves, but that’s another story). Whenever Nora was under the weather, they called Cassel. Now Cassel works at the dairy fulltime, supervising (among many things) milking at five in the morning and afternoon.
This is a working barn if ever I saw one. In the potato days, the barn stored up to two million pounds of potatoes. Now it is piled high with intensely aromatic hay. The hay is made up of alfalfa, timothy, orchard and other grasses and smells like a bedtime story: sweet and comforting. The hay comes all the way from Idaho or Canada. It’s the only thing on the farm that’s not local. “Long Island is very wet for growing hay,” Ludlow tells me, though his son Peter is about to find a way to change all that. With hay this aromatic, you get an idea of the cheese on its way to you on the other side of the cows and their milk.
The Jersey Cows
Meri Acres Beretta Maid, Mecox Bay Famous Annie, Mecox Bay Rocket Cinnamon, to name a few. Here’s how it works: The farm name comes first, then the sire’s, the cow’s name last. Ludlow uses the alphabet to keep track of maternal lineage. So, Annie’s mother is Alf Aspen; Cinnamon’s mother, Garth Clarabelle. The newest calf is Mecox Bay Ray Fondue, calf of Paralegal Fall. Now that’s a name. Fondue is tan and smooth, sweet and soft. With, yes, big, brown cow eyes. Why Jerseys? They produce good-quality milk, high in protein, high in fat, just right for making artisanal cheese.
Miranda Beeson is a poet and writes from her home in Greenport.
And now to the cheeses:
One of Mecox’s three “weather” cheeses (Showandasee, Mecox Sunrise and Atlantic Mist), it’s a semi-hard cheese, more intense in flavor than the milder Showandasee. Its orange rind inspired its name. It’s creamy, smelly in all the right ways, a tad smoky. Ludlow calls it “pungent and barnyardy.” If you like the European tradition of a cheese plate for dessert, this cheese should be the centerpiece, with a bunch of red grapes and a good dessert wine— a sauterne? A flatbread would be nice. As Ludlow says, “It’s bread and cheese, not crackers and cheese.”
Showandasee is a Native American name for the “prevailing southwest wind.” The wind appears “fat and lazy… in the drowsy, dreamy sunshine,” in Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha.” Showandasee is also the name of a house in Jamesport that remains in the Ludlow family to this day. This cheese is semi-hard, nutty, and Ludlow recommends it “sliced thin in a green salad with a vinaigrette dressing.” I took Ludlow’s recommendation and offset the nice tartness of this cheese with a soft glass of Old Field Vineyards’ 2005 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay.
White as the mist that comes off the Atlantic Ocean, this cheese is in the style of a Camembert. It’s soft, tangy, with what wine aficionados would call a long finish. Ludlow recommends spreading it on Blue Duck Bakery’s raisin and nut bread (Pan Levain Raisins et Noix) with some fig jam. I like to slather it on a ripe pear or a piece of toast in the morning. With an espresso or two, your day will be off to a good start.
Hold on to your hats. This cheese has the power and the glory. Aged for over a year and a half, this Gruyère-style cheese for Ludlow “has the mouthfeel of eating the coral of lobster.” It’s flavorful, distinctive, a meal in itself. Save a piece for after the guests have left and savor it with a glass of Shinn Estate Vineyards bright 2007 chardonnay. It will give you the strength to take on the dishes. The name Sigit? This cheese is a tribute to Ludlow’s mother, who was affectionately known by that name as a child.
I love this cheese. It puts all those years of sharp but tasteless orange American cheddar cheeses in their place. It’s a British-style Cheddar, sweeter rather than sharp, with a dash of saltiness and a texture that’s just right. I’d pair this cheese with sliced apples from Wickham’s Fruit Farm and a glass of Old Field Vineyards’ tangy but smooth 2005 cabernet franc. Don’t forget the baguette. My personal favorite? Blue Duck Bakery’s stirato. Cheese, bread and wine. The stuff of life.