Sunday, October 25, 2015

On day trip to a farm, we ran into the crowds we hoped to leave behind

Israeli-born cheese maker Eran Wajswol of Valley Shepherd Creamery in Morris County has resisted the bigger-is-better philosophy of nearby farms. Milk from his grass-fed goats, sheep and cows go into artisan cheeses, rich yogurts and other products sold out of a retail store, below.

Valley Shepherd Creamery's Sheep Shoppe is pretty much the way we remember it from our last visit in November 2010.


The Garden State is getting a lot more crowded, and I'm not talking about the suburbs.

On our first visit to Alstede Farms in about five years, we were shocked to see how many visitors were poring in for hay rides and other activities, and how many fields had been converted into unpaved parking lots.

On a normally quiet, two-lane country road, hundreds of traffic cones were set up, with police and farm employees directing visitors' cars to open spaces.

Then, a short drive away, we were pleased to see that Valley Shepherd Creamery, which specializes in artisan cheeses, was pretty much the same as we remembered it.

The two farms are in neighboring townships in New Jersey's Morris County, a round trip of about 100 miles from our home in North Jersey.

Valley Shepherd Creamery is a 120-acre working sheep dairy, and most of it is off-limits to visitors, as this sign indicates. But visitors do have the opportunity to see how cheese is made and, in spring and summer, watch newborn lambs.

Inside the Sheep Shoppe, visitors can purchase small cups of Jersey Fresh sheep's milk yogurt, authentic churn buttermilk, whey-fed prok and grass-fed lamb, below.

You can sample any of the artisan, cave-aged cheeses before you buy.

The road to Valley Shepherd Creamery takes you through Long Valley, a hamlet in Washington Township.

Bringing the farm home

At Valley Shepherd, we purchased a 3.2 ounce wedge of Red Goat, a hard cheese made from raw goat's milk ($4.40).

We also picked up four 6-ounce cups of Ewegurt, a rich yogurt made from Jersey Fresh sheep's milk ($2.50 each).

A 12-ounce container of Authentic Churn Buttermilk was labeled "no fat" ($2).

Valley Shepherd Creamery, 50 Fairmount Road, Long Valley; 908-876-3200. Open Thursdays to Sundays. Web site: 

Alstede Farms in Chester is a magnet for families with children, especially on the weekends. There is room for hundreds of cars in fields marked with white lines.

I overheard a boy ask whether this horse, which is available for rides, was "trained." A bored staff member, who appeared to be a male high school student, said yes, the horse is "trained to kill." I had a good laugh. 

A few purchases

At Alstede Farms, you'll find cider and produce outside the farm store, and home-made pies, preserves, fruit salsas and other items inside.

We bought a gallon of farm-made, preservative-free apple cider ($6.99), a couple of pounds of sweet potatoes with white flesh, sweet peppers and shallots.

I didn't get an itemized receipt with prices per pound, but they weren't that far above what you'd pay in a supermarket.

Alstede Farms, 1 Alstede Farms Lane, Chester; 1-908-879-7189. Open 7 days. Web site:

You can buy plenty of freshly pressed, preservative-free apple cider and non-GMO produce at Alstede Farms, above, but if you want a bite to eat, you won't be able to order a salad or other food that is good for you, below.

Donuts and other sugary treats also are available.

Uncrowded, two-lane country roads and fall colors are part of the payoff when you visit Morris County farms.

On the first leg of the trip on Route 80 west, I briefly set my Tesla Model S to Autopilot and Autosteer, and let the car drive itself.

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