A Visit to Nettle Meadow Farm
Nettle Meadow Farm and Cheese Company is not the kind of place you’d be likely to stumble upon while headed to some other destination. Visitors to this Adirondack goat and sheep dairy arrive at the complex of red barns and barnyards by design, driven by the desire to see for themselves the place that produces the wide variety of artisan cheeses they love, and to take home some farm-fresh cheese.
The way present owners Lorraine Lambiasi and Sheila Flanagan arrived at Nettle Meadow is another story of people arriving by design. It all began in the office of a California law firm. Sheila, an attorney, was taking a deposition over the phone, and, during lulls in the process, idly clicked on real estate websites, wishing she were somewhere else, doing something different. Suddenly across her monitor flashed images of a goat farm, nestled in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. It spoke to her. She and her partner, Lorraine, had enjoyed raising a few goats and wanted to have more, and both had been raised in the East and had family ties there still. They decided they had to see the fifty-acre farm on South Johnsburg Road, Thurman, and one visit made up their minds. In July of 2005 they purchased the property transported their own goats cross-country, and rolled up their sleeves. The new farm’s house, ingeniously created from the old dairy barn, needed work, and a new goat barn had to be built. Additionally, a house would be built for Sheila’s mom, Joan, joining them on the farm to help.
And they threw themselves into the cheesemaking, expanding the pasture area and increasing the size of the herd. In addition to their dairy animals and household pet, the women also had rescue animals to house. They located those critters in an old horse barn on the property, the structure that towers over all the others. A well-known barn in Thurman since its construction by Edmund Barber, this turn-of-the-century gem boasts a gambrel roof, atypical of barns in our area. That was back in the day when the property was known as Meadowbrook Stock Farm, in an era when good horses were currency on farms.
Once the home of prize livestock, that old barn now houses Flanagan and Lambiase’s Joseph F. Kemp Memorial Animal Sanctuary, housing animals too disabled or old to be productive. The cast of rescue animals that have lived there parade through Sheila’s memory. There were Izabella and Draco, geriatric donkeys that had been found wandering in Brooklyn. They were delivered to Nettle Meadow and lived out their final years among friends, Draco celebrating each morning with exuberant braying. Now picture Floyd, a frail juvenile Alpine buck brought to the farm in a declining state, He was adopted by their young Jersey bull calf, Henry, who slept with little smiling Floyd curled up in the protective circle of his husky frame. And then came Blinky and Kinky, injured turkeys who became fast friends despite her blindness and his lameness. All these—and more—have been nurtured and housed beneath the compromised gambrel roof at Nettle Meadow.
Nettle Meadow barn in 2006 with rescued animals in front
Ironically the barn that had faithfully served rescue animals for years itself needed rescuing. The job of saving this barn was huge, and money limited. It began to sag dangerously. Kids in some bygone era had fired pellets through the roof, creating innumerable leaks. Years of invading weather, neglect and misuse took their toll. Bracing and patching by a local builder helped, short term, but Hurricane Irene battered the old barn badly, and by fall of 2011 the tremendous inverted hull that is the barn’s roof developed alarming ripples and sagged dangerously. Sheila and Lorraine feared that one heavy snowstorm would bring the hundred-year-old beauty crashing down. They sought historical restoration grants, but, despite the farm’s proud history, no grant materialized, and even hopes for help from crowd-funding fell through.
But by that time Sheila and Lorraine’s herd was growing, their cheese-making prowess had nabbed some awards and their products were being lauded in national media like Esquire and the Los Angeles Times, expanding their market and helping sales to climb. With much-appreciated assistance of family, neighbors, farm visitors and a credit company, they took it upon themselves to invest in saving this old barn. They asked contractors for estimates, and those who bothered to respond suggested unacceptable solutions, like lopping off the graceful gambrel roof, building a simple peaked roof, and slapping in aluminum windows. The owners began to despair of finding help before the elements leveled the barn.
Enter Andy LeBlanc, a barn restorer recommended by the carpenter who had made many of the early repairs. LeBlanc studied the situation, made recommendations and, with Sheila and Lorraine, crafted a plan to rehabilitate the old barn. He fixed and/or replaced the timbers one by one and began the process of meticulously replacing floors, walls and windows until the old barn was whole again. This project took more than a year, and still there was the question of who would take on replacement of the badly damaged roof metal. So many companies had been called for estimates and all found the project just too big or precarious to take on. Nettle Meadow was lucky to stumble across locals Joel and Aaron Mosher, who were not intimidated, and were able to replace the metal roof and some of the damaged sheathing boards, shimming and adjusting until the roofline became straight and the leaking stopped. By fall of 2013 the gleaming new roof was in place and the old barn was decked out in a brand new coat of red paint with white trim, a new cheese shop had been established beside the house, and a “Get Awhey” rental/guest cabin installed between the house and barn. All was at the ready to welcome guests at the annual Thurman Fall Farm Tour.
Over the years there have been many advances and improvements on the farm, beyond the restoration of the big old barn. Three nearby properties have been purchased, one for lambs and kids, and the other two to increase pasture and housing for the ever-expanding herd.
Nettle Meadow has added to the product list chèvres in a multitude of variations and Fromage Blanc in the following flavors: Plain Fromage Blanc, Fromage Blanc with Rosemary Infusion, and, the Silver Sophie Award winner, Honey Lavender Fromage Blanc. They modified and trademarked Kunik™ cheese, first sold by the previous owners, and went on to create such new Nettle Meadow originals as Nettle Peaks, Simply Sheep, Three Sisters, Penny’s Pride, Partridge Mountain Reserve, and Honey Lavender Fromage Blanc, Pumpkin Spice Chèvre and Maple Chèvre. They have developed many new markets, including four major supermarket chains (Wegman’s, Big Y, Price Chopper and Hannaford), about twenty distributors and scores of small gourmet and specialty shops. Production has soared from about 25,000 pounds of cheese in their first year of ownership to 100,000 pounds this year.
Nettle Meadowfarm cheese
In June of 2014, a new event was held at Nettle Meadow Farm to celebrate completion of the barn repairs and finishing the interior of the loft, initiating it as a new event venue available for public rental. The first Nettle Meadow Cheese and Spirits Pairing saw regional vintners, craft brewers and cider makers serving samples of their various beverages, each paired with a different Nettle Meadow cheese delicacy. Over one hundred guests filled the barn loft, chattering excitedly about its ambiance, the samples of drinks and the exquisite Nettle Meadow hors d’oeuvres. The first pairing was such a success, a second has been scheduled for June 20, 2015.
But you can stop by Nettle Meadow Farm any day of the week. Find it with your GPS or by following old fashioned road signs at corners in Thurman, which is located about 5 miles from Adirondack Northway exit 23. The cheese shop is open from 11 to 3 seven days a week. Lorraine, Sheila and their four-footed friends welcome you for a free tour at noon on Saturdays and during Thurman Fall Farm Tour and Thurman Maple Days. Learn more about this special farm at www.NettleMeadow.com and www.NettleMeadowCheeseandSpirits.com.
Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.
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