Keeping the Milk Moving and Making Cheese with Sue Miller
Podcast published: December 29, 2023
We enjoy a wonderful conversation with Sue Miller, a local farmer and cheese maker. Together with her husband and their two sons, Sue owns and runs Birchrun Hills Farm in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. We dive into cheese making and running a dairy farm where the cows produce milk that goes into the cheese.
Birchrun Hills Farm
- Website: birchrunhillsfarm.com
- Facebook: facebook.com/BirchrunHillsFarm
- Instagram: instagram.com/birchrunhills
- 2023 Chester County Farmers of the Year
- Pasa Sustainable Agriculture (Pasa): pasafarming.org
- Peter Dixon: dairyfoodsconsulting.com
- Le Garage Winery
- White Dog Cafe
- Valley Milk House
- The Collective Creamery – a cheese Community Supported Agriculture shares
- Amazing Acres Goat Dairy
- PA Right to Farm Act (from Penn State Law)
- Pennsylvania Agricultural Security Areas
Intro: Welcome to Start Local, where we talk with business owners, leaders of nonprofits, and other members of our community focused on doing business in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. Each episode will provide insight into the local business scene and tell you about opportunities to connect with and support businesses and nonprofits in your local area.
Liam Dempsey: Welcome to Start Local, where we connect with local leaders to support local businesses and nonprofits in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. I’m Liam Dempsey, and I am in the podcast studio today with my co-host, Joe Casabona. Joe, how are you friend?
Joe Casabona: Liam, I am great. Glad to be back for another episode of Start Local with you.
Liam Dempsey: Oh, it’s awesome to have you here. Thank you for being here, there today. So let’s start our conversation today with a quick reminder about the in-person event. We’re organizing for February or March of 2024. That’s next year, folks. we get a lot of requests from folks interested about meeting in person. So we think the time is right for us to gather together over good food and good beverages.
Joe Casabona: We are close to finalizing our specific location and date, and we will share them as soon as we have them. In the meantime, you can head over to [startlocal.co]. That’s [startlocal.co] and click on Subscribe Now. It’s at the top of every page. And when we know the details, we’ll send them out to you via the list that you sign up for there.
Liam Dempsey: Today, we are so pleased to be in the company of Sue Miller, a local farmer and cheese maker, together with her husband and their two sons. Sue owns and runs Birchrun Hills Farm in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. Local foodies will definitely recognize the Birchrun Hill Farm name from its range of award-winning cheeses.
Yes, Jesus. We’re in for a treat today, Folks. On a side note, our little team of co-hosts had a pretty rough and tumble fight over which of us would get to be on with this interview with Sue, today. We all wanted to be here. And as you heard from our intro, Joe and I won the fight.
Sue, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining us.
Sue Miller: Thanks so much for having me. I’m delighted to like have a moment to sit down and chat all things Chester County and cheese with you.
Liam Dempsey: Oh, and we’re so glad that you are here. You’re a cheesemaker and a farmer. We know you and your family started in dairy farming. Talk us through the journey you made into actually making cheese and not just milking the cows.
Sue Miller: Yeah. So, here on the farm, it’s my husband Ken, and our two grown sons, Randy and Jesse. When we first started farming, we did not have this multi-generational equity in the land. The ownership of the farm, it kind of had skipped a generation.
Ken’s grandfather had been a dairy farmer, but he had sold the cows in the 50’s, and Ken’s father was a school teacher. But all he ever wanted to do was to farm, to be a farmer, to be a tractor, to be with cows, to be on the land. And I have to chuckle because when you’ve run into anybody who’s known him since he was a kid, they knew for sure he would be a farmer.
But because of this sort of difference in, you know, the equity of this ground that we hadn’t been farming it generationally, it kind of changed some things for us as dairy farmers. The price of milk, the commodity market was very erratic making it super challenging for us to be able to kind of maintain and make ends meet. We were just challenged financially, you know, just typical challenges of a small family farm.
And so one day I literally woke up and I thought, maybe I should learn how to make cheese. And my husband is just really supportive. And he was like, well, you know, see what you can find out about it. And I searched around and I found a cheese making class from this amazing organization here in the state called PASA, which stands for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. And they were hosting a cheese making class with a cheesemaker from Vermont, whose name is Peter Dixon. And he’s remarkable.
Peter Dixon has traveled all over the country. In fact, even through Europe teaching cheese making. He’s been a cheesemaker for well, over 45 years. And, it’s just really giving of this knowledge. So I was really fortunate to be able to kind of talk my way into this class because the class was booked full, but I had the secret message to get me into the class. I said, you have to let me in. I don’t care that it’s booked up. The future of my farm depends on it. And so I got entry into the class and really was a great opportunity for me to learn some real basic skills about cheese making, which, you know, started us on this path that we’ve been on for the last 17 years. And it’s the whole reason the farm still exists here today is because of cheese.
Joe Casabona: Wow. That is quite a story. And it has had an incredible payoff, right? Because you and your family were recently named as the 2023 Chester County Farmers of the Year, given as an award by the county and the Chester County Agricultural Development Council. You were recognized for your dynamic business model, commitment to sustainable farming practices, and local food system advocacy. Given everything you just told us, what does that award mean to you?
Sue Miller: Well, it’s really meaningful to our family. You know, we’re out here like working and farming and just trying to like keep the milk moving essentially. I mean, and maybe it is a little bit different for our family. It is because we really connect with customers and consumers more than most farmers do. So, we get to, you know, interact with other folks. But really to have that ag community and the county recognize that what we’re doing is interesting, that they think we’re innovative, that they have some respect for the sustainable farming practices that we implement here on the farm by practicing regenerative agriculture is kind of a big deal for us. You know, it gives you like a sense of purpose, and I guess pride in the daily work that really is part of our life. It’s kind of cool.
Liam Dempsey: It’s totally cool. So, you make all sorts of cheeses at your farm, and as someone who gets delightfully overwhelmed by the cheese cabinet, the cheese shelf at the grocery store and the fancier stores, how do I just struggle? How would you even decide what sort of cheese to make, and then how do you go about coming up with a recipe that perhaps is unique or brings something different to market compared to what every other cheese has? How do you decide about that?
Sue Miller: Well, a lot of it happens because of a personal interest. You know, for instance, the Birchrun blue, I always love blue cheese. So that was one of the first cheeses that we developed. And honestly, it’s probably one of the most challenging cheeses out of all the cheeses to work, to make from a technological standpoint, from cheese technology. It’s very temperamental. So, I’d say when I picked that one, it was a little bit of a rookie mistake, maybe passion over process. And I always have to laugh because every gray hair I have kind of came from Birchrun Blue. But you know, now we’re old friends and we know each other pretty well, but it could be a little bit of a rocky start in the beginning with that blue cheese.
We also had a cheese named Equinox that we started with, and our milk really lent itself to this alpine style cheese. So that’s the way we determine. Generally, we pick cheeses because we’re interested in eating them ourselves, and we really love them, and I think that’s a great place to start. You know, we also kind of look and see what is out there in the market.
And during the pandemic, we added a lot of cheeses to our product line because things shifted in the world. So then I was working on selling most of our cheeses direct to the customers or direct to our retail partners. And I walked into the case at, you know, these little retailers, and I saw what was missing and I said, “Hey, if we make a feta, would you eat feta style cheese? Would you be interested?”
So, passion, purpose, compatibility with the milk, I guess are really the three key reasons we choose to develop a cheese.
Joe Casabona: Wow. That’s, as somebody who, Liam knows, I can’t make anything in the real world. All of my creations are digital. That sounds really interesting to me. I’m also a huge, I mean, I’m Italian, so I love cheese.
Let’s kind of switch gears though and talk about the cheese selling process. We know that you sell at local farmer’s markets and you have a wonderful wine and cheese happy hour every Friday, which I’m gonna have to take my wife too. We usually just do that in our house, so it’ll be nice to get outta the house and do that. How do you approach getting your product sold at grocery stores, and bought by restaurants?
Sue Miller: Well, when we first started making cheese, you’ll have to remember before that we were shipping milk on the commodity milk market to a cooperative, and we had to take the price that we were given on this, you know, commodity level. And so when we started to make cheese, we thought we have this really great opportunity to take the milk that is so beautiful and so well suited for cheese making and really be able to identify a great price point and get that retail price. So, most of our cheese when we started was sold at farmer’s markets. And honestly, 16 years ago, there really weren’t as many cheese makers around. Not that people see each other as competition, but it really was sort of this open opportunity for anybody making cheese.
So, farmer’s market was a number one selling, you know, setting our price and selling direct to customers in that way. Because when you show up at a farmer’s market, you really have a captive audience of people who are like-minded. They’re looking for something unique. They’re looking to support a local producer. They, you know, are interested in maybe the health benefits and the farming practices, all of which I felt that we were very much in alignment with a lot of the farmer’s market shoppers.
It wasn’t long though, after we were doing that, that retailers like Di Bruno Bros. or locally here in Chester County, Kimberton Whole Foods was interested in carrying our products, and then also restaurants. One of the early restaurants that we worked with was the White Dog Cafe, which is very iconic restaurant for farm to table and supporting the farmers of the region. We really owe Judy Wix the founder of that so much. And since it’s been that restaurant group has expanded, but people just started to hear about us and really came to us looking for something interesting and unique and was of the quality that they were accustomed to. So I think that that was really exciting for our family farm.
Liam Dempsey: And understandably. so, you have a herd of 80 cows. What’s it like being responsible for so many animals? I have two bounties and I struggle. But not just animals, but you have these wonderful living creatures that you rely on for your business, for your livelihood, for the, to enable your family to flourish.
Sue Miller: Yeah. it’s kind of funny ’cause if I put this into a framework in the world of dairy farming, this day and age 80 cow herd is actually pretty small. It used to be that we were, we milked more than the average size farm in the US or in Pennsylvania. And now, we’re below the average size nationally. And in Pennsylvania, I think, in Pennsylvania, average dairy farm is now 115 cows, and we have 80.
So while it sounds like a lot of animals to you, to us, it’s just commonplace. You know, it’s what we do and I like to kind of think of the cows on this farm as extended members of our family, right? We’re with them all day long, every day milking them, caring for them, doing the health work with them that it doesn’t, you know, seem like this awesome responsibility. It’s just who we are and what we do. You know, we get up in the morning, we go to the barn first thing, out there before 6:00 AM you know, checking on the cows, getting them fed, taking care of them, checking on the dry cows to see if any baby calves have been born, you know, caring for them, feeding the young stock.
So we have about 80 milk cows, and then we have about 80 young heifers from calves up to ready to have a calf here on the farm. And, it’s just what we do. They all have names and they all have numbers. People often ask about that, do your cows have names? I was like, yes, they do, but they also have a number. The number is great for us, for, you know, our record keeping. And while we know their names and call most of them by their names, sometimes we call some of the cows by their numbers because that becomes like a personal connection too. But I always think that’s funny because people will say, oh, I guess it seems more impersonal if they have a number, but on this farm, even if they’re called the number, it’s like their name, but they have both.
Joe Casabona: That’s amazing. I think I wouldn’t be able to help myself. I’d have to name one of my cows, like 2, 4, 6, 0, 1, like from Les Mis. That’s Ian’s number.
Okay. So, we’ve talked about the number of cows you have. What about the number of people? Can you talk a little bit about the day-to-day running of a farm and cheese business, and about how many people it takes to do that?
Sue Miller: Yeah. Like I said, it’s my husband Ken, and our two grandsons, Randy and Jesse, who after college came back to work with us on the farm. And that is really important to think about because most small family farms of our size, the next generation is not coming back. Not because maybe they don’t want to, but because there may not be opportunity to.
And really it’s because of us, sort of going value added and making cheese that they felt that they could come back and be a part of it and help us grow this farm into the future. We’re really fortunate.
Ken, he manages growing all the feed, you know, farming the ground, making the crop rotation, working with landowners ’cause our farm is actually very small. It’s only 54 hectares and we farm about 500 acres total that we have to manage our relationships with landowners in the community, which we’ve been farming some of this ground for 35 or more years.
I like to think that we’re doing a pretty good job of taking care of it, and building the organic matter in the soil so that we can leave it better than it was when we started. That’s his job. That is a very serious part of this operation, making sure that we’re growing the right crops in the right rotation, maintaining the soil, and have enough feed for the whole year for the cows.
So that Liam is where that responsibility comes in ’cause we wanna make sure we have quality feed all year long.
Randy, our oldest son, he’s the herdsman here. He, that means he’s taking care of the cows. He’s up there with them, making sure that they’re milked properly, they’re happy, they’re healthy, they’re content. You know, he does all the reproductive work. He does most of the veterinarian work with them, the health work, and he has the best job ever in taking care of all the calves.
So we like to say, when there’s a calf born on the farm, it’s like your birthday, you know? It’s not bad when there’s a calf born, and if it’s a little heifer or a female, it’s even better. Jesse, our other son, he works half on the farm with Ken and Randy and half the time here in the cheese business. He really manages our farmer’s markets, our farmer’s market program. He works with our retailers and our restaurants and he manages our online presence. Sometimes, I feel like he gets a little bit caught in a tug of war, you know, ’cause there’s field work to be done, but then we still have a farmer’s market. So it takes a little bit of maneuvering between the whole family to make that work.
I have another cheesemaker who works with me. I’m really lucky to have Sam Kennedy, who’s been making cheese for almost about the same amount of time I have been here working with us. Previously, he made cheese at the Farm Dough run right here in Chester County, which has award-winning cheeses there as well.
Liam Dempsey: We sure do.
Sue Miller: And I have another coworker, Andrew Bristol who comes from the restaurant industry, the world of hospitality, and he really runs our oage or cheese aging program downstairs in the caves. He’s really great with the customers and, you know, between all of us, I think we have this great vision of where the cheese is going, how to use it in culinary world, how to pair it well with different accompaniments wines, beers, spirits, non-alcoholic beverages. And it really takes all of us here on the farm to kind of see all of this to fruition.
Liam Dempsey: That is a very involved process. I did not realize. I mean, it makes sense, right? It’s not just a farm, it’s a proper business. So there’s gonna be some complexity. Thank you for walking us through that.
I wanna change gears a little bit, and ask you about collaboration. So, certainly we’ve seen a lot more breweries, more wineries and distilleries popping up in and around our county, but the greater area as well. Talk about how you might collaborate with other cheese makers, other creamers locally or is it more of a rigid competition? This is my cheese. That Sure. Your cheese don’t move my cheese.
Sue Miller: That’s so funny. Who moved the cheese? You know, the cheese making community is really a special group of people because there’s not sort of this legacy of cheese making here in Pennsylvania. I feel like all of the cheese makers are really great about working together to support each other.
Listen, we have a lot of customers in this Mid-Atlantic region, and I don’t think any of us are sitting any on cheese that we can’t move. So I think that we really appreciate working collaboratively, or we like to support each other. We like to share technical information with each other. You know, it’s a tough business. And the more we can support each other and help each other, the stronger we will be together.n And the more we turn people on to these styles of cheeses, the better it is for all of us. You know, if I’m out there talking about cheese and I meet people from Western Pennsylvania, I’m seriously gonna send them to like goat rodeo dairy to get cheese in Pittsburgh, or you know, build some relationships with other people.
I also work with another cheesemaker in Berks County at the Valley Milk House. Stefanie Angstadt, she’s an amazing young cheesemaker, and we do a cheese CSA called the Collective Creamery with another woman who’s a food writer, Alex Jones.
And a way that we can also partner with other cheese makers is to bring in guest cheeses into this cheese CSA program. Each month people can sign up for four cheeses. Generally there are two from Valley Hill Milk House and two from Birchrun Hills. But we really love in the bulk of the season to bring in cheeses from other cheese makers and expose them to our members. and that’s a really fun thing.
I also like to partner with cheese makers sometimes to come up with a new cheese. For instance, the folks at Amazing Acres we’re retiring and selling their business to new folks, and we developed a goat and cows milk blue cheese called Truly Blue. That was a great partnership. I think sometimes we get busy and we forget to like make time for some of these things that I love having this conversation right now ’cause it’s a reminder to me that, oh, maybe I need to get together with another cheesemaker and collaborate on some like new fun cheese that’s not available right now anywhere in the region.
Liam Dempsey: Well, if you need anyone to taste test and kind of quality control on some of those early cheeses, I’m pretty sure Joe and I would be happily to stop by the farm and you know, volunteer and just help where we can.
Joe Casabona: Absolutely. We can make it, you know, like a special start local livestream, you know?
Sue Miller: I think so too. We could pull out the old cheeseboard and you know, do a little taste testing. It would be important.
Joe Casabona: Love it. That’s fantastic. So, this whole process is super interesting to me. And I’m really curious. I read an article a few years ago about kind of like the global supply chain and how, like how things that are perishable get shipped long distances. But I’m curious, is there anything special about the environmental climate in Chester County that lends itself well to cheese making?
Sue Miller: Well, first of all, we’re in one of the greatest agricultural regions in the world. You know, Chester County has the most fertile, non irrigated arable soil with Lancaster County in the world. Like that’s a big deal. That’s why people get, you know, we’re so concerned about losing so much farmland, you know? ’cause once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. But I think because of this culture of ag in the region, you know, it really does a lot to sort of speak to the terroir of the cheeses of the county. We have these beautiful rolling hills, you know, exceptional quality streams all throughout the county, and all of these little microclimates really are, I don’t know, kind of contribute to the flavor of the region.
I often think that the cheeses of Chester County sort of have a mushroom equality, and honestly, that’s not a pun on the mushroom industry because it just happens to be that we’re in the mushroom capital of the world, right? Can it square is not too far away, but you can travel around the United States and really kind of get these flavor regions, is what I’m gonna call it. And Chester County has one that’s kind of unique to sort of a mushrooms. You can definitely see them and taste them in the cheeses that I’m producing and in some of the other cheeses made in the region.
And then, you know, if I would like to go to a counterpart of that, if you travel into the Northeast Kingdom or northern Vermont, you really kind of pick up a flavor of, or the terroir of that region, which to me is almost like this Peanut buttery quality, a peanuty quality that kind of comes through from the ware terroir. And you know, the microflora of that area is really contributing to the flavors.
Listen, can I prove this scientifically? I can’t, but I can talk about it because I can taste it and I can taste it in other people’s cheeses. And I think that’s kind of the beauty of it. The science just doesn’t have to prove it. You can Really get it in the sense of the terroir like you do with wine. We talk about cheese a lot. Like you would talk about a wine.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. Thanks for that. Can you just explain, you kept using this word to refer to the soil, the kind of soil that we have here. Can you repeat that for us and then kind of explain what kind of soil that is for the listeners to understand?
Sue Miller: Okay. When I said nonirrigated arable ground?
Joe Casabona: Yes. Yes.
Sue Miller: Okay. So arable is basically farm ground, ground farmland. So, a lot of places, like if you go to Iowa, the soil there is irrigated to get these high yields because they just don’t have the water there the way we have it here to grow. Or, you know, maybe they don’t have the weather system to support the growth.
So when I talk about non irrigated, we’re not, you know, irrigating with water in the fields and we have this really high fertility. Now, if we were to say irrigated arable ground, maybe Chester County would not rise to the top, but without any kind of involvement from, you know, technology in that way, just the pure soil, the pure quality of it, it’s some of the best in the world and Lancaster County neighboring.
And I would say as you go further, like into Southern Chester County and then Western Chester County, that’s where some of the very best soils are. You get up here into the part of Chester County where I am, Chester Springs, it gets a little bit hilly and rocky, but we still have great Lomi soils. And so it’s a fantastic foundation for us to base our, you know, farming program on our regenerative agricultural plan on this soil and caring for it.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. Thank you for that. That is, again, that’s really interesting to me. I’m a, I enjoy cigars and so I’ve toured some of the cigar, like tobacco farms in this area and that, it’s just kind of fascinating to me that whole process.
Liam Dempsey: Several local municipalities have embraced breweries, wineries and distilleries, sometimes changing laws or zonings to try to create a deeper sense of community. We know that you have a flourishing community around your farm and your cheese making. And on Friday nights you have a wonderful happy hour where a local winery, the garage come out and folks can come and get locally Local wine and local cheese and a number of other local charcuterie type products, local breads and the like. And I’ve been there a few times and it definitely has a community feel to what you’re doing there. But maybe you can talk a little bit about how your township has supported you and maybe offer some thoughts to any other township in the area that might want to attract cheese makers. What should they be doing?
Sue Miller: Well, first of all, in Pennsylvania we have the right to farm act that is sort of a right that, you know, you cannot impede agricultural activity. So we’re protected from that standpoint through the state. But also here in West Vincent Township, we have an ag security district that our farm is in, and that ag security district protects the farm from nuisance complaints.
So let’s just say we were spreading manure and somebody didn’t like it, this fact that we’re in this Ag Security District would protect us from that because we have the right to do it as long as we’re doing it, you know, in a, the proper way. You know, and not having run off into the streams and whatnot, we’re protected for that. I think that as farmland gets to be less and less, you know, there’s a concern over protecting it because for one thing, if we build houses, that’s going to really change the tax structure, you know, we’ll have more students going to the schools, more land and more open land, you know. Kind of saves money on school taxes. So from a standpoint, it’s very attractive for a township to wanna embrace farms continuing in the region.
And so for us, we really wanted to be able to kind of meet a few goals by having this happy hour on the farm. We wanted to be able to have our neighbors come and see what we’re doing, you know, as far as the farm, to be able to feel a connection to a farm in their neighborhood. Because as we know, more and more generations are getting further removed from Farming. You know, if you go back in your families, there’s probably, you knew somebody who was a farmer or your grandparents lived next to a dairy farm, or your uncle had a farm or somebody raised beef cows.
As the world is changing, there’s less and less of a connection to that. So we really wanted people to be able to feel a connection to the farm and be able to relate to the seasons of the farm because of that connection by coming here.
We also wanted to build more community and be able to like, bring more of our cheese in our neighborhood. We realized that probably our cheeses were more well known in Philadelphia and areas where we had a farmer’s market presence than they were right here in our backyard. We had neighbors going by and they said, oh, we always wondered what that was there. We didn’t realize that you were making cheese. We had no idea. So it was a really great way to educate the people in our community about where their food comes from or about what hidden gems are here, right under our noses. Our neighbor, Sharon Taylor, just up the hill of Le Garage Winery, is an amazing wine maker and she does not have a tasting room at her production facility. She actually has a VW bus that’s her tasting room. Ivy, the wine bus, right? When Sharon pulls up with that wine bus, it brings instant joy to everyone who sees it. Who doesn’t love it?
Liam Dempsey: Yes, it does. Yes it does.
Sue Miller: And what a great way to talk about cheese, then to pair it with wine.
We also have non-alcoholic pairings that you can have here on the farm too if you’re not interested in drinking wine. But remember, wine’s an agricultural product too. So, I think it’s a great synergy for people to come and celebrate kind of the bounty of West Vincent Township Chester Springs right here on the farm. And you cannot, when you come here and you get a cheese board or grazing board and you sit down at one of the picnic tables, the cows are right there. You’re looking right at them. The cows who produce the milk to make the cheese,. and then you gaze out across our little valley at hills that we’ve been farming For over 40 years, and you can see where some of the feed has grown for the cows.
Now, if people can’t make the connection between that and the cheese they’re eating, I don’t know. But that is one of the biggest purposes that we have, is that we really want people to feel the connection to the food and to really like, you know, understand like what’s happening here. So that if they drive down the road and there’s a tractor, they’re following, like they’ll have a little patience ’cause they’ll be like, oh, well that’s Ken. Ken’s going to the field to spread manure, or Ken’s going to bale hay. Or here he comes back with the hay wagon. Oh, we know the cows that that feed is going to support. And I think there’s a real beauty to that, in the community when we’re, you know, thinking about that.
And the same for us as we get to know our neighbors. Like we get to know the families, the kids, what they like to eat. and, you know, their favorite cheeses. And I think that makes life just a little bit richer for everyone.
Joe Casabona: That’s great. One of the big benefits for me for this show, since I’m a transplant in the Chester County, is that I get to learn about all these amazing businesses, local businesses opportunities, and I definitely have our next date night for my wife and I, from my wife and me planned, really excited about that.
In that same vein, can you tell us about a local area, business or nonprofit that more people should know about?
Sue Miller: Well, I was talking about this Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture and they are statewide, but they have a really strong presence here in Chester County because when you come across a vegetable farmer that you might know, or local winery, or maybe even a brewery or a cheesemaker like me, there’s a really good chance that they’re a member o PASA, Oor if you’re somebody who’s interested in, you know, growing food on your own property or having a vegetable garden or fermenting, this organization could possibly have some workshops that would benefit you.
So, you can go on their website. It’s [pasafarming.org]. We have a really great conference in February. It’s in going to be in the Lancaster County area, and there’s a great opportunity to connect with farmers or other farmers, food producers, or just to like learn about what’s going on in the food system or in regenerative agriculture. You know, people are really interested in how their food has grown, and you can find out from the source if you join PASA or learn about some of the other farmers in your community. We really love the work that they do.
Liam Dempsey: Yeah, that comes through in your answer right there. Very much comes through. Sue, I can tell just from our conversation today, and certainly from conversations you and I have had prior to today, that community really matters to you. And it’s a lot about, it’s a big part of what you’re doing out at the farm is engaging your local community and supporting them. So, and you do a lot for your community, so thank you for that. Can you tell us how the local community, how the local community can support you?
Sue Miller: Well, I think it’s really important for the local community to like just recognize that there are farms in the area, you know, so that, like I said, this morning I was out here and I loaded in the milk and started making cheese, and I saw the milk truck come down the road to pull in, to pick up milk around 8:30 this morning. Now, we do live kind of on a country road here, horseshoe trail. It’s not like a super highway, but people are commuting to work, and I just want people to be able to have a little patience as the milk truck was pulling into the driveway, somebody was passed them on the inside, which really creates a dangerous situation. So I feel like, you know, if you know that there’s a farm there, you see equipment coming in, I think that you can, people just be aware that this is all part of the purpose. It’s just not a random delivery truck that they’re coming here to do farm work. I think that’s one way that you can just be aware of tractors on the road, like having patience for that. it sounds so basic, but it is really Helpful to us when we’re navigating with our equipment on the road.
But another way is to just come out to the farm and learn about, you know, what we do here. Try some of our cheeses, open your mind to the new flavors that they may be if they’re unfamiliar to you. Come and just like appreciate the beauty of what West Vincent has to offer. Big part of West Vincent Township where our farm is, has been preserved. It’s going to remain the way it looks now into perpetuity. And I think, you know, the more people that understand that, and you know, really embrace the beauty of that, the better. So that’s a great way to support us is like, recognize that there’s a farm here, be patient if we’re walking cows across the road or a cow gets out, people are actually really great about that. They’ll come and they’ll say, there’s a little calf out. Can I help you get them? And, you know, it’s really, really good, really helpful to us when people say that because there’s only, you know, a couple of us here and there’s a lot of things happening. So, you know, stop, introduce yourself to us. You know, we’d love to welcome you to the neighborhood if you’re new in the neighborhood, but we just wanna get to know everybody. You know, and if you’re interested in sharing some cheese, that’s a bonus.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. Speaking of getting to know people, are you hiring or looking for help, especially when it comes to your cheese making process?
Sue Miller: Well, right now we are kind of slowing down for now that at as we come wrap up the holidays, it’s December as we’re talking, we’re about wrapping it up. But I would say, you know, come springtime when we start the farmer’s markets, we would start looking for some extra help maybe with the farmer’s markets are helping us at the happy hour when things get full swing at the happy hour, we’re always adding things. Sometimes we’re frying up cheese curds, or we’re making, you know, grilled cheese and soups. So, just stay connected with us. You could follow us on social media and learn about what some of our needs may be as we move into the spring season. It is gonna be a little bit quieter here for the winter months.
Liam Dempsey: That’s probably a good thing. I expect you’re looking forward to that. I imagine farm life is, is hard work.
Sue Miller: Yes, it’s we always say it would be a tough job if you didn’t love it. You know, when you think about seven days a week, we’re lucky we happen to really love it.
Liam Dempsey: Indeed. So, as we kind of come to the end of our time here, I have to come back to cheese. I just have to, and I’m gonna ask you a couple of quick questions and maybe you can chat your answer after I get through ’em both.
So, what is the crowd favorite cheese that you make? What separates you from the competition? And then my other question is really around, tell me about your personal favorite cheese, mostly only that you like to eat, and then also that you like to make?
Sue Miller: Well, I guess the, I guess we sell more of our birch on blue than we do with any other cheese. But in our program, we try to have a cheese for everyone. It just happens to be that there’s not a lot of blue cheeses made in the region. There are a handful of them, and we’ve probably been making it longer than most, so that you find it on the menu at a lot of restaurants in the Mid-Atlantic region. You’ll find it in, you know, like little food co-ops or at different retailers or cheese shops. I think that’s the one we’re most well known for. And if you’re a little bit tentative about blue cheese, I understand it can be polarizing, but I’m here to tell you that the birch run blue is very friendly. It’s a very flirtatious blue cheese. It’s dill has those little peppery notes that can be a little bit imposing to some folks, but it really is balanced out with a buttery-ness. So if you’re at all, you know, tentative about blue cheese, come on out, give the bertran blue a try. But I’d say that’s our most popular one, for sure.
And then I guess if I was gonna think about my most popular one, listen, Liam, that is a tough question. Can I ask you, which bunny is your favorite bunny?
Liam Dempsey: Always ask.
Sue Miller: Can you answer that?
Liam Dempsey: You can ask. I won’t answer you.
Sue Miller: You’re outta your two bunnies. I don’t know. It kind of depends on my mood. The Blue is always up there. I could eat it like a piece of cake. No problem. I, we have a wash dry cheese that’s a little bit of a stinker called redcat. It’s pungent, it’s rich, it’s meaty, it’s brothy, it’s probably our family’s favorite cheese. In fact, our son Jesse sells more of that than anybody else does. But, I do love a little bit of a stinky cheese. You know, I’m not gonna lie. I always have that red cat like right there if I’m not gonna be snacking. But listen, I’m, I like cheese curds, I like cheddar cheese. I like spreads. We make a chama bear style called little ardy. I’m open to all cheeses obviously. but I’d say that little stinker is right up there with the birand blue for me.
Joe Casabona: Sue Miller, Cheesemaker, Farmer, Community Builder, thank you so much for joining us today. Before we say goodbye, please tell us where we can find you online and learn more about your farm and your wonderful, stinky cheese.
Sue Miller: You can find us online at [birchrunhillsfarm.com]. You can follow us on Facebook at Birch Run Hills Farm or Instagram @birchrunhills. We’d love to meet with you in person or over social media.
Liam Dempsey: Sue, thanks so much for joining us today. It’s been an absolute pleasure hanging out with you and chatting with you and learning about your cheese making and your farm. Thank you so much.
Sue Miller: Oh, thanks so much for having me. I loved chatting about these things, as I’m sure you can tell.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. Well, we will have all of the links that Sue mentioned as well as other resources like PASA in the show notes. You can find all of the show notes every episode, and you could subscribe to our show and find out when that live event is going to be over at [startlocal.co]. That’s [startlocal.co].
Thanks so much for listening. And let’s all grow in Chesco.