Berkshire farms churn ice cream with local flavors

After enjoying a delicious meal in a restaurant, some patrons ask to meet the chef. At Maple Valley Creamery, ice cream and dairy lovers ask to meet the cows.

“It’s been our desire to open our micro dairy to those who want to see how cows can and should be treated,” said Bruce Jenks of Maple Valley Creamery in Hadley. He and his business partner, Laurie Cuevas, say they are proud to have built and open their own farm store, Mill Valley Milk Co., where people can not only find raw unprocessed milk “but visit with the ladies who produce it.”

Jenks and Cuevas have six to eight Registered Brown Swiss Cows at Maple Valley Creamery which are being milked and a herd upwards of 40 Swiss cows, ranging in age from a week old to 13 years.

“All of our animals are a direct result of 4-H project calves,” Jenks said.

He grew up on a dairy farm across the street from what is now Fort River Farm. He and Cuevas have had an ongoing partnership with the farm’s owners, Gordon and Terry Smith, for seven years. Along with a barn and milking area for the cows, Cuevas and Jenks opened their own farm store on the property this past winter, where they sell raw milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, Angus beef, baked goods, and organically grown vegetables.

From the beginning, he said, he and Cuevas have been dedicated to working with local dairy farms and businesses.

Maple Valley Creamery works with more than 40 local farms, growers and producers such as McCray’s Farm in South Hadley, Mapleline Farm in Hadley, High Lawn Farm in Lee, and Shaw Farm in Dracut among others, and brings many of locally made products into their ice cream.

‘We use maple syrup from our friends at the North Hadley Sugar Shack in Hadley in our maple walnut … We work with Esselon Coffee for our fresh roasted coffee and tea flavors …’ — Bruce Jenks

“We use maple syrup from our friends at the North Hadley Sugar Shack in Hadley in our maple walnut and maple bacon flavors,” he said. “We work with Esselon Coffee for our fresh roasted coffee and tea flavors … taza chocolate for fresh Mexican style chocolates.”

They have developed new ice cream flavors with the UMass Food Science classes and Amherst College Dining Services.

“We produce our ice cream mix fresh,” he said, “… never using a pre-made frozen mix. Our milk’s so fresh it was grass an hour ago.”

Different breeds of cows and the milk they produce, he added, can make a distinct difference in the taste of the milk and its make-up.

“We hear it daily from our customers, how much better fresh raw milk tastes,” he said. “The amazing thing about the components of the Brown Swiss Cow is that the protein and butterfat levels of the milk are of equal balance, making it the healthiest milk.”

A Jersey calf looks out crurisously at High Lawn Farm in Lee.
Photo by Jess Gamari

A Jersey calf looks out crurisously at High Lawn Farm in Lee.

About 50 miles west of Maple Valley Creamery, the ladies of High Lawn Farm in Lee spend their days relaxing on water beds and take turns getting milked when they chose to be milked, day or night.

Since the instillation of the Lely Astronaut robotic milking system in 2014, the cows can line up on their own, said Roberto Laurens, general manager of High Lawn Farm. Laurens has worked on the family-owned farm since 2002.

Each of the 120 Jersey cows have their own unique collar, he said, which helps keep track of when the cow last gave milk, how much milk it gave, and the quality of the milk.

The barn has its own machines for climate control, cleaning, and nudging feed closer to the cows. Fans come on when the temperature is too high, and the walls fold down and react like greenhouse walls to help keep the heat in.

The cows at High Lawn Farm are happy and well cared for, he said: “We’re the largest around, but we’re still small. Each cow is an important family member.”

High Lawn Farm has been processing milk since 1923 and has delivered glass bottles of milk to homes in Berkshire County up until about eight years ago, Laurens said.

Today, High Lawn Farm milk appears in grocery stores and coffee shops around the Berkshires and as far as Boston and New York. The farm also provides milk to Williams College, Smith College, Amherst College and a few others.

Two years ago that High Lawn decided to enter the world of ice cream making.

“We saw ice cream as a good opportunity for us,” Laurens said. “We know a lot about milk, but ice cream is different. It’s a more competitive market.”

High Lawn Farm plans to keep their full attention to 10 flavors or fewer to make the best possible.

“We make 2.5 gallon batches at a time,” he said. “We test each batch every day. People bring us their opinions and we make it better.”

High Lawn Farms believes in keeping the ingredients simple without adding chemicals, additives or preservatives. The cows are not given synthetic growth hormones or any animal byproducts in their diet, he said.

“If you open our container of strawberry, you may wonder why it’s not pink or red. It’s because we don’t add colors,” he said. “We firmly believe Jersey milk is richer and has a better flavor and is high in protein and calcium.”

Locally made ice cream means the farm it came from is 10 to 15 miles away.

“Big companies own the market, and local farms are a small part of a big system,” he said. “When you support the local market you’re helping neighbors survive.”

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