Cheese Cave Dweller: Sue Miller, Birchrun Hills Farm
Tippy Butterscotch, Gertrude Holstein, Juniper Moo and Mikey Geno might sound like the names of cartoons, but they’re characters of a different kind. These are the calves in the milking herd at Birchrun Hills Farm in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.
Cheesemaker Sue Miller let a few lucky donors who contributed to her recent “Raise a Cave” Kickstarter campaign name the baby animals.
A decade ago, Birchrun Hills produced only milk, but in the face of ballooning farming costs, Miller began making cheese to increase farm revenue. “Cheese gives us an opportunity to take this fantastic-quality milk that we’re producing and express the quality of it in a special way,” she says.
Though her cheeses have been favorites at area farmers’ markets and restaurants since she debuted them eight years ago with Birchrun Blue, Miller has been limited in the types and quantity of cheeses she can produce in her current workshop. When she finishes building the cheese cave, she’ll be able to double and someday even triple current production.
“We just ordered our new vat,” she says. “It’s being built in Holland.” When this key piece of equipment arrives, the 132-gallon stainless steel vat will be housed in a cheesemaking and aging facility—a modern cheese cave—that will be built on the farm itself. When the project is completed, it will be the first time the whole cheesemaking process, one that begins with growing alfalfa and hay to feed the cows and ends with cheese aging, will be completed on the farm.
Since the new vat will allow for the pasteurization of large batches of milk, this also means that new varieties of Birchrun Hills cheeses will be on their way to local cheese lovers—maybe as soon as the end of the year. One new cheese in the works is Little Chardy, a bloomy-rind Camembert-style cheese.
Though the on-farm cave was always an aspiration of Miller’s, it took a push from friend and cheese blogger Tenaya Darlington (aka Madame Fromage) to try the crowd-funding model instead of waiting for a bank to finance the farm’s growth. Last winter, the pair promoted Darlington’s annual Cheese Ball event as a “cave-raiser” for Miller. Tickets sold out, and they raised $5,000 for the farm. The Kickstarter campaign was also a resounding success, exceeding their $25,000 goal by more than $8,000 and boasting the support of more than 200 backers.
“The Philadelphia food community was so generous with their support, it just broke my heart open,” says Miller. “I haven’t stopped smiling.”
2573 Horseshoe Trail, Chester Springs, 610.827.1603