Road Trip: Oley Valley in a Day
A local cheesemaker shows Edible Philly the tastiest parts of her home turf
The first time I saw Stefanie Angstadt, cheesemaker and owner at Valley Milkhouse Creamery, on her home turf, she was hosting a few hundred friends, customers and cheese fans for an open-house picnic at Covered Bridge Farm in Oley, where she rents creamery space.
Angstadt, whose ancestors came to this area three centuries ago (inspiring her to set up shop in Berks County), loves the pace of rural life and the neighborly attitude toward homegrown food that’s prevalent here. That love shows through when she reveals that some of her favorite spots to eat and shop in the area are run by her wholesale customers or fellow food artisans and farmers. Angstadt and I decided to make a day of eating, drinking and treasurehunting our way through her favorite hometown haunts. What she showed me is the best of the Oley Valley—traditions and fresh innovations, all closely tied to rural farm life. You can, as we did, spend the day stocking up, shopping and snacking amid the agrarian scenery and come back to the city feeling recharged.
Bring a cooler with ice, grocery bags and your picnic supplies on this trip, because you’ll want to stock up on produce, as well as cash (except for the Turnpike Dairy, the area is pretty light on ATMs). Plan your visit for a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, and choose a day with good weather. Keep an eye out for the low, square stone walls in fields that shelter old Pennsylvania Dutch family plots.
10am: Brunch at Firefly Cafe
Owners Michael Martinez and Loriann Wade relocated from New York City to Boyertown (Wade’s hometown) with the goal of bringing healthy, plant-based dining options to the area. Since opening in April, they’ve won over the community with fresh, flavorful and locally sourced breakfast and lunch dishes that put plants at the fore. Start with the day’s eggless frittata (made with tofu), avocado toast, or housemade granola—or brunch it up with the BBQ jackfruit sandwich, a vegan take on pulled pork. The couple source one of the few animal products on their menu, artisanal cheese, from Angstadt. Try it in the panko-topped mac and cheese.
11:30am: Fisher’s Farm Fresh Produce
The Fishers have been farming this land in the Oley Valley for more than 200 years. Their farm store sells produce from mid-May to early November, and they’re particularly known for their sweet corn. Grab a loaf of bread and peruse Felicia Fisher’s Black Buggy Baking Company’s scrumptious sweets—cookies, sticky buns, pies. You can also pick up a bottle of Scott’s Berks County Ketchup, a sweet, tangy and thick take on this classic—and the only I’ve ever had to rival Heinz. Stroll around the back of the farm store to see one of the oldest barns in the area, built in 1730.
12 noon: Go Organic
Mike and Barb Dietrich of Oley Valley Organics are especially known for their asparagus and strawberries in the spring, hardneck garlic in the summer, and red raspberries in the fall. Check Barb’s roadside stand for a variety of just-picked produce, and don’t forget a bottle of one of Angstadt’s favorite salad dressing components, the Dietrichs’ famously tart-sweet-pungent Garlic-Honey Vinegar. Consider planning an early October trip to catch the farm’s annual one-day garlic festival.
12:15pm: Treasure Hunt
Just across the road from the Dietrichs’ farm, Berlin-born Karin Rodenbough and her husband George have stocked Pikeville Antiques with vintage items, handmade clocks and other tchotchkes for 38 years. They still live in a private section of the house, which dates to the 1820s, but several of the shop’s rooms are devoted to displays of their locally sourced (and often surprisingly affordable) wares. Check out the kitchen space toward the back of the house and treat yourself to a set of milk-glass bowls or vintage placemats.
1:30pm: Picnic Lunch at Covered Bridge Farmstand
Head south toward Covered Bridge Farm for a chance to see where the magic happens: Valley Milkhouse’s cheesemaking space is located here. The creamery isn’t open to the public, but the Covered Bridge Farmstand is. It’s a collaboration between Valley Milkhouse, Meadowsweet Acres, Oley Valley Mushrooms, The Cottage Kitchen (fermented foods) and Bendy Brook Farm (pastured meats and eggs). Buy some cheese and pickles and snag a spot at the picnic table, or spread a blanket on the grass and enjoy Angstadt’s artisanal cheese mere feet from where it was made.
2:45pm: Ice Cream at the Oley Turnpike Dairy
Stop for dessert at this rural comfort-food spot, which serves more than 30 flavors of ice cream from Royersford-based Nelson’s, a Pennsylvania Dutch favorite, as well as no-frills sit-down diner fare. If you haven’t had your fill of sweets yet, pick up a shoofly pie or funny cake, a local dessert named for the way the chocolate sauce poured on top before baking ends up on the bottom. While you’re working on that waffle cone, check out more antiques in the back of the store or head outside to say hi to goats and llamas at the dairy’s petting zoo. Their fall festival, which starts the last week in September, offers a corn maze, hayrides and other seasonal activities spread across 20 acres of farmland.
3:30pm: Bulk Up at Echo Hill Country Store
This Mennonite-run bulk and natural-foods store is one of Angstadt’s favorite sources for pantry staples. Nowhere else in the area can you buy superfoods like black rice, hemp granola and jungle peanuts alongside sausage-making equipment, neon-orange cheese powder,and every artificial flavor of powdered gelatin you can imagine. Say hello to the flock of sheep that graze a pasture next to the parking lot before you shop.
5:00pm: Thrifting, Mennonite-Style
Lizzie Sauder and her husband Mahlon bought their house, just south of Route 222 in Kutztown, 18 years ago when they retired. They’ve been running a perpetual yard/barn sale and donating the proceeds to needy families ever since. There’s no sign, but you’ll know it when you see it. Pull into the driveway to park and take a look around, making sure to head into the low barn behind the house. There are rough divisions—a big area of Christmas items here, kitchen items in one section, large appliances and lawn furniture out back—but your best bet is to roam around, gaping in awe at the sheer vastness and variety of stuff all in one place. Keep an eye out for useful household basics as well as how-could-this-possibly-exist kitsch treasures. Finds from a recent trip: a slotted spoon, a M’Ladee brand antique neck and armpit-hair shaver still in its box, an extension cord, a sequined satin vest with horses on it.
7:00pm: Dinner at Hidden River Brewing Company
Angstadt calls Hidden River “our own little Tired Hands” —an apt comparison to the Ardmore-based local brewery. Both specialize in unusual flavors, serve food with a local focus and sell their product only on site. Eat and drink at the bar or outside on the banks of the Schuylkill (which roughly translates to “hidden river” in English). Wander around inside the brewery’s home, historic Brinton Lodge, for some serious haunted-house vibes —the site dates back to 1711. Select libations from a dozen or so seasonal brews that highlight ingredients like beet, dandelion, lavender and hibiscus alongside a wide variety of hops and malt combinations. For dinner, try the local-cheese and charcuterie plate and a panini stuffed with local ingredients, preceded by a giant, malty soft pretzel made with spent grain from the brewery.
12 North Reading Ave., Boyertown
FISHER’S FARM FRESH PRODUCE
1839 Memorial Hwy., Oley
OLEY VALLEY ORGANICS
516 Oysterdale Rd., Oley
284 Mine Rd., Oley
COVERED BRIDGE FARMSTAND
92 Covered Bridge Rd., Oley
OLEY TURNPIKE DAIRY
6213 Oley Turnpike Rd., Oley
ECHO HILL COUNTRY STORE
244 Dryville Rd., Fleetwood
LIZZIE THE MENNONITE
15 Hinterleiter Rd., Kutztown
(no phone or website)
HIDDEN RIVER BREWING COMPANY
1808 West Schuylkill Rd., Douglassville