Discover Fresh, Local Cheese at Valley View Farm in Topsfield, MA
Bucolic pastures and a manmade cave combine to make aging a good thing on a Massachusetts goat farm
It’s 5:15 on a warm summer evening, and the first string of Nubian goats is bouncing out of the milking parlor with udders empty and bellies full. Contented, the creatures pass by goatherd Elizabeth (Liz) Mulholland, as she addresses each by name: “This is Maude, she’s Hope, that’s Maple Sugar…” Some stop for a little petting before joining their floppy-eared friends in the paddock where they socialize around the caprine version of the watercooler. Meanwhile, a second group of goats race up the ramp to claim a grain bucket while their udders are dipped in an antibacterial solution, stripped of the first squirts of milk, and attached to the milking machine. At Valley View Farm in Topsfield, Massachusetts, another 30 gallons of milk is heading toward cheese.
Liz and her husband, Peter Mulholland, can scarcely recall a time when goats weren’t part of their partnership. The two were dating in the spring of 1993 when they casually visited a farm in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and couldn’t resist coming home with a pair of infinitely adorable Nubian goat kids. Liz and Peter were engaged that autumn, and the following spring their flock increased by three when the mamas gave birth and the milk began to flow. Following their marriage in 1995, the Mulhollands spent their honeymoon in Scotland—touring dairies.
They settled into the 1840 Colonial Revival farmhouse on seven rolling acres that Liz’s parents bought in 1977. The property straddles a drumlin above the Topsfield fairgrounds, where the views are stunning and, on a clear day, Choate Island in Essex, Massachusetts, can be seen from the pasture. Here, the couple found an idyllic setting where they could pursue their penchant for goat keeping and cheese making.
As the dairy farm was developing, Peter kept his job at Fidelity in Boston, where he was likely the only investment advisor who reported for work after milking a herd of goats each day. He now works from an office in Topsfield, still performing milking duties before donning his independent advisor’s hat.
The Mulhollands favor Nubian goats for their sweet, gentle temperament and for their production of high quantities of milk rich in butterfat, perfect for cheese production. Originally bred in Britain (and technically known as Anglo-Nubians) from African, Arabian, and Indian stock, Nubians have signature floppy ears that help dissuade flies in their native hot homelands. Females of this breed are in heat for a longer period than other varieties, resulting in an extended kidding season. Still, Liz prefers to schedule all the births into a brief window so bottle-feeding approximately 100 kids is condensed into a short, intensive marathon. Newborns go to foster homes to be bottle-fed and then are lent out to a few handpicked neighbors to clear brush and maintain pasture until they are old enough to be bred and either selected for the herd or sold. Billies are kept off-site until breeding season.
The farm’s 40 milkers graze bucolic fenced pastures adjacent to the milking barn. Goats prefer a varied diet. “They’re happiest in autumn when the maple leaves from the surrounding trees float down,” says Liz. It is then that kids fatten up—nature’s way of preparing them to endure the winter ahead—and their mothers start producing creamier milk. But it is in the spring, when new mothers produce the most milk after giving birth, that the farm turns out as much soft chèvre and goat milk as the neighborhood can possibly consume. Faced with a surplus, the Mulhollands began to explore methods of making cheese they could age and keep for sale at a later time.
The couple has two sons. Henry, 17, is a high school senior, and Andrew, 20, who took an interest in creating a state-of-the-art cheese cave, is a biology/chemistry major at Bowdoin College. Now in its fifth season, the geothermal facility, built into the side of a hill for maximum energy efficiency, has a charming formality to it. A pediment with a pergola marks the entrance. Inside the arched cave, the environment is carefully controlled with cooling air flow and moisture piped in through energy-conscientious systems. In a compact 16-by-32-foot space, wheels of cheese rest on ash boards, selected for the wood’s inherent rot resistance, sourced from a local sawmill. Each wheel is vacuumed, turned, brushed, and tended continually to produce cheese with names like Pingree Hill Tomme and Topsfield Tuffet that is melt-in-your-mouth delectable. The cheese is harvested between three months and two years from the day it enters the cave. “If you eat the Tuffet young,” says Liz, “it has the consistency of Monterey Jack with a complex flavor profile. When you nibble the Pingree Hill Tomme, it has a strong bloom and bursts of flavor. Over time, the flavor crystals give you butterscotch caramel overtones and it becomes more sophisticated.”
As Valley View Farm continues to experiment with new products (“That’s what is neat about a small dairy,” says Liz, “we don’t get bored.”), the goats benefit from innovations such as infrastructure that delivers circulating fresh water to their pasture. For this herd, life is good.
Craving More Cheese?
Read Designing Your Holiday Cheese Plate featuring advice and recipes from Elizabeth Mulholland.
Where to Find Valley View Farm Cheese
Valley View Cheese Farm
Which also sells maple syrup, fresh eggs, and artisanal farm products from neighboring farms. The farm does not offer individual tours but will accommodate group tours by special arrangement. It also participates in the Essex National Heritage Commission’s Trails to Sails tours each September. Visit TrailsandSails.org for more information.
Many local Massachusetts farm stands and restaurants sell and use Valley View cheeses, including Appleton Farms in Ipswich (where they sell a soft-ripened mixed milk goat/cow cheese), Crosby’s Marketplace in Hamilton, Marini Farm Stand in Ipswich, the Trustees of Reservations booth at the Boston Public Market, Phat Cats Bistro in Amesbury, The Market Restaurant in Gloucester, Flatbread in Bedford, and Scratch Kitchen in Salem.