Pa. couple takes over Chapel’s Country Creamery
EASTON, Md. — Trisha and Jarred Boyce’s first year owning Chapel’s Country Creamery could have been easier.
Shortly before moving into the Talbot County operation in March, Trisha Boyce fell through a hay hole in a bank barn floor in Pennsylvania and broke her leg.
“I was walking full speed ahead and my foot just caught the hole just enough, and my right leg went completely through, but my left — my muck boot — was stuck in the board, so it just twisted,” the 29-year-old said last week as her husband Jarred fed their 9-month-old son, Trace, at the couple’s dinner table.
The break kept the new mother largely immobile as they moved and Jarred got to the difficult work of refreshing the creamery, which had won accolades across the region for producing award-winning cheese from raw milk — one of just a few Maryland farms permitted to do so.
It marked the difficult start of a new future for the Boyces, who arrived in Easton after beginning their agricultural careers in and around the York County, Pa., area. Jarred began milking cows and working in the industry as a teenager, and Trisha Boyce grew up in a third-generation farming family known internationally for its Holstein cattle.
They’d been raising heifers and steers and selling them on the side before they were married in 2013, Trisha said. They took 12 heifers they didn’t want to sell and started a dairy herd on a rented farm.
Renting quickly led to the realization that they wanted their own farm — a difficult wish in southeastern Pennsylvania where available dairies are quickly sold or are too expensive for a young farming couple, she said.
Their search led them to Chapel’s Country Creamery, which was attractive for another reason. It could turn its milk into cheese, ideal in a punishing milk market where prices have sagged beneath the break-even point for several years.
“That’s really the whole point of the creamery is to provide extra income so you’re not out there milking 100, 200, 300 cows every day, twice a day,” she said. “That’s not where we see ourselves going. The most I think we would ever milk is like 70.”
Holly and Eric Foster, the farm’s former owners, launched the creamery in 2004 with the dream of making European-inspired artisan cheeses from raw milk. They succeeded and built a network of customers — distributors, restaurants, farmers markets, cafes and shops — across the Delmarva region.
Chapel’s sells a series of cheddars, a bleu cheese and Camembert-style cheese called Rainey’s Dream, all from a small herd of Jersey and Holstein cows on the family’s 45 acres. They’re assisted by cheesemakeres Kelly Harding and Henry Lapp, and the farm’s cows are fed corn, hay and minerals, and they graze on timothy and rye grass as well.
Chapel’s currently milks about 50 head, and most of the farm income comes from its cheese operation, though it still sends several thousand pounds of milk to the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative every day, Trisha Boyce said. The goal is to push more of that milk into the cheese. Since taking over the farm, for instance, they’ve boosted sales of Rainey’s Dream from three wheels a week to about 100, she said.
They’re also working on two new products: an alpine-style cheese called Woodbine (named after Trisha Boyce’s family farm) and a semi-soft washed rind cheese called Cutlass.
The Woodbine “will continue aging for another four to five months yet,” she said. “We all really like it. I think we’re going to salt it a little more the next time so it’s not quite as sweet.”
They’d also like to be more self-sufficient. The farm ships up to 8,000 pounds of milk per month to Lancaster, Pa., so it can be made into the farm’s cheddar cheeses. The home operation doesn’t have a sufficiently large aging room or a cheddar press. Long term, they’d like to change that, she said.
They’ll also be shifting the farm to a pasteurized operation to streamline and, hopefully, gain customers.
“That’s where the consumers are taking us, so everything will be pasteurized milk,” she said. “My goal is to get the four cheeses that we’re making here selling.”
They also plan to begin marketing their animals and pushing their genetics.
“We’re not just about cheese. We want to produce high-quality animals as well,” Jarred said.
“That’s what my family did growing up,” Trisha said. “They didn’t have a creamery, they didn’t have any side income, they had good cows, and they sold good offspring from their cows to make a living.”
The cows are the key to high-quality cheese, she said.
“The quality of the milk that goes into the cheese makes a huge difference. That’s something we’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” she said. “We don’t know the cheese industry much yet, but we know our cows.”
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