Eric Glasgow had been working as an international oil trader for 15 years when the 2008 recession "kicked me in the groin hard enough to know I didn't have to do it anymore," he says. He and his wife Molly were living in London with their two young children, but they spent summers on the island of Martha's Vineyard to be closer to family. In 2009, they spotted a listing for an old dairy farm that went defunct in 1961. The couple was ready for a change, and encouraged by the success of their London garden, the Glasgows decided to take the plunge, establishing The Grey Barn & Farm later that year.
Martha's Vineyard is a tricky place to run a farm. The island encourages self reliance, as common goods require "import" from the mainland, and "exporting" produce to other markets is costly. Trickier still, the Vineyard's population fluctuates as a summer vacation destination. "You have this intense seasonality," Eric Glasgow explains. "There's a lot of people here for a brief window. Our focus was, 'what can we do to preserve the bounty of the farm to make it available to seasonal visitors?' Cheese was the obvious answer to that."
Grey Barn specializes in complex, funky washed and bloomy rind cheeses inspired by coastal cheesemaking communities in Normandy and southwest Ireland—climates similar to their Massachusetts island. Their flagship cheese Prufrock is a pudgy, pungent square with yeasty, fruity, and lactic flavors that develops an incredible umami as it ages. It's named for the T. S. Elliot poem, the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. All their cheeses have poetic inspirations; the name Eidolon comes from a Walt Whitman poem, where the word describes an unattainable ideal. We think the cheese's downy rind and fluffy, mushroomy center comes pretty close!
Molly Glasgow studied at the University of Vermont's Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese to become the farm's first resident cheesemaker. She developed Prufrock and the creamery's other early staples all from the farm's herd of 50 Dutch Belted, Jersey, Normande, and Friesian cows. "We're a farmstead operation in all of its glory," Eric Glasgow says. "When we don't have enough milk, it sucks, but if we have too much milk, it sucks, too."
Then, two years in, Molly was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis: a painful intestinal disorder evidently made worse by working in scalding vats of dairy. She had to step away from cheesemaking completely in 2012.
Grey Barn's current creamery director, Rachel Kleine, joined the farm this year. A self described "huge nerd" who was drawn to Grey Barn's poetic naming inspirations, Kleine has made cheese and butter for more than a decade, most recently at Spring Brook Farm in Vermont. She's currently experimenting with longer aged cheeses, as well as fresh offerings for the local crowd, and enjoys working with milk that changes with the seasons. "From make to make, [the milk is] a true expression of what the cows are eating," she explains.
There's another practical challenge to making farmstead cheese on an island where "summer" is used as a verb: housing. Both Glasgow and Kleine point out how difficult it is to hire staff when workers on farm wages can't afford a place to live. Glasgow has bought multiple houses around the farm to convert into apartments for the farm's staff. It's a stopgap solution to a much larger systemic problem, and a difficult cost to shoulder for a business with already thin margins.
"Now I'm 51 and I'm figuring out what this place will look like in a decade," Glasgow says. "I think about how to get the farm to a place where it's a sustainable enterprise. The reality of it is that to be a successful farm, you can't define success solely in financial terms. People do this in part for an embedded lifestyle choice. You have to buy into that to absorb what comes at you."
Kleine thinks that makes the work they do even more important, especially on the Vineyard. "It's important for folks who do have the financial means to start places like this and keep them running," she says. "People can come to this farmstand and see the cows and the work that go into making cheese with your bare hands. It changes people's perspective on how their food is made and what goes into it."
Photos courtesy of Grey Barn & Farm, shot by Molly Glasgow.