Saturday, February 20, 2010
Turn Back For Pies
Jim and I do a lot of back-roads driving. It’s one of our “things” – getting up in the morning and saying, “Looks like a great day for a drive!” I’m not big on heading off aimlessly, so we’ll usually come up with some sort of destination. But one of the things I like best about our drives is our more-or-less unspoken agreement to just stop wherever and whenever we like.
For me, the biggest lures are sketchy-looking antiques shops and hand-lettered signs that direct you down dirt roads for things like fruit, wine, pottery and baked goods. If the road we’re on winds through a cute little town or farm country, chances are I’m emitting a fairly steady stream of requests to “pull over” or “turn around.” And I’ll often pout a good long while if Jim’s driving and he blows right past an artist’s studio or vegetable stand that looked promising. I mourn the lost opportunity, wondering what treasures we might have missed.
Today’s excursion was to Warwick, NY. The excuse was lunch at a little French bistro we like. We’ve made this drive probably half a dozen times in the past two years, and it usually involves a stop at the Bobolink Dairy, a few miles south off of Route 94. It’s a working farm that makes and sells an array of delectable artisanal cheeses (raw milk from grass-fed cows) and rustic wood-fired breads. As we drove up past Greenwood Lake we debated whether to stop at the dairy or not. I wasn’t keen on it: I love the cheddar cheese and rosemary bread, but am trying to cut back on dairy and carbs. Jim was thinking we could pick up a few things to snack on the next day when our friends Tom and Maryanne came to visit. After lunch we agreed that was a good idea.
On the way there I noticed a few signs along the road that said “Pies” in big red letters. Jim, who never met an apple pie he didn't try, showed an unusual lack of interest. Despite my urging, we kept going. Then I saw the sign that said, “Turn Back for Pies.” Always one to appreciate good marketing when I see it, I said, “That’s it, we’re going back.” But we didn’t. Jim’s face made it clear that given a choice between the two, he was going for the known entity. That old familiar feeling came over me: Damn! What if they were the best pies on the planet? And this was our one and only chance to find out?
Ten minutes later we squeezed into the tiny space that serves as Bobolink’s retail shop, tasting something called Foret and agonizing over whether to choose the medieval rye with olives or the cherry/walnut breadsticks (we got both). As we loaded our purchases into the car, Jim started chatting up a guy driving by on a large green tractor. “I’m looking for someone who might sort of be in charge,” he said. “That sort of might be me,” said the guy. In that moment, a quick pit stop turned into our most memorable visit yet.
The guy on the tractor was Jonathan White, head cheesemaker and clearly the man in charge. He asked where we were from, then said we’d be happy to know he’s bought a farm near Milford, NJ and is moving his entire operation there in a few months. He saw me snapping a few farm pics and eyeing a large group of cows gathered near the fence behind him. Next thing I knew he was introducing me to a two-day old calf, Sarastro (he names all of the cows, this one after a character in The Magic Flute.) His passion for what he does was evident as he spoke about the animals, especially when the little calf began to nurse and he explained that what was once a natural instinct is now something he has to teach the babies to do. As I traipsed through the mud and snow to take the pictures below, Sarastro’s mom Ernestine, a gorgeous Guernsey-Hereford mix (and quite the helicopter parent) followed my every move. It was an amazing, surprising and delightful turn of events.
P.S. We did go back for pie: Jim got apple, I got cherry and they were so delicious that we’ll definitely be adding Noble Pies to our Warwick itinerary. But I’ve learned a valuable lesson: it’s possible that the things that happen when you don't turn back are the things you won’t want to miss.