Looking for a fun afternoon with the kids in New Jersey? We’ve got just the thing … cuddly animals, a farm tour, and delicious cheese. Pretty much perfect.
This past weekend brought us the most gorgeous weather we’ve seen in a long time. Beautiful blue skies, fluffy white clouds, hot but not too hot. You know, weather that summers are made of. Even though it’s not officially summer yet. And weather that was too gorgeous to not spend the entire day outside.
Which we did.
From 11 am until 11 pm.
Our afternoon brought us to the Valley Shepherd Creamery. Although I’ve heard of the creamery before, and it’s been on our “things to do” list for well over a year, it kept getting passed by.
Until this weekend.
Situated on 120 acres of preserved farmland, it has over 750 animals living on the premises, and is super simple to find. They do “lambing tours” twice a day, which was the main reason for our visit.
I mean, really. A chance to hang out with animals? No arm twisting needed.
The tour started with our guide, Amanda, explaining how the farm was started, what they have, and what they produce, and then we watched a short movie that showed how they make cheese, yogurt, and more. The creamery originally started with this location ten years ago. After the husband and wife team traveled all over Europe, learning how to make artisanal sheep milk cheeses, they came back and started the creamery, beginning first by using dynamite to blast out a section of their property so they could have authentic cave aged cheese in their own 52 degree cave. As their model proved successful, they have branched out a bit in different arenas. They can be found selling their items at 23 different farmers’ markets, including the one that we frequent in Summit on Sundays, and they have opened up a retail location in the Parks Slope area of Brooklyn. Capitalizing on their delicious cheese, they also have a popular stall at the Reading Market Terminal, Melt Craft, which features a wide variety of grilled cheese sandwiches, including one that has mac and cheese stuffed in it. Um yum.
Then we got a tour of the facility, including a look at their rotary milking parlor, which is where they milk their sheep, and the only machine of its kind. Later, we were able to see the machine in action as the sheep filed into the room, stepped on the carousel, got strapped in, ate their grain, and were milked while slowly rotating, all within minutes. It was quite something to see, and makes for a very efficient production (all the sheep are milked in two hours!).
Next up, cheese taste testing! So many cheeses, so little time. I was very proud of the kids, who tasted every cheese and only spit out half. ;) Our favorite was the Oldwick Shepherd, so creamy, followed by the Califon, both of which are worth seeking out.
After that, we met Farmer Kyle and he introduced us to all their sheep. He told us about how his day goes (and how little sleep he gets!), and let us hold a baby sheep.
This cutie was only two weeks old!! We also learned that most sheep pregnancies result in twins and triplets, which is more the norm than single births. A fun fact to learn since Madeline had her bffs with her, who happen to be twins.
The tour concluded in the “Sheep shop,” where you shop from a nice assortment of items … everything from thirty different kinds of cheese, yogurt, bacon, ricotta, gelato, house made pastas, and fresh baguettes to stuffed animals and books.
They have roughly a dozen employees at this location, and a variety of interns that come from other countries. The interns, about thirty, descend to learn how Valley makes cheese, and then they share how they make cheese in their own country, helping to round out the cheese selections sold to include many international varieties as well.
It was a fun little educational visit that makes for a nice, low key Sunday afternoon. If you’re heading out there, you’ll pass the old telephone farm on the way (photo opps!) and Alstede’s Farm (strawberry picking), making for a great afternoon outside.
Hungry for more New Jersey day trips?
As an avid rock collector, our trip to the Sterling Hill Mining Museum was right up Nick’s alley.
Brookhollow’s Barnyard might have been the cutest farm we’ve visited so far.
The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms is a great step back in time.
Field Station: Dinosaur is perfect for your little (and big!) dinosaur lovers.
For even more activity ideas in the tri-state area, visit this appropriately-themed Pinterest board.