What makes a farm run? Despite pastoral appearances, a farm operation resembles a finely tuned machine, a system wherein all the parts cooperate, working in tune with one another and with the land. Carey Hunter and partner Albert Roberts have combined their skills to develop a diversified enterprise called Pine Stump Farms in northeast Washington that does just that. Their farm encompasses, among other things, 60 goats along with a licensed cheesemaking facility, an organic hay operation, forestry services and a therapeutic horsemanship practice. But first, the cheese. Washington native Carey Hunter began her cheesemaking journey as many do, on a search for fresh, wholesome milk for her kids. “Then the kids grew up and we had extra milk,” she laughs. That’s when she started experimenting with other uses for the milk, making yogurt, kefir and other fresh cheeses. Eventually, she looked for ways to not just use the milk but preserve it – and cheese was a natural solution to that dilemma. Even so, Carey firmly believes that cheesemaking is an art rooted in its surroundings. “I probably wouldn’t be making cheese if it didn’t want to happen here,” she says.
Over time, the cheese hobby became more serious and in 2006, Pine Stump Farms became an officially licensed cheesemaking operation. But as I hinted earlier, the story of Pine Stump Farms is not just about cheese – it’s more that cheese is part of the story of Pine Stump Farms. It’s what Carey calls their “integrated approach to land stewardship,” a philosophy geared toward minimizing their footprint (both carbon and otherwise) on the earth. In addition to goats, the family raises their own beef and chickens and makes every attempt to eat as locally as possible. “We eat over 90% locally grown food,” says Carey, “I really believe that food self-sufficiency is food security.”
To understand this commitment, it helps to understand more about the land that makes up Pine Stump Farms. The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation is located in northeastern Washington, near Omak. During the early twentieth century large portions of reservation land were sold to outsiders (a practice no longer allowed, for obvious reasons), and as a result, a good percentage of reservation land is today owned by non-tribal members like Carey and Albert. That makes Pine Stump Farms probably the only Pacific Northwest cheesemaker on an Indian reservation – but it also means that Pine Stump farms is surrounded by vast stretches of undeveloped and relatively unspoiled land. Caring for this land is something that both Carey and Albert take very seriously. Visitors can benefit by experiencing both the farm and the surrounding area on weekend getaways, pack trips on horseback and via cheesemaking internships (see their website for more information). In addition, the Farm offers theraputic horsemanship experiences for children, adults and groups on a regular basis, using the services of their eight Moab horses.
Pine Stump Farms currently produces four cheeses: the Asiago, Parmesan and Romano are full flavored, lighting up the tastebuds with tanginess. These are aged cheeses that are a bit brittle, and go well in salads or soups, on crackers or pasta. The French style Crottin is sweet, creamy and pungent. Carey is also currently working on developing a Havarti, a softer, mellower cheese that's sliceable and good on sandwiches.
Availability: you can find Pine Stump Farms cheeses at Tonasket/Omak area at retailers including the Tonasket Coop and the Main Street Market in Omak, in Chelan at Sunshine Farm Market, and in Pateros at the Sweet River Bakery & Deli. Their cheeses also appear occasionally at Pastaworks in Portland and Fresh Abundance in Spokane. Carey is also happy to ship directly to you; see the contact info below.
[photos courtesy Carey Hunter]