M&T Farms in Owensville, Missouri, is home to Cool Cow Cheese and The Brinkmann Farmstead Bed and Breakfast. As owners of the working farm and five-room B&B, Tom and Martha Blatchford take pride in giving guests a true taste of country life, while their son, Ben, makes sure everyone who visits gets their fill of cheese produced from the farm’s herd of 40 pure-bred Jersey cows. Each of the “working girls,” as Tom calls them, is named based on her personality and individual character traits; there’s Queenie, Dawdle, Kickin’ Kate – “she likes to shake your hand,” says Tom with a laugh – and Elizabeth, whose lineage can be traced to Queen Elizabeth II’s royal herd that’s bred in the Channel Islands, to name a few. They produce some of the richest milk in the world, which gives Cool Cow Cheese an irresistibly buttery note.
What inspired you to buy the farm? We moved onto the farm in 2011 and opened the bed-and-breakfast in 2013, but I’m still a nurse anesthetist. –Martha Blatchford I’m also a nurse, but [before we moved here], I was running a business of physician practices out of New York. –Tom Blatchford He always wanted to be a farmer, however, and he always wanted Jersey cows. His first cow was named Miss Glory. –M.B. [Martha] just gave her to me because she thought it would ruin me and I’d never want a cow again – it just made it worse. Glory was funny; she’s the cow that has probably been the most connected to me. When other people would try to milk her, they had to wear my coat because she didn’t like to be milked by anybody other than me. When our son was born, Martha got sick, and I still had to milk cows twice a day, so Ben was in a backpack – two days old, three days old – and we were hand-milking cows together. He never had a chance; he was bound to be a farmer. –T.B.
Tell us about some of the visitors you’ve had on the farm? We get people who want to go out and about and people who just want to sit on the porch and read their book. It makes me feel good that it’s easy for them to feel comfortable here. … Our cutest couple, I think, was from Paris. They came to St. Louis because their son was marrying a girl from there, and they wanted to stay on a typical farm. –M.B. We said, we’re not [a typical farm], but you can go ahead and stay. –T.B. They called before they arrived and said they wanted to have a light supper, but we’re really just a bed-and-breakfast. So Tom was like, what are we gonna make? Well, grilled cheese, of course – Tom has a great recipe – and fruit salad and a couple bottles of wine, and they were happy. –M.B. Another time, a local family had a sleepover here for the son’s birthday – he and his friends were 11 or 12. Now, the noisier you get, the more nervous the cows get. So, [the kids] screamed when they went to milk the cows, a cow pooed, and the birthday boy wound up getting poo in his ear – he had a fit. His mom took him upstairs, cleaned him up, and then he looked at her and said, “We shall never speak of this again.” Well, his mother tells everybody, and I tell everybody. Poor kid. I especially make sure to tell everybody who goes into the [milking] parlor that story as a warning.
What can guests expect from a stay at the farm? Milking the cows and feeding the calves is part of the experience. –M.B. It’s free labor. –T.B. Yeah, sometimes we call them our victims. The walk down to the creek is also nice, and the kids love to chase the cats. A big part of it is just getting out and being a kid – they don’t always get to roam free like that where they’re from. –M.B. My favorite review is our worst review. The guy wrote something like “too far away” – um, that’s the point. And then, there wasn’t anything for his son to do, except his son was happy playing in the dirt and messing with the cats. There was a rooster that woke him up – yep, it’s a farm. The cow had a bell on it – you go look for the cows in the dark without a cowbell. It goes back to the fact that we’re not the Disney version of a farm; we’re a real working farm, and we want people to see, smell and feel everything that goes along with that. To me, that’s what agrotourism is all about: This is what [farmers and ranchers] do and this is how it gets done. Especially now, people really want to know where their food comes from. –T.B.
Tell us about Cool Cow Cheese. We brine all of our cheeses, so we don’t add salt to them. Because the cheese is made with such rich milk, the fat content changes that salt requirement, so we let the fat and the brine talk and decide how much salt goes in – that way we avoid any arguments between Mrs. I want no salt and me, I want tons of salt. The varieties in the cheese cave get aged differently, from high moisture on the bottom to low moisture on the top and warm on one end to colder on the other. –T.B. The guests aren’t allowed in the cheese cave, but they can peek through the windows and ask us any questions they have about the cheese-making process. –M.B. There are eight steps, and if you vary some portions of those eight steps, you come up with 3,000 different kinds of cheese. As a cheesemaker, you have to follow your own taste buds. Now, Ben and I have different taste buds; I’m on the funky cheese side, and he’s not. I went to artisan school [in Vermont], and Ben went to Penn State University. –T.B. My school focused a lot more on manufacturing and perfecting the process while his was all about “the art.” –Ben Blatchford My final was figuring out the pH of glasses of milk; his final was getting the cheese made. But that’s why it’s fun to have both of us here. Together, we do things with standard cheese that a lot of cheesemakers don’t do. Missouri is the Wild West of cheesemaking because there are no definitions, as opposed to Wisconsin, which has a definition [of each style of cheese]. We get to make it up as we go. –T.B. It’s really nice because we get to make cheeses that don’t have certain things like preservatives; I can leave out ingredients just because I want to or because I don’t like them, but in a different state, we’d have to put them in to call it that type of cheese. –B.B.
How are you distributing your cheeses during the COVID-19 pandemic? All of our cheese is available online. –M.B. Yeah, but it took a pandemic to get my dad to talk to me about selling on Amazon. The whole reason he didn’t want to do online sales is because that cheese is going out to customers who haven’t been here and met us, but that’s why we started our Adopt-a-Cow program. –B.B. And I love that program; it’s a unique way to connect with us and get your cheese. Basically, you sign up, adopt a cow to support it and the cow sends you a cheese box as a thank you gift. … The Schnucks people are interested in us too, so we’re trying to figure out how to work with them. And the B&B is still open. I think people still want to escape the city. You don’t have to get on an airplane, but getting in the car with your family is a whole different conversation. I think this is gonna be the year of staycations, the year to stay local and try to do something in your state that you haven’t done before. I’m willing to bet a lot of people haven’t gone to a cheese shop at a farm and milked cows. … Now, more than ever, you should feel comfortable about where you’re spending your money. Coming here, you can see who you’re supporting. –T.B.
M&T Farms, 1613 Tschappler Road, Owensville, Missouri, coolcowcheese.com