Text by Stephen Exel
Photographs by Colleen Duffley
A sustainable organic farm in New York's tony Westchester County? Admittedly not the norm. Equally unexpected are award-winning goat cheeses, farming camps for children, and cooking classes that cover categories from seasonal produce to basic knife skills. But for Lisa Schwartz, the unanticipated is the essence of Rainbeau Ridge farm.
After living in Japan and becoming enamored with the culture's love of fresh ingredients and meticulous preparation, Lisa began teaching Asian cooking in her Bedford Hills home. Eventually she and husband Mark, a financial consultant specializing in renewable energy resources, purchased a neighboring property and reconstructed the original 15-acre gentleman's farm.
For 10 years Lisa has been farming Rainbeau Ridge, preserving the land through traditional agricultural practices. She balances overseeing the extensive gardens and a livestock menagerie-33 goats and 16 kids, sheep, cows, llamas, heirloom turkeys, free-range chickens, and a couple of peacocks-with the production of her award-winning goat cheeses and the cooking classes.
Today we're at Rainbeau Ridge to attend a "Cooking with Goat Cheese" class, held in the airy farmhouse kitchen. Limited to 12 students, classes are held weekday mornings and are taught by coordinator Nicki Sizemore, local chefs, or Lisa herself. Most of my classmates-several are frequent attendees-find their way to this off-the-beaten-path farm from the surrounding metro area.
Our convivial group gathers for coffee and instruction around the spacious island. "There's hardly a vegetable that doesn't pair with goat cheese, especially those that can be grilled or roasted," Lisa explains. "Find quality ingredients that are seasonal, local, and fresh. Go to the market, see what's there, and say, 'That's what I'm having for dinner.'Then add goat cheese," she says with a wink.
Our lesson begins with Pumpkin-Goat Cheese Cheesecake, which bakes while the other recipes are prepared. The flavor combines pumpkin scented with classic pumpkin pie spices-cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg-with a layer of tangy whipped goat cheese. A gingersnap crust lends additional zing. "Choose the freshest, creamiest goat cheese you can find for baking, preferably within 10 days to two weeks of production," Lisa says.
Nicki takes over to guide us in making Beggar's Purses-small phyllo packets filled with goat cheese-which will top off a hearty Wild Mushroom Soup. The soup is a woodsy combination of shiitake, oyster, cremini, and dried porcini mushrooms served in their own broth. Break the purse open, and swirls of goat cheese add extra creaminess.
For the main course, classic risotto gets a makeover with chicken, dried fruits, chunks of pear, white wine, and, of course, goat cheese. As our group sits down to enjoy the meal, we've started to feel like family. "A class here is a great way to start the day," says Tom Cohn. His wife, Lisa Cohn, agrees. "It's something we like to do together. There are great chefs here and lots of new ideas."
Rainbeau Ridge inspires students to embrace sustainability a step at a time. "Do something that gives a meaningful tie to food, whether starting an herb garden or supporting local growers," Lisa says. "It's not just about feeding our families, but connecting them to their meals."