In the very beginning of our market, when it was nothing more than a dream, we made a list of all the necessary food and vendors we thought we needed. The list pretty much went like this…cheese, vegetables, cheese, chicken, cheese, yarn, cheese…well, you get the picture. While the idea of having cheese at the market was definitely self-serving, we all agreed it was an important ingredient in making the market a success. We researched, emailed, phoned, and interviewed many different cheese vendors, but we always came back to one specific vendor, Conebella Farm. We are delighted to announce that Conebella has signed on as a full time vendor!
Conebella Farm located in Elverson, Pennsylvania, is 198-acres of rolling farmland, which has been home to five generations of the Gable family. Don and Pam Gable now operate the farm along with their three sons, Josh, Tyler, and Kevin. In a phone interview, Pam said they have not only been vendors at other markets but have actually had experience starting a market in Elverson. Pam said she realized the extraordinary amount of work needed to start and run a farmer’s market and said she has really enjoyed the energy and excitement at our market in Carsonia Park.
Pam recalled the day she heard of a new farmer’s market in Antietam from the owners of Sheila’s Crunchy Delight (Thanks for spreading the word, Sheila and Larry!). However, with a farm store, commitments to other markets, not to mention operating a farm, it seemed like staffing one more market would be impossible. That is, until a friend from church also mentioned a new farmer’s market right in her own neighborhood and offered to help (Thank you too, Melodie!).
But let’s go back to the beginning of the story…Joseph P. Gable, and his wife Ella, purchased the farm in 1923, and it was their grandson Charles who was inspired to name the farm Conebella because of the Conestoga and Isabella railroad crossings that bordered the property. In 1938, Joseph and Ella’s son, Harold, purchased 10 Ayrshire cows in order to raise the butterfat content of the farm’s milk and make it creamier. Ayrshire is a breed renowned for its health, longevity, and ability to produce rich, buttery milk. I asked Don just how many cows they had on the farm now. He laughed and said, “a lot!” Those 10 cows were the foundation for the current herd of well over 200. Don explained to me that their farm cows are considered a closed herd, meaning all the cows are bred, born, and raised on their farm, making Conebella 100% Ayrshire.
Conebella Farm has worked hard to have 12 first-rate Ayrshire cows on the Cow Performance Index, which is a list the Ayrshire Breeders’ Association puts out every year looking at six qualities that measure how well the cow milks, the quality of the milk produced, and the cow’s fertility. Proudly, Conebella’s Percy’s Tiva is ranked #1!
In 2007, Conebella became a state-certified raw milk producer. Then in response to customer interest, they began shipping the farm’s raw milk to an experienced Lancaster County cheese maker. Their cheese business thrived as they added varieties of Cheddar and Colby along with cheese spreads made in West Chester. The rest, as they say, is history.
Pam, originally from Gettysburg, met Don at Penn State University. Pam was a social worker for many years before switching careers to family and farm. Keeping it all in the family, Don and Pam’s three sons, Josh, Tyler, and Kevin, who are all involved in running the farm, from milking the cows to fieldwork, which involves growing alfalfa hay, grass hay, corn and rye. Gradually increasing their acreage and currently farming 360 acres, the Gables grow all of the forages for their herd right on the farm and sell excess alfalfa and grass hay, low-sugar grass hay (a specialty), and straw.
In an October 2014 article in the Farming Journal, Don said, “We’ll do a festival and the people will ask, ‘Is this your own cheese?’” His response: “Yes, it’s our own cheese, from our own milk from our own cows that are fed through our own forage.” He added, “There’s a whole cycle there. At the end, we offer a good product and a quality education.”
I will happily confess that our family has already tried many of Conebella’s cheeses, simply with crackers and as an ingredient for supper. A scuffle over leftovers of Creamy Chicken Fettuccine occurred last week when I used chicken breasts from Goose Lane Egg Farm along with Conebella’s Bacon Cheddar Chive spread mixed with a bit of milk. Did I mention their spreads are preservative free?
For over 90 years, Conebella Farm has nourished Southeastern Pennsylvania families with top-quality milk and cheese. What are you waiting for? Start making your cheese wish list because Conebella will be at market this Saturday along with plenty of samples to taste. Sign up for their emails, find them on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter. Check out Conebella’s blog and remember Dad on Sunday by making Father’s Day Double Cheddar Sliders!
Can’t wait until Saturday? Conebella’s farm store is short 30-minute drive through the countryside, open sunrise to sunset and is currently stocked with 14 varieties of raw milk cheese, seven different creamy cheese spreads, raw milk, locally made yogurt, and free-range eggs.
Before ending our phone conversation, I asked Pam if our market could share one of Conebella Farm’s recipes. She did one better and emailed me a Gable family favorite. A perfect summer picnic recipe, Baked Bean Casserole, is one that her boys love and will probably be cooked up on Sunday for Don’s birthday. Pam’s tips for the recipe are to freeze the 8 ounces of cheese before adding it to the recipe so it melts slower in the oven. She also suggested cutting back on the brown sugar although Don and I agreed; you can never have enough brown sugar (or cheese) in a recipe.