The Amazing Real Live Stars of the Farmers’ Market
Locavorism begins with geography, but it’s essentially about community: knowing, trusting and liking the people who produce your food. Rory Chase and Peter Destler, the very likable Pine Plains natives who started The Amazing Real Live Food Co. two years ago, work the farmers market circuit—in Kingston, Millbrook, Rhinebeck and Woodstock—to forge personal relationships with their customers, schmoozing while offering samples of their rich Camembert, queso blancos, and freshly herbed farmer’s cheeses.
Indeed, longtime relationships are the foundation of their business. Chase and Dessler have been best buddies since childhood, and it was their Pine Plains friend Dan Osofsky who made it possible for them to first make cheese at his family’s Ronnybrook Farm Dairy and his cousin Gregg Osofsky who helped design their graphics (and whose mother, Joan, of Hammertown Barn, is their biggest fan.) “Rory was a farm kid, and I lived in town which was only a few miles away, and I was glad that I didn’t have to get up at 4 a.m. to milk cows like he did,” says Destler, who spent enough time with the Chase family to develop farm cred. After high school, Chase went to Tufts University and Destler went to the Culinary Institute of America. They reunited after graduation and impulsively moved together to California (after an epic cross-country road trip), and they pursued separate careers for eight years until Chase announced he wanted to move back to Pine Plains. “He said, ‘Petey, I need you to come home to make cheese,” recalls Destler. “I thought, That’s crazy, but he’s my best friend so I said, Yes.”
When RI first discovered the Amazing Real Live Camembert 18 months ago, the guys were still working out of Ronnybrook Dairy (and, in fact, they make some cheeses that Ronnybrook sells under its own label at New York City farmers’ markets.) Two months ago, the Amazing Real Live Food Co. moved into its own cheese-making facility in a renovated chicken coop at Chaseholm Farm, a 350 acre dairy farm on the Pine Plains/Ancram border that has been in the Chase family for generations. “Our production has grown from 250 gallons of milk a week to 500,” says Destler. “We make 650 Camemberts a week.” They are working on developing a Gruyère, a Tomme, and a “Camembozola” that will be a cross between a camembert and Gorgonzola. Matt Rubiner, the hard-to-please Great Barrington cheesemonger, now sells their Camembert. “It looks like a real Camembert, with it’s off grey-white velvet rind tinged with tans, even reds, says Rubiner. “Not the fluffy bone white rinds of industrial Camemberts. And it behaves and misbehaves like a Camembert, going in the right hands from firm and bright, to supple and mushroomy to liquid and edgy. Good to have it around.”
Hitting the farmers’ markets provides the guys an opportunity not only for direct marketing but also for market research. “People have flipped for our Camembert noir which has a black rind and is aged for five to six months,” says Destler. Although offering local “farmstead cheeses” is a good selling point within a 100-mile radius of Pine Plains, it will not be the reason why customers outside the Hudson Valley and Berkshires buy their cheeses, which have a clean, fresh-from-the-farm taste. Fortunately, Chase and Destler have another angle. “Our farmers cheeses, queso blancos and ice cream are probiotic,” Destler says as if you surely know what he’s talking about. When queried, he offers up his farmers’ market spiel: “Probiotics are good live bacteria, like acidophilus in yogurt,” he says enthusiastically. “They work with the enzymes in your body. They’re good for your digestion and immune system. Hence our name: The Amazing Real Live Food Company.”
What’s more amazing is that two childhood friends have returned to their agricultural hometown with the goal of building a national business with a rural soul. “We’re back in Pine Plains to stay,” says Chase, who hopes to offer tours of his cheee-making facility soon. “We plan to open a wine bar in town, a place to hang out with our friends, and perhaps have a cheese cave in the basement.” Adds Destler: “Pine Plains is a bastion of rural authenticity in Dutchess County. We had to go away to be able to appreciate just how special it is.”
The Amazing Real Live Food Co.
96 Chase Road, Pine Plains, NY; 581.398.0368