Birchrun Hills Farm is a family-owned dairy farm located in Chester Springs, PA. Ken and Sue Miller, along with their sons Randy and Jesse, offer handcrafted raw milk cheese, made from the milk from their herd of Holstein cows.
Ken and Sue proudly carry on the agricultural tradition of Chester County, and are deeply committed to the conservation and health of their farmland, practicing methods that promote the growth of organic matter and build soil fertility. They are members of the American Cheese Society, Chester County Buy Fresh Buy Local, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, and Pennsylvania Cheese Guild.
The Dairy Farm
Since he was a child, Ken Miller knew he wanted to be a farmer. As a teenager, Ken bought his first Angus bull, named Keystone. Keystone became the foundation of his Angus beef herd. In the 1980’s Ken transitioned to milking cows and growing row crops. By 1981, Birchrun Hills Farm was established and selling to the commodities market.
Over the years, the economics of dairy farmers began to change. After 20 years of dairy farming, the Millers were no longer making ends meet. In order to stay afloat, it seemed that they would need to need to grow their herd, take on debt, and hire employees, like others in the industry were doing. Instead, they turned to cheesemaking.
Cheesemakers Are Born
Ken and Sue had always wished for the chance to sell directly to their neighbors. They began with a produce CSA, but soon their neighbors were asking to buy dairy. “People wanted to connect with the farm,” says Ken. Sue signed up for a course sponsored by PASA on artisanal, raw milk cheesemaking. In 2006, they took a leap and began making cheeses. Their neighbors were their first taste-testers, and they very quickly received positive feedback.
As dairy farmers, first and foremost, the Millers know that the health of their cows comes first: they do not use growth hormones and raise their cows on pasture. The cows eat feed grown on the farm, and have a lifespan over twice that of the average dairy cow. The level of care they put into their herd is apparent in their high-quality cheese. “Cheese gives us an opportunity to take this fantastic-quality milk that we’re producing and express the quality of it in a special way,” says Sue.
Birchrun Hills Expands
Birchrun Hills has continued to reinvent itself in the years since they started cheesemaking. The Miller’s son, Randy, turned their bull calves (a secondary product of the dairy industry) into a profitable business all its own. The veal calves are raised as “rose veal”, meaning they are fed whole milk, grass, and grass hay. At Birchrun Hills, the animals remain in their care up until they are sold directly to customers, rather than being sold to the livestock market. They are raised in groups (as a small herd) on pasture, because it is important to Randy they are given the very best life possible. He sells to area restaurants including Restaurant Alba, in Malvern.
Their younger son Jesse, brought pastured pork to the farm. After learning about world-famous Parma hams, fed byproducts from the parmesan cheesemaking process in Italy, he bought several pigs and started a similar program at Birchrun Hills.
As for Sue, she dreamed of offering more variety and larger production than their original space would have allowed. With a push from her friend and cheese blogger Tenaya Darlington (Madame Fromage), she decided to turn to her friends and fans in 2015 to raise money for an on-site cheese cave. Between Darlington’s annual Cheese Ball event, and a Kickstarter campaign, the Millers raised over $32,000 to grow their cheesemaking business. “The Philadelphia food community was so generous with their support,” says Miller.
Birchrun Hills’ cheese cave is still under construction as of May 2018, however they have already begun using their new vat pasteurizer, purchased with the Kickstarter funds. “We expect the cave to be finished early this summer. We’ve been developing new cheeses that will be in production when we move in to our new home,” says Sue.
Continuing her passion to bring locally-produced, artisanal cheeses straight to her neighbors, Sue in recent years has joined forces with Stefanie Angstadt of Valley Milkhouse Creamery to form Collective Creamery, a biweekly cheese share subscription serving Philadelphia, Chester County, Berks County, Delaware County, the Lehigh Valley, and the Jersey Shore.
Together, Sue and Stefanie bring wholesome, artfully crafted cheeses to their community and contribute to the evolving American cheese culture.
The Award-Winning Cheese
Try the Miller’s delicious cheeses at a KWF near you! (Available at KWF Douglassville by special-order only, availability varies by location.)
- Birchrun Blue – A creamy, delicately flavored blue with a fudgy texture and sweet peppery notes. Birchrun’s flagship cheese, with the power to convert a shy taster or wow a seasoned Roquefort-lover. Pairs well with dark honey, candied nuts, and dark sweet beers.
- Fat Cat – An American original unique to Birchrun Hills Farm, this semi-soft wheel makes the perfect snack – or add it to your favorite man and cheese recipe. Earthy and tangy with a grassy finish. Pairs beautifully with fresh berries, sour cherry preserves, and crisp greens.
- Red Cat – This washed rind cheese announces itself with an assertive aroma that will lure in the stinky cheese lover in you. Come for the funky fragrance, stay for the lush, velvety texture and beefy barnyard notes.
- Equinox – Take a trip to the Alps with this Swiss-inspired raw-milk mountain cheese. Firm, mild, and nutty with a hint of salt and a toasty brown butter finish. Serve with seasonal fruit or melted over roasted fingerling potatoes.