hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues October 2015


Farm to plate, at the farm

Barn dinners showcase couple’s sheep cheeses, cured meats


Contributing writer



A crowd gathers for a Saturday night dinner last month at Dancing Ewe Farm in Granville, N.Y. The farm’s owners, Jody Somers and Luisa Scivola-Somers, started serving barn dinners two years ago as a way of showcasing their artisanal sheep cheeses, but the dinners have taken on a life of their own. Joan K. Lentini photo

It’s sunset at Dancing Ewe Farm, a time of day when the activity at most farms is winding down.
But Dancing Ewe is just springing to life, and a scene is taking shape. One by one, cars pull into the parking lot, which soon fills to capacity. Latecomers are left to park on the shoulder of county Route 12.

Couples trickle through the open doors of a massive barn on the sprawling property, and what lies inside is nothing you’d expect at a working sheep farm. Strains of Sinatra waft through the air over elegantly set tables laden with plates, silverware, vases of flowers and twinkling garden lights.

The farm’s owner, Jody Somers, welcomes visitors as uniformed servers dart past him carrying trays of sliced sheep cheese with crostini drizzled on olive oil.

“This is a lot of fun – for us and those who participate,” Somers said. “They love coming to the farm, because it’s such an out-of-the-ordinary setting, and I think they’re curious about the food.”
The culinary end of the event is handled by his wife, Luisa Scivola-Somers, who toils in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on the night’s pasta dish, manicotti. In the refrigerator are dozens of ramekins of the Italian dessert panna cotta.

The couple started offering farm dinners in 2013 as a means of showcasing their artisanal sheep cheeses, but the dinners have taken on a life of their own.

The evening begins with antipasti platters, a little mingling and then a tour of the sheep farm. While Jody is showing visitors the farm’s nearly two-dozen sheep, shearing station, and surrounding verdant pastures, Luisa readies the first course -- and makes it clear that of all the elements that go into a Dancing Ewe farm dinner, a hurried pace is not in the mix.

“Our goal in doing the dinners is to replicate a rustic Tuscan dining experience that is very relaxed and family-style,” Luisa explained.

And she should know. Scivola-Somers hails from southern Tuscany and sets a European pace for the farm dinners, which stretch for three hours, start to finish.

“We start with the aperitivo, where people have the opportunity to visit with one another,” she explained. “When Jody takes them on the farm tour, they visit some more. And when they come back to the tables where dinner is served, they are no longer strangers.”


From sheep to cheese
Dancing Ewe’s evolution as a sheep farm happened serendipitously after Somers’ mother and grandmother bought what was then a cow dairy in 2000. He was studying to be a veterinarian at the time, and part of the curriculum included training border collies with a small flock of sheep. After opting out of veterinary school and left with a flock of sheep, he began to research the possibility of sheep dairy farming.

Realizing the region was already filled with cow dairies, and after reading of Steven Jenkins’ “The Cheese Primer,” he learned that the best sheep cheese in the world was produced in Tuscany, and if he was going to undertake the new venture, he would only do it by learning from the top masters in the world.

“And that is how we met,” Luisa said, smiling.

Jody returned to the farm in 2003 and began repairing the crumbling buildings to set his vision for a small-scale cheese factory into motion. Luisa soon joined him stateside, the two married, and the couple began making cheese in earnest in 2007. They currently sell four varieties of hard and soft pecorino as well as a ricotta, which inevitably ends up starring in their desserts.

They have been selling their cheeses at farmers markets almost from the start. But with the birth of their son, Matteo, it got more difficult to travel to more distant sites like Rhinebeck and the Union Square market in Manhattan.

“That was one reason we decided to do the dinners,” Luisa explained. “But we also got a lot of questions as to how to use our cheeses. At farmers markets, your hands are tied because you have no kitchen. And also, I have always loved to cook, so it was a natural transition.”

Scivola-Somers also offers cooking classes in Troy at the Arts Center of the Capital Region.
“Usually I’ll make a Sunday lunch,” she said. “Students are always surprised that preparing a good Italian meal is so simple. I tell them it’s meant to be simple.”

Fitting in the farm dinners requires rigorous organization, which includes Luisa doing the bulk of the cooking on Thursdays, spending part of Friday setting the tables and getting the barn visitor-ready, and rising at 5:30 a.m. Saturday to prepare for the farmers markets in Troy and Saratoga Springs.

“It’s a lot of work, but we love it,” she said of the weekend meals. “It’s like Thanksgiving dinner without the turkey.”

Sunday lunch is the same menu as the Saturday dinner, minus the meat course. The dinners, scheduled for most Saturday evenings through early December, are priced at $75 for a four-course meal. The three-course Sunday afternoon meals are $45.

The Somers’ most recent additions to their edible offerings are cured meats such as cacciatorini, cappocolo, pancetta, and salumi. Dancing Ewe’s meats, aged in a nearby smokehouse, are sold at farmers markets and served at the farm dinners. (Prices for their cheeses and cured meats start at $22 per pound.)

Jody’s mother, Joanne Krause, helps to run the farm, as do Carol Conklin and Richard French. They handle day-to-day operations such as milking, rotationally grazing the sheep in the spring and summer, and caring for the sheep in the winter when Jody and Luisa visit the Maremma region of Tuscany, where she is from.

The trips to Tuscany are hardly a vacation, though. Instead, the Somers spend three months working the land to produce their own line of olive oil and fruit jams. They also import a line of wines from the region. Along with cheeses and salumi, the olive oil and jams are sold at some area farmers markets as well as at the farm in Granville and via Dancing Ewe’s Web site. The Tuscan wines, available for order online, are served at the farm dinners.

“We get a nice break at Christmastime, when we’re in Italy and get to enjoy family and food,” Luisa said. “And then in January, we starting bottling the olive oil.”


Visit www.dancingewe.com for more information on farm dinners and Sunday lunches at the Dancing Ewe Farm or the farm’s cooking classes at the Troy arts center.