A Day on Hunterdon County’s 579 Trail
Courtesy of Jennifer Shafer, JerseyBites.com
Did you know that Hunterdon County is home to a scenic driving trail that links some of the most beautiful farms, farm stands, farmer’s markets, eateries, wineries, and unique experiences in agrotourism that New Jersey has to offer?
It’s true! You’ll discover an absolute wonderland along the Hunterdon County 579 Trail.
My Experience on the Hunterdon 579 Trail
I recently explored the trail and experienced several of its stops along the way. With each turn, the beauty, variety, and sense of community that I found had me in awe! I invite you to take a virtual journey with me as I recount this amazing adventure. I hope it will inspire you to plan your own day trip, weekend, or other kind of experience along the Hunterdon County 579 Trail, aka “The Other Side of New Jersey”!
Phillips Farm and Farm Market
My day started with a morning visit to Phillips Farm Market. The vibrant colors of the fresh-picked fruit made me feel like a kid in a candy store. The availability changes with the month and according to what is in season, and I found a bounty of jewel-toned ripe raspberries, blueberries, and cherries.
The market store carries a wide variety of vegetables and herbs from their fields and neighboring farms. You’ll also find products such as dips, sauces, salsas, honey, frozen pasta, meat, yogurt, dairy goods, and snacks, which are all made in New Jersey, as well as a bakery. You can pick table grapes, wine grapes, and strawberries (depending on the season) at the Farm Market location as well.
Next Stop, Phillips Farm
Just a few miles away from Phillips Farm Market, you will find Phillips Farm. If you are looking for a “pick your own” fruit experience, then Phillips Farm is the place you want to be. The lane leading into the farm has the most beautiful view overlooking fruit trees, valleys, and the distant hills of Pennsylvania.
During this stop, I chatted a bit with Marc Phillips, the owner and farmer of this picturesque location. Marc explained that patrons can get a real day at the farm when they come to Phillips.
Aside from wagons that ride families out to the apple orchards in the fall, visitors walk to the crop of their choice, which can be a quarter of a mile—or more—away, and bring back their picked fruit to the weighing shed. “We provide quality products in a beautiful location,” Marc said when I asked what he would want readers to know about his farm.
Walking around the orchards, brambles, and blueberry bushes I could see exactly what Marc was talking about as families started into the fields for a day of weekend fun and the berries ripened in the sun.
Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse
The next destination of the morning was Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse. Once on site I met with the owner, Jonathan White, for a very informative tour of the property, which was followed by a tasting.
My tour started with an up-close look at the Bakehouse’s brick oven. The oven starts warming up the night before dough goes in, and it burns very hot overnight. By the next morning, the oven bricks have cooled down enough for the bread to start baking.
A bit of modern technology and engineering keeps this process in check, allowing the oven’s damper to be controlled via Wi-Fi—from a cell phone! White explained that there is an art to the order of bread making, and the oven’s temperature determines all. Smaller loaves go in first because they bake quicker and at a higher temperature. As the oven cools further, larger loaves that take longer go in.
We then moved on to the dairy, which of course starts with the cows. I was treated to a view of both cows being milked and also a look at them lounging outside the milking room. Jonathan pointed out that the calves were with their mothers. This is an unusual sight at most dairy farms, but it is part of the Bobolink mission of maintaining an ethical farm.
Calves kept with their moms remain less stressed and are better socialized. In the end, this type of environment makes for better-tasting milk, cheese, and ultimately, meat. Once back inside I got a glimpse of the fresh milk that was being pumped in from the milking room. After that, we moved onto the cheese.
The cheese at Bobolink is all 100% raw cow’s milk, made from the farm’s own grass-fed cows. Aged for a minimum of 60 days in their cheese cave, the flavor is unlike anything I have tasted. I can only suggest that you head out to the farm and sample a few for yourself. And bring a cooler!
While you are there, in addition to cheese and a rustic loaf of bread, pick up a log of the whey-fed dried pork sausage. You’ll find yourself with the makings for a most amazing picnic—or charcuterie board.
Mad Lavender Farm
Mad Lavender Farm is a treat for your senses. As you walk up the path, the vibrant purple flowers in the distance and the drifting aroma of the lavender offer a guaranteed sense of calm and peace. Once you’re on the property, you will immediately spot the playfully whimsical gypsy caravan chicken coop and caravan gift shop. Owners Adrienne and Don designed, built, and hand-painted both unique structures.
On the morning of my visit, the farm buzzed with excitement. Guests enjoyed a lavender wreath-making class while a bridal shower kicked off. Meanwhile, other visitors met with the resident goats before the start of a goat yoga class.
During this time, farm-goers strolled the lavender fields and took pictures among the beautiful flowers. In addition to attending workshops and events, and picking lavender, patrons can walk the winding meditation labyrinth and take in the sounds of running water alongside the farm’s newest waterfall garden feature.
As we walked through the farm, Don mentioned that the summer weekends are the busy season. He took the time to tell me about the organic products they sell, most of which are handmade on the farm or nearby. None of the products use plastic bottles or tubs, thanks to the farm’s commitment to sustainability. They also sell organic chicken eggs and some of the produce grown on the farm.
Don noted his hope that this will contribute to a domino effect and lead others to make similar decisions in choosing sustainable products and packaging in daily life. Before I knew it, it was time to let Don get back to his busy day of guests and it was time for me to head over to lunch.
Ironbound Hard Cider
At the heart of the Hunterdon County 579 Trail, you will find Ironbound Farm. This is truly one of the anchoring spots that brings the purpose of the trail together. I was delighted to meet with Ironbound Farm’s owner Charles Rosen for this stop along my Trail Tour.
Charles made me feel right at home as I walked up to the beautiful kitchen garden and outdoor eating area that sits overlooking the larger farm in the distance.
Charles offered up some info about the location’s history. Once operated as a winery, the land was abandoned and left void of nutrients and microscopic life that makes for healthy soil. After some trial and error, Ironbound Farm developed a system for mobile chicken coops, which can be moved along alleys set in the farm terrain.
From there, the chickens within the coops eat bugs from the land and naturally put nutrients back into the ground. Over time the soil begins to heal and transform. This is just one example of how Ironbound has worked with the land to create an environment of regenerative farming.
Lunch at Ironbound
Set in what Ironbound calls the Woodshed, with a view of both the surrounding farm and the monolith wood cooking vessel called the Motherfire, we were seated for lunch. The meal started with a beautifully plated arugula salad. The seasonal salads at Ironbound Farm offer a perfect presentation of what is currently vibrant and fresh. For us, it was snap peas, strawberries, and radishes, topped with a ball of fried goat cheese over arugula.
Next came the taco board: a gourmet take on a do-it-yourself taco bar with pulled brisket, cabbage slaw, house-fermented hot chili sauce, cream, herbs, and house-made corn tortillas. To accommodate vegetarians and non-red-meat eaters in the party, the board also included a delicious black bean filling and a platter of grilled porgy—straight from the Jersey shore.
A few more dishes followed, including lamb polpette with labneh and house-made pita, hujiao pork bun, grilled bread with burrata, and a vegetable burger topped with an Ironbound Farms egg.
More Than a Meal
This was not just lunch, but a feast for the eyes, nose, and taste buds! Ironbound Cider exemplifies the farm-to-table concept, in its truest form. For example, the farm grows heritage varieties of corn, which then gets ground into masa, and pressed into the corn tortillas—all for the taco board.
Ironbound elevates the process by networking with the surrounding farms and sourcing the products that those farms excel at. This makes for a unique and memorable experience: diners get the best of the best on their plate and all parties involved win.
No trip to Ironbound would be complete without sampling cider and cocktails. Some of my favorite sips included the lemon ginger hard seltzer (forget everything you know about hard seltzers, this one tastes like a lightly carbonated botanical spirit); the strawberry and peach white sangria (nothing at all like the sugary sweet sangrias we are all used to, this one is light, fruity, and refreshing); the not a ‘rita (made with their golden russet orange—you will have a hard time believing there is no tequila involved); and the full flower moon, which is unique, tropical, and floral, but again, very light and not cloying or overly sweet.
Another highlight of the tasting was a sampling of Ironbound’s special edition Newark Cider Royal, a smooth tasting blend of the Farm’s signature Harrison hard apple cider and Applejack, which is barrel-aged in oak.
I could have stayed in the Ironbound Woodshed eating remnants of our bountiful lunch, entertained by Charles’s stories, and sipping delicious cider cocktails all day. But the afternoon called me back to the Hunterdon 579 Trail!
Stangl Farmers Market
Once home to Flemington’s historic pottery factory, the Stangl Factory now houses a variety of experiences including a gallery, pottery studio, restaurants, coffee shop, yoga, and a weekly year-round farmers market held every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Stangl Farmers Market is a fun spot that hosts over 30 different artisanal vendors weekly. In the market I saw a range of enticing offerings such as locally grown fruit and vegetables, grass-fed meats, eggs, locally made cheese, and decadent bakery items. Additionally there were specialty vendors selling handmade soaps, baskets, and one-of-a-kind crafts.
Overall, as I shopped my way through the Market’s aisles, I felt a sense of community. I love witnessing food and artistry bringing people together!
Gorgeous Goat Creamery
The scenic drive turned from farmland, to neighborhood and then, distinctly, woodland as I followed the route to my next stop: Gorgeous Goat Creamery. Maria and her husband, Matt, started the farm, almost by accident, when they were looking for a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to clear the thorny brush throughout the forest of their property.
Goats were the answer to this problem, as they happily eat all of the unwanted undergrowth. They started with a few goats as forest management but the herd kept growing from there. Soon, Maria started making goat cheese and the results earned rave reviews from family and friends. The next steps seemed almost natural. They followed all agriculture and health department regulations and protocols to become a goat dairy farm.
What’s Happening at Gorgeous Goat Creamery
Gorgeous Goat produces chevre, a soft goat milk cheese. In addition, feta, glass bottled goat’s milk, and goat’s milk yogurt, as well as handcrafted goat’s milk soap, are all handcrafted on site.
During a farm tour, Maria introduced me to the goat ladies and gents and gave me a rundown of the milking and cheese making process. Gorgeous Goat products are available at several local farmers markets including the West Windsor Community Market, the Hunterdon Land Trust Farmers Market, and the Farmers Market at Duke Farms. Their products are also featured on the menu at many local restaurants, like Ironbound Cider, and at some local retailers.
Gorgeous Goat Farm hosts bottle-feeding events in the spring when the new kids are born. They also have farm tours, goat hikes and meet-the-goats dates throughout the later summer season. These onsite agrotourism experiences intend to build awareness of animal agriculture and small-scale food production.
The Black Shed
Technically, the Black Shed is a garden center, but it is so much more. It’s the ultimate spot for unique finds in home décor, home accent pieces, and, of course, outdoor landscape.
It is also a great spot to linger over a latte—or a margarita—in the in-store café, bar, or superbly designed outdoor space. They also host workshops and evening events with local food trucks and live entertainment. In a word, the Black Shed is cool!
The Black Shed Concept
According to Leith, one of the shop owners, “The concept is simple. We provide a place for the community to gather, get ideas, shop, relax and enjoy. If a customer needs help with a gift or has no clue how to put a flower arrangement together, we are here to help.”
Pro tip: Enjoy the outdoor section in the warm months and make plans to come back during the holidays. The store transforms into a winter wonderland, complete with snow machines, hot chocolate, and a German Christmas market!
Old York Cellars
As I walked down the path and toward the lively patio and outdoor space of Old York Cellars, I was struck the beautiful view of a lovely sloping landscape and rows upon rows of vibrant green grape vines. I immediately knew that my final stop of the day would be something special.
I was greeted at the winery by David Wolin, owner of Old York Cellars. David pointed out some of the changes that took place at the winery over the last couple of years. Some changes include cabana rentals and a Spanish forward menu. The winery cabanas all have that gorgeous vineyard view and provide an intimate, sheltered spot for groups to gather, eat and of course, drink wine. The cabanas are heated in cooler weather and can seat a maximum of 6 people for up to two hours. As we walked around the property, I noticed many groups taking advantage of this amenity.
The chef has a Spanish-forward menu, which guests can experience as a wine-and-tapas pairing, a wine-charcuterie-and-chocolate pairing, a six-course pairing menu, or ala carte as part of a cabana or table reservation.
The menu selections range from traditional tapas to casual European-style sandwiches and salads to specialty paellas. Try the various artisan boards of cheese, ham, or gourmet dips, or a light snack and dessert.
Once I sat down in the wine tasting room, I enjoyed the guided wine and tapas pairing. The tapas, including generous samples of traditional gazpacho, Spanish tortilla, vegetable paella, manchego and serrano ham, Spanish meatball, and bacon-wrapped dates, went exceptionally well with the paired wines. I could not pick a favorite if I tried!
I hope you are inspired to follow this itinerary—or to create one of your own—along Hunterdon County’s 579 Trail! Please remember to call or check each location’s website for hours of operation, events, reservations, and availability.
Find more Hunterdon 579 Trail destinations here!
In order of appearance in the article:
564 Milford Warren Glen Rd.
Milford, NJ 08848
91 Crab Apple Hill Rd.
Milford, NJ 08848
369 Stamets Rd.
Milford, NJ 08848
452 Co Rd 579
Milford, NJ 08848
360 Co Rd 579
Asbury, NJ 08802
Please note this is Asbury, NJ, and not Asbury Park, NJ
50 Stangl Rd.
Flemington, NJ 08822
71 Featherbed Ln.
Stockton, NJ 08559
343 County Road 519
Stockton, NJ 08559
80 Old York Rd.
Ringoes, NJ 08551
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Family Fun Foodie Fun Outdoor Galore Things to Do