Three years ago, Dr. Brent Ridge and his partner, Josh Kilmer-Purcell, bought an 1802 Georgian-Federal style mansion on 60 acres 195 miles outside New York City. At the time, Ridge was the Vice President for Healthy Living at Martha Stewart Living and Kilmer-Purcell a partner in an advertising agency. The house was supposed to be a weekend home, a place where they hoped to develop an organic and biodynamic garden, host friends, have dinner parties and the like. But a man called “Farmer John” and his herd of goats changed all that. He became the caretaker of the property and his herd, now 100 strong, provides the base ingredient for several products now made on or near the premises: the Beekman 1802 artisanal, chemical-free goat milk soaps, the Mexican goat milk caramel, and the aged cheese that they plan to debut in gourmet stores this fall.
Keep in mind that Ridge had no experience making soap or cheese-except to wash and eat. He apprenticed with a local soap maker to learn the craft and initially made soaps for the house and to give to friends (in impeccably stylish packaging, of course). One of those friends happened to be Martha Stewart, who invited him on her television show where he demonstrated how he made the soaps, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Beekman 1802 products can now be purchased on the company’s website, www.Beekman1802.com, where they also curate and sell other locally made products, including heirloom linens and letter-press note cards. Dr. Ridge now lives upstate full-time and calls himself a “farmer,” while Kilmer-Purcell, still in advertising, commutes to and from the city. We had an interesting chat with Farmer Ridge about his newfound life and business.
You have an interesting philosophy behind the products you both curate and create.
The business we’ve created is actually kind of a luxury business, but it didn’t start out that way. With every product we develop we try to hark something back to the time period the house was built, which was 1802. William Beekman, the man who built this house, was a big merchant. So we’d like the things we develop to be things he would’ve carried in his store or something he’d use in his house, like the soaps. It’s interesting that even though we’re doing things in an old-fashioned, artisanal way, it ends up translating into luxury.
So you’ve become a merchant yourself.
We are very dedicated to building the micro-economy in this area. We’ve met so many wonderful craftsmen doing classic crafts, but there’s no market for their stuff. There are many times when the design has to be tweaked a little bit to make it more interesting, so we work with these people to help them create a product that is marketable and then create a market for that product. Ultimately, it has to be pretty.
What’s new for the fall and holiday season?
Besides the linens and letterpress we’re soon going to have some iron items. We found a blacksmith who lives 12 miles away but actually goes to West Virginia twice a year to mine his own ore. He brings that back here, and then creates things with it. And we’re doing a line of hand-loomed silk scarves from a local weaver who used to make scarves for Gucci and Bergdorf Goodman.
And of course, the cheese. Tell us how that came about.
Well, we bought every book we could find about cheese, and started making them. We found that chevre and ricotta are actually pretty easy, but the world doesn’t need another chevre. The cheese we’re launching this fall is an aged goat cheese called Beekman 1802 Black. During the aging process we keep coating it with hardwood ash, which is what they would’ve done in the 1800s to keep mold from growing on the cheese. The rind that develops is a charcoal-gray color.
It sounds like it fits perfectly into your “pretty” product line.
Oh yes, it’s beautiful. And delicious.