Neighbors join forces to buy a dairy farm
Neighbors Join Forces to Buy a Dairy Farm
by Katherine P. Cox
Savvy Vermont cheese lovers on the lookout for the next best thing may have noticed some new artisan cheeses on the block—with the imprint of the Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company. What they may not know is that Vermont Farmstead is unique—a community-owned dairy and cheesemaking operation, the first in the state.
Established a little more than a year ago, the company was formed when a group of neighbors in South Woodstock joined forces to buy—and save from potential development—a dairy farm, seeking to preserve the rural character of the community. The former Kedron Valley Dairy came on the market in 2010, and concerned neighbors with adjoining properties began meeting to see what could be done to save the land and the farm. “Everyone wanted to see the farm continue,” said Kent Underwood, Chief Operating Officer of Vermont Farmstead Cheese, one of the company’s herdsmen and one of the original neighbors who came together to buy the farmland and dairy facility.
They bought the farm in April, 2010, with the goal to revitalize it and in short order got to work. They began milking later that month, and started making cheese in January. Dedicated to crafting high-quality artisan cheeses, defined as cheese produced in small batches in the traditional way with as little mechanization as possible, and farmstead cheeses, which can only be made from the milk from the farmer’s own herd, they launched four new cheeses in May. Available in cheese stores, specialty food stores and supermarkets around the state, they are Alehouse Cheddar, Tilsit, Sugar Shack Edam and Farmstead Windsordale.
Sharon Huntley, director of marketing, describes the cheeses much the way one would describe a fine wine, and even recommends pairings of beer and wine for these cheeses.
“Our Alehouse Cheddar is a twist on the traditional classic. It’s tipsy with a hint of earthy, rich artisan ale. Also made with the peg mill, our cheddar has a more open, flavorful balance of nuts, hops and sweet notes. Pair it with hard cider, any micro brew, or Pinot Gris,” she suggests.
“Tilsit is a hearty cheese that will tempt the cheese lovers looking for a more intense, full flavor. It has a medium-firm texture with irregular holes and a washed rind. Pair with a variety of white wines such as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio, a light oak chardonnay, or Chablis, or reds such as Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or Burgundy,” she advises.
The savory SugarShack Edam, encased in the traditional red wax, she says, “is flavored with fenugreek and infused with a hint of maple and brown sugar. Pair with sancerre, white sangria, hock, riesling, chenin blanc, chinon red or white.”
Finally, the Farmstead Windsordale, Huntley says, “is an homage to Britain’s famous farmhouse cheeses of yore. Our Farmstead Windsordale is a raw milk cheese made using a late 1800 farmhouse recipe and a traditional peg mill, the only one found this side of the pond. The peg mill tears the curds versus traditional cutting, for a more open, friable texture. The result is a creamy white cheese with a hint of tart apple, a sweet honeyed aftertaste and firm, flaky texture. The cheese is clothbound with a butter-ripened natural rind.” She suggests pairing it with apple wine, rose, Frascati, Gewurtztraminer, prosecco or champagne.
The talent behind these cheeses is head cheese-maker Rick Woods, formerly of Grafton Village Cheese Company, and cheesemaker Tom Gilbert. “Rick is passionate about what he does,” Underwood says, adding, “We assembled a wonderful group of people,” including Peter Mohn, who also came from Grafton Village Cheese Company where he was general manager. Mohn is in charge of sales and is helping design the cheeses as well, Underwood says.
And while Underwood says their main focus is making high-quality cheeses, the folks at Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company take community responsibility seriously and have a number of initiatives in development. They hope to reach out to other cheesemakers in the state to work together to revive and grow Vermont’s dairy and cheese industries. “We’re actively working with other farms and cheesemakers to see what other opportunities are out there.”
In addition, they have partnered with students at Vermont Technical College on projects evaluating renewable energy on the farm and dairy farm analysis. “We want to create a co-curriculum to get young people engaged in cheesemaking,” Underwood says, to ensure the continuation of Vermont’s dairy and cheese traditions.
Vermont is known for its high-quality cheeses, and Underwood and his colleagues at Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company are hoping to take that brand to the next level. “We want Vermont and Vermont cheeses to become a force in the nation,” Huntley says.
Underwood invites those who are interested in learning more about the company and the latest cheese offerings to visit the website, http://www.vermontfarmstead.com, or join them on Facebook.