Eclectic Herd Leads To An Assortment Of Artisan CheesesJun 26, 2020 01:40PM ● By Virginia Dean
WM: We understand you are the first community-owned artisan cheese and dairy facility in the state, established in 2009, and brought to the public in 2011. Can you tell us what that means?
VFCC: Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company began as a community effort to preserve a picturesque 18-acre dairy farm in South Woodstock, VT in 2009.
A passionate group of neighbors, who believed in the importance of regional food suppliers, came together to raise money to purchase the land, buildings, and equipment to maintain the dairy farm—all those people are still actively involved in the business. In June 2011, we produced our first cheese, and five months later, after refining our product, we brought it to the public.
“We’re seeing a renewed trend in regional food suppliers; interest is growing more and more popular around the country. We like to think we were ahead of the curve. The core group of our supporters, who invested in us more than 10 years ago, own property within a 10-mile radius. This is really a community operation. We utilize some of their pastures and fields, and incorporate them into our business and farming operations,” says Kent Underwood, President and COW (Chief Operating Worker).
“As we’ve grown”, Kent continued, “we’ve strengthened and extended these ties within our community to work with and support other regional cheesemakers, partnered with local and national independent beer makers, such as Harpoon and New Belgium – ‘our community’ now encompasses more than just the neighbors in our own backyard. A perfect example of how we’re constantly trying to expand our community is our recent participation in the national Victory Cheese program, which helps consumers support local cheesemakers, as well as our distributors, cheese shops, and restaurants, through the COVID pandemic throughout the U.S.
Our own Victory Box includes a number of our cheeses in addition to cheese from other farms in the Central and Southern Vermont region, including Thistle Hill’s Tarentaise, Cobb Hill’s Oh My Gouda, Blue Ledge’s LaLuna, and Grafton Village’s Clothbound Cheddar and Bear Hill Sheep Cheese.
WM: We see that you have a variety of cheeses. What summer cheeses are you making currently and what - wine, fruit, etc. - might go nicely with them?
VFCC: For summer, we have produced our Lillé Coulommiers-style cheese, a decadently sumptuous soft-ripened cheese, and Spring Brie. Both are wonderful for picnicking, perhaps served with a fresh baguette and a nice full-bodied red wine such as a Malbec.
We also have a variety of different beer cheeses out in various regions, including our Allagash Alehouse Cheddar, which will be available at Hannaford in July. It’s a special summer release made with Allagash White from Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, ME.
All of our Ale House Cheddars make great anchors for a cheese board as well as being fantastic for cheeseburgers on the grill. And the Ale House Cheddars pair perfectly with a frosty cold beer on a hot summer day. For those who are looking for something on the sweeter side, we developed our Adult S’More made with our Lillé, our Castleton graham crackers, and dark chocolate.
WM: You have recently announced the closing of your Windsor Vermont Market after five years. Will you be maintaining those products affiliated with that facility and where will your products (including charcuterie, Castleton Crackers, maple syrup, books, bath, and body apparel, candies) now be sold?
VFCC: We decided not to renew the lease at our Windsor, VT market prior to the pandemic in order to focus on our core operations and business – making award-winning cheese. We wanted to renew our efforts working with and supporting our partners and regional retailers who work with us and our other cheese making partners.
Given the current environment, it seems like this was the perfect time to make this shift. Probably 75% of our traffic was from tourists, and there is no telling when experiential food marketing will be able to resume.
WM: You state that part of your mission is to "create a new generation of award-winning artisanal cheeses". Can you tell us what kinds, including strength and/or intensity of taste?
VFCC: It’s our goal to establish new cross-pollinating partnerships across a variety of complementary areas. We were really one of the first cheesemakers to start working with breweries to produce cheese, and we’re continuing to develop these relationships locally, regionally, and nationally. 10 years in, we’re producing a wide variety of award-winning beer cheeses and are always on the lookout for new brewery partners. Our varieties vary in strength and intensity – depending on the beer that is used.
Many retailers are thrilled with the opportunities for cross-merchandising – beer lovers are introduced to the possibilities of cheese, and cheese lovers become beer lovers. It can broaden their consumer audiences and increase customer loyalty.
One of our most recent national collaborations is with New Belgium Brewing for our VooDoo Ranger IPA Ale House Cheddar.
WM: The future: what does that look like - as far as goals - for VT Farmstead Cheese Company?
VFCC: It’s our mission to focus on what we do best: Carefully and thoughtfully nurturing our relationships with the land, the animals, and our partners to sustainably produce fresh, quality, and creative artisan cheeses.
To achieve this, we will continue to improve our operational processes and bolster our production capacity, aligning ourselves with great partners in our region and beyond, growing and supporting our community of brewers, retailers, and other cheesemakers.
January 2021 will mark 11 years for us not shipping milk into the conventional milk market channels. During this time, not a single drop of milk has left our farm as fluid milk – only as cheese. We are one of only a few farmstead cheesemakers that do not rely on balancing from other processors. In fact, we work with other farms to bring in milk for cheese production, such as our relationship with Thomas Dairy. When they have a surplus of milk, as we’ve seen recently with a number of dairies, we can quickly shift our production capabilities and move it into cheese.