Posts filed under 'Vermont Butter & Cheese Company'
Today we visit with Allison Hooper of Vermont Butter and Cheese. Allison and her business partner Bob Reese started out making fresh goat cheese nearly 25 years ago and have since brought a myriad of European style dairy products to the American market. We spoke with Allison about the transformation of her own business and progress within the American cheese industry.
Vermont Butter and Cheese Interview
You can read other Cheese by Hand posts about Vermont Butter & Cheese here.
Up next: Willow Hill Farm
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February 10th, 2008
One of the general sessions this year was about cheesemaking in the Northeast. Clark Wolf who has a NYC based company that does restaurant and hospitality consulting was our moderator and did a great job of synthesizing information from the three presentations and posing broader questions to us all at the end. Louis Aird of Saputo in Montreal shared the history of cheese production in Canada with us and Jeff Roberts, author of the Atlas of American Artisan Cheese shared some facts and statistics about cheesemakers in the Northeast that he’d collected during his research for the book.
My ten minute talk was based on findings from our tour last summer. Below is a basic outline of my talk with audio pieces laid in where I played them. Have a read and a listen.
The Cheese by Hand lens: Our project only looked at producers making cheese by hand. We made every effort to cover the major milk types- cow, sheep, goat- and to represent the density of cheesemaking in certain regions (i.e. we saw more dairies in Wisconsin, Vermont, and California than anywhere else).
In the Northeast we visited the following farms in this order: Jasper Hill Farm, Twig Farm, Vermont Butter & Cheese, Willow Hill Farm, Appleton Creamery, Westfield Farm, and Cato Corner Farm. All are first generation cheesemakers, two are farmstead, three use milk from their own herds and buy in milk to supplement, and two are purchasing all of their milk.
These producers are, in many ways, representative of those we visited around the country- they come from diverse background and face many of the same issues as their colleagues in the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and even the South. I’ll cover three larger topics that came up everywhere and explain to you how the Northeasterners had a unique perspective on each.
First: The loss of landscape. This includes not only the land but all the services that support farms- large animal vets, mechanics, and slaughterhouses). The audio clip below features Michael Lee (Twig Farm), and Willow Smart and David Phinney (Willow Hill Farm).
Loss of Farms
The terminology- working landscape- is something we only heard in the Northeast. Maybe their connection to the landscape comes from an awareness of the rich history of dairying and farming in the region? Ultimately on this issue we felt that the producers in this area were ‘on message’ meaning that everyone had similar thoughts and desires to see the land back in use for agriculture.
Second: An eye towards their competition (Europe). Cost of Business clip starts with Allison Hooper (Vermont Butter & Cheese), Caitlin Hunter (Appleton Creamery), Michael lee (Twig Farm). Educating the public starts with Caitlin (AC), Debbie Stetson (Westfield Farm), Mateo Kehler (Jasper Hill Farm), Michael Lee (TF).
Cost of Business Educating the public
Cheesemaking is expensive everywhere but the reference point for NE cheesemakers is always Europe- whether they are discussing healthcare, cost of infrastructure, or subsidies. This may happen because the two big markets are NYC and Boston, both of which have a bounty of imported cheeses. One stinging factor is that there is a perception that most European cheeses are made by hand- Michael Lee pointed out in another part of our interview that EU cheeses that are made in the way he makes his cheeses in Vermont would not be cheaper. There is a serious educational component for these cheesemakers- not just about cheese but about the state of agriculture in our own country.
Third: The concept of local. This word is as loose as “natural” or “artisan”- listen to how differently it is used by these producers. Some call their products local when all the inputs are local and some use the term local to define the inputs and the market where it is sold. In this audio clip you will hear Michael Lee (TF), Mateo Kehler (JHF), and Mark Gillman (Cato Corner Farm).
The NE region is going to push the word local and possibly force it to be defined. Again, this has a lot to do with the two big metropolitan markets within (NY, Boston) because clientele there can support the reclaimation of the working landscape. NE was the only place where we heard producers talking about AOC cheeses- about products that must be created in a specific place- maybe also a result of the proximity and comparison to European products in the market.
In closing- some thoughts from NE producers about unifies them and what they imagine is in store for the future of artisan cheesemaking… You will hear Willow Smart (WHF) and Michael Lee (TF).
August 9th, 2007
So we have finished what some would call a more “podcast” style audio piece… a tour of the new production facility at Vermont Butter and Cheese. The audio represents a portion of what we recorded.
Audio Tour VBC
(The piece is approximately 10 minutes)
May 24th, 2006
Name: Vermont Butter & Cheese
Owners: Allison Hooper and Bob Reese
Location: Websterville, Vermont
Animals: VBC gets milk for their cheeses from approximately 25 farms. Many are in Vermont, and they are working to help these farms grow, and some are in surrounding areas- New York and Quebec. All are within a 200-mile radius.
Cheeses/Products: Chevre, Creamy Goat Cheese, Crème Fraiche, Quark, Fromage Blanc, Mascarpone, Cultured Butter, Bonne-Bouche, Bijou, and Coupole
More info: www.vtbutterandcheeseco.com
When we grow up we want to be like Allison Hooper. A pioneer in artisan cheesemaking, she is a humble, straight shooter with palpable passion for what she does. She and Bob Reese, the co-founder and owner of Vermont Butter & Cheese (VBC), have grown with the industry and are now expanding it with their new production facility. In a sense Allison is returning to her cheesemaking roots - the new cheeses VBC is producing (Bijou, Bonne-Bouche, and Coupole) are the kinds of cheeses that drew her into the profession over 20 years ago when she spent time on farms in Brittany, France.
When we arrived at VBC we went right to the new facility and watched as Allison and Adeline Folley, the operations manager who moved to Vermont from France to work with Allison on the new production facility, carefully drained and flipped each rack of Bonne-Bouche (during the first 24 hrs there is much hands on care needed). After this we walked through each aging room to see how the equipment works, see how the cheeses look, and smell the variety of aromas that come from the cheeses at each stage in their development.
Allison cleared her afternoon (this is no small feat) and took us out to one of the goat farms that supplies VBC with milk. Oak Knoll Dairy is in Windsor, VT about an hour and fifteen-minute drive from VBC. Karen Lindbo and George Redick have approximately 600 goats on their land. Their goats are not pastured because they don’t have the land required to sustain this, especially given that goats are not grazers (grass eaters), they are browsers. The plants they like to eat take even longer to re-grow than grasses, which makes pasturing goats a big challenge with any size herd. Oak Knoll grows their own feed for the goats so that they know exactly what they are getting.
Oak Knoll Dairy Farm
Karen, George, and their most trusted herding dog Moss gave us the full tour from the big, beautiful old barn, which houses the kid pen and maternity ward, to the pens of young goats and the main barn, milking parlor and milk bottling/yogurt making room. They treated us with bottles of chocolate goats milk- YUM- that has an incredibly thick and rich texture.
We spent the evening with Allison and her family just steps away from where the dream began- in the old barn across from their house. Day two we were out the door at 6:30 to start un-molding Bonne-Bouche with Adeline. After removing the cheeses from their molds, we sat down with Allison and Adeline to taste Bijou, Bonne-Bouche, and Coupole from various batches over the past month. They are doing some revolutionary things with these cheeses- defining the specifics of the flavor profile of each cheese and tasting to those profiles and designing special packaging that provides a mini-cave for each piece/package so that it can make it through the distribution channels and taste how they want it to at each stage in its development. And the results are terrific even while they continue to test and nail down the profiles of each cheese.
Adeline gave us the full tour of the old and new facility. She knows the place inside and out; we saw how all the cultured (crème fraiche, fromage blanc, quark, feta, chevre, creamy goat cheese and butter) and fresh (mascarpone) products are made and packaged. Of course we also saw all the behind-the-scenes aspects of the new plant- the compressor room will make your brain hurt with all of the wires and switches and pipes overhead. Adeline knows what every single pipe feeds and what every switch and valve controls. It is apparent that the design, construction and operation of this new facility have all been meticulously planned.
The new make room is a big risk for Vermont Butter & Cheese. It is a large capital investment for them, but it is a bold move that is summed up best by Allison when she said it is better to be bold and lie awake at night worried about things working out than to be timid and lie awake thinking about missed opportunities. We couldn’t agree more.
We interviewed Allison and then she sent us off with some crates of Bijou and Coupole to share with cheesemakers down the road- we told you…she is a class act!
Next stop: Willow Hill Farm
May 7th, 2006