May 7th, 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