I recently discovered Vermont Farmstead Cheese on a weekend visit to the Cheese Board in Windsor VT. After sampling quite a few cheeses (crackers, caramels and wines) at the shop, I settled on a creamy, buttery Lille that quite literally melted on the cracker even before it made it to my mouth. It was so creamy and so delicious. My curiosity was peaked so I took a look at their website and discovered the cheese farm had an unusual story to tell. I set up an appointment with Sharon Huntley, their Marketing Director to find out more.
Originally the farm raised water buffalo and made high end yogurt from their milk, but the business was unable to make a go of it. The market was too limited and with their price point, they were unable to compete. So, in 2009 they shipped all the water buffalo up to Canada and they listed the farm for sale- but that proved to be challenging too. No one wanted to buy a farm. The owner’s thoughts then turned to possibly subdividing the farm and putting in a series of homes and/or condos. As you might imagine, this was not a popular idea in the neighborhood. This is bucolic, quintessential Vermont. This is a farm down a winding and elevated dirt road with views of gorgeous hills and valleys. The thought of homes clustered on a hilly field was upsetting- not to mention the idea of yet another dairy farm going under.
The 14 surrounding neighbors got together and decided to purchase the entire farm. It became the first community owned dairy in Vermont. (It has since become a privately owned stock company with a handful of outside investors.) One of the neighbor-owners, Kent Underwood, became the COO and he had his own herd of Holstein cows to contribute to the dairy. Organically the heard began to grow. The CFO was a Jersey guy and he contributed a herd of Jerseys. Another investor who came from an Ayrshire farm in Maine brought a handful of Ayrshires. Then a couple of Brown Swiss were added, and there is a milking Shorthorn as well.
Vermont Farmstead believes this combination gives their cheese an artisan edge in the market. Holsteins add volume and comprise about 60% of the herd. Jerseys give a higher butter fat content and are about 30% of the herd. Brown Swiss have a high protein component and make up about 5%. Aryshire about 5% as well. There was nothing standard about their herd, so they didn’t set out to make standard cheeses like cheddar and blue. They instead chose to make cheeses that weren’t readily available in the marketplace. And here is where my beloved Lille comes in.
Lille, as I learned is a Coulommier cheese, similar to brie, but creamier. And, there is a lactic core that basically melts when it is cut open. It attains that “room temperature” softness of a brie in record time, making it perfect to slather on pear and apple slices, or a big hunk of baguette, or a simple cracker. And, because it isn’t being imported from France ( or any other country) they don’t have to add a stabilizer so it can react naturally to its surroundings, allowing it to reach room temp sooner.
Vermont Farmstead Cheese recently took over the space in Artisan Park from Sustainable Farmer. They decided they wanted to have a space to highlight their cheeses (they DO have other cheese options besides Lille, btw) other than the Co-op, where I now purchase weekly. In addition to opening a retail space, they also purchased Castleton Crackers and sell the crackers all across the United States. Whitney Lamy, the crackers creator, still makes and packages the crackers but they are now warehoused and distributed from The Cheese Board’s space in Windsor.
Besides rushing to purchase Lille, you might also want to mark your calendar for the ever popular Mac and Cheese Contest, held on September 11 of this year. I can only imagine how great that comfort food bender will be!!