It had been way too long since we'd been to see Dave's mother and sister in Vermont, so we decided head up to New England this summer for a little quality time with the fam. And since Culinate.com had asked me to do an article on artisan cheese for their fall issue, I made some appointments with a few artisan cheesemakers to see what they were up to.
According to Jeffrey Roberts, whose Atlas of American Artisan Cheese was just published and lists 34 producers in Vermont alone, "great cheese starts from complex, vital relationships among land, climate and animals." And perhaps no one in Vermont exemplifies that better than Peter Dixon of Dairy Foods Consulting, the go-to guy in the country if you want to start making artisan cheese. Like a latter-day Johnny Appleseed, he's spreading the gospel of artisan cheese across the country and working with new and established cheesemakers to start up their businesses or expand their existing product lines.
He's worked with four cheesemakers in Oregon alone, and is currently consulting with owner Angela Miller of Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlet, VT, on their cow and goat's milk cheeses (photo, upper left; notice the date on the house: 1819!). The day we talked he was cutting curds and making wheels of their Manchester cheese (photo, upper right). He says, "This is a wonderful kind of business to have. It's easy on the land because you're grazing and the animals are eating forage. You can get by with less grain because when you make cheese you don't need to have the cows or goats produce as much milk as when you're selling your milk. And the value of the milk is high because you're making it into cheese. It lends itself to going back to the old-fashioned way of dairy farming."
He also notes that the proliferation of farmers markets has "developed enough that people can jump into this type of business and become successful. Just look at Jasper Hill. Three years ago there was no Jasper Hill. Now there's 70,000 pounds more cheese mostly in the northeastern seaboard market. There have been ten new ones starting up to contribute another 100,000 to 200,000 pounds. Some kind of market is gobbling up all this production." And to that we can only add, "Bring it on!"
Read the rest of the posts in this series: Burlington and Environs, Twig on a Branch, My First Time, Muddling Through Middlebury and Cheese and Community.