Feature Stories

Made in Vermont: Vermont Farmstead Cheese: A Community-Owned Dairy

It is entirely possible that Vermont Farmstead Cheese is the only community-owned dairy farm in the country. Sales Manager Heidi Emanuel says that even if that’s not currently the case, they were the first. “There was a water buffalo farm here in South Woodstock,” she said. “When they       moved their operations to Canada, the neighbors wanted to see the land continue as a dairy farm.”

Those neighbors banded together and in 2009 they began raising money to keep the 18 acres in the dairy business, purchasing the buildings and equipment in addition to the land for the newly formed Vermont Farmstead  Cheese Company. Two years later, the first cheese was produced and at the end of 2011, the new company was ready to debut its first artisanal cheeses. President and Chief Operating Worker (COW) Kent Underwood is a fifth-generation dairy farmer. He has a degree in Animal Science and had already managed dairy operations in Wisconsin and Vermont before joining the new venture, along with Head Cheesemaker Rick Woods, a seasoned artisan cheesemaker. The very first cheese they produced for Vermont Farmstead Cheese was an award-winner.

That first cheese had the simple name of Farmstead Cheddar. Then Governor Peter Shumlin was intrigued and in his honor, the company created a Governor’s Cheddar which is aged longer than the original version. Next, they came up with Windsordale which is an American version of the British Wensleydale cheese made famous in the Wallace and Gromit movies. The name comes from the fact that the company is located in Windsor County, and also has a packing facility in Windsor.

The Windsordale is created using an imported peg mill which was custom-made in England specifically for this cheese. It tears the curds, rather than cutting them. In addition to the plain Windsordale cheese, Vermont Farmstead makes flavored versions including maple sriracha, cranberry, maple, and blueberry. The original cheese is aged, torn into curds, and then mixed with the sauces or berries.

Vermont Farmstead is also known for their beer cheddars. Emanuel believes that Woods was one of the first cheesemakers in the country to perfect it. The company’s flagship Alehouse Cheddar is made with beer from Harpoon Brewery. When the Alchemist Brewery wanted a signature product, the company made a Cheddy Topper with their famous Heady Topper beer. That was followed by collaborations with Lawson’s Finest (Sip of Sunshine), and New Belgium’s Brewing’s Fat Tire and Voodoo Ranger. Emanuel said that in addition to their regular beer cheeses, they make many custom alehouse cheddars       and limited time offerings in collaboration with several breweries throughout the country. Those beers aren’t listed on the Vermont Farmstead website since they are made for specific customers.

Emanuel said the Alehouse Cheddar is their best seller, followed by their Lille Coulommiers style cheese, which she described as being an ancestor of Brie. The company also produces a traditional Brie, which is the company’s newest product. “We have about 15 everyday cheeses, plus another five or ten specialty ones currently being produced at any given time,” Emanuel  said. “We’re a small company so we like to keep it manageable to be able to consistently produce a high-quality product.”

For several years  Vermont Farmstead had a tasting room and a store in Artisans Park in Windsor, but it closed in 2020 at the beginning of Covid. All the cheese is made and aged on the farm and creamery in South Woodstock, and then transported in 40-pound blocks to the Windsor facility for cutting, wrapping and shipping. The product can be found from coast to coast. Although most of the cheese is sold in the northeast, the company has a notable presence in other pockets of the country such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Florida, Louisiana, and Washington state. Vermont Farmstead Cheese is a member of the Specialty Food Association and is featured in the Williams Sonoma catalogue. Local companies such as the Snow Farm Vineyard in South Hero tout the cheeses as a great pairing for their wine.

In 2013, the company added an additional line of products. Vermont’s Castleton Crackers had grown so much in popularity that founder Whitney Lamy approached Vermont Farmstead.       Since cheese and crackers are the perfect accompaniment, she sold her home-grown bakery to Vermont Farmstead Cheese, which ships the crackers from the Windsor facility.

Emanuel describes the real workers of Vermont Farmstead Cheese – the cows – as being a pampered bunch. Most of the herd is comprised of Holsteins and Jerseys but there are also some Ayrshires and Brown Swiss. Combining the milk from the different bovines allows the company to create a consistent product. Emanuel said the cows sleep on water-filled mattresses covered with hay – essentially waterbeds. They spend their summers outdoors and have plenty of room in the barn. The company milks roughly half of the herd at a time (between 50 and 75 cows) while giving the others a “vacation.”

Emanuel notes that Vermont Farmstand Cheese is a small company with only eight full-time and seven or eight part-time employees. Both Kent Underwood and Rick Woods, have been with the company from the very beginning. “We all wear several different hats,” she said. In fact, Emanuel started out as thee store manager in Windsor before transitioning to her current role as sales manager.

Vermont Farmstead Cheese has won numerous awards throughout the years. They take part in the annual American Cheese Society competition and usually come home with two or three medals almost every year. They have also won numerous prizes at the Big E Exposition every year, and last year, they were named Vermont Cheddar Creamery of the year at the 2021 New York International Cheese Competition. They won silver medals for their Windsordale Cheddar and Lille Bebe Coulommiers cheese and a bronze for the Maple Sriracha Windsordale.

For Kent Underwood, work at Vermont Farmstand Cheese is a labor of love. “I enjoy interacting with all aspects of the business from farm to table; whether it be milking the cows, helping in the creamery, cutting and wrapping cheese, or meeting our customers,” he said. “I feel lucky to be able to operate a farmstead dairy, where the cheese is made on the same property where the cows live, allowing us to connect the community and all consumers to the holistic process that makes our award-winning artisanal cheeses.” 

For more information on Vermont Farmstead Cheese visit  VermontFarmstead.com.

Phyl Newbeck writes for a wide variety of Vermont newspapers and magazines. She is the author of Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.

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