Vermont Butter and Cheese Company
Continues Growth and Has Local Impact
By Ross McSwain,
Springs, CO (July 21, 2009) – Bread, butter and cheese are the staff of life. A Vermont firm is an expert in the making two of the three items so vital to good nutrition. The company has been making specialty cheeses of goat’s milk and butter from contented cows for over 20 years.
When Allison Hooper and Bob Reese started Vermont Butter and Cheese Company in 1984, their plant was located in a small barn by Allison’s house in Brookfield, Vermont. Reese was selling the cheese and Allison was making it. In 1989, the partners moved into a larger creamery located in Websterville, near Barre, Vermont.
In the beginning, their small company occupied one third of the building and the pair put most of their profits into the purchase of a boiler, a pasteurizer and a single vat. As the business grew, they had to add more equipment, more employees and more farmers to supply their operation. Through financial assistance from the National Livestock Producers Association (NLPA) Sheep & Goat Fund, they added a new 4,000 square foot creamery dedicated to the making and aging of fresh ripened goat milk cheese in 2006.
Reese said the aged cheese facility is located adjacent to the firm’s fresh cheese operation. “The total footprint is 4,000 square-feet, including the aging rooms and visitor center. Total cost of the plant’s expansion, completed in 2007, was $1.2 million, Reese said, not including the product launch costs. Reese said that the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund’s participation was $270,000. The balance was equity and debt capital.
Reese said the firm is pleased with its financial relationship with the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund. He said they would “definitely” recommend the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund as a possible financial resource to other sheep and goat industry entrepreneurs.
When the company expanded its cheese making operation, they added several new employees. They now have 32 workers and two temporary workers. “We add employees in line with our production and sales needs,” Reese said. “In this economy, we are conservative with our hiring practices. We will add two employees this year subject to where we are this holiday season.”
With a product marketing area primarily on the East Coast from Boston to Washington, D. C., the company looks to expand into a secondary area including Chicago, in Texas and Colorado and later followed by working the West Coast. Reese noted that the firm is noted for designing products for some of the country’s top chefs “so we are always researching and developing products.”
Vermont Butter and Cheese gets its raw milk from local and area suppliers, Reese said. Three of the suppliers are Vermont Farms, Hidden Acres Cooperative in New York and Superior Quality Co-op of Michigan.
“We buy over 5 million pounds of goat milk and 2.5 million pounds of cream and skim milk,” Reese said. Other suppliers are cream and skim from St. Albens Co-op and HP Hood. In addition to the suppliers, the plant also supports a network of more than 20 family farms, providing milk meeting the highest standards of purity.
“After all,” says the firm’s website, “Allison learned on a family farm in France that quality originates at the source . . . With the people who work the land and the pride they take in the yield.”
The partnership between Reese and Allison Hooper came about in an unusual way. Allison Hooper was an American college student in France in the late 1970s. Although she had no farming experience, she wrote letters to organic farmers seeking employment in order to learn about cheese making.
A family in Brittany answered her correspondence and invited her to join them on their farm and also to share their table. She soon learned the European tradition of artisanal cheese making.
When Hooper met Reese, he was in a bind. He was the marketing director for the Vermont Department of Agriculture and was organizing a special state dinner. The details were coming together except the chef needed some goat cheese - scarce in Vermont at the time. His answer came when he contacted Hooper, then the state dairy lab technician who had spent time in France. She made chevre and it was the buzz of the dinner. By the time the tables were clear, she and Reese were setting up their cheese making partnership.
The Reese-Hooper partnership has continued strong. Each has a family with three sons apiece. Hooper continues to be the cheese maker, and they have hired the technical expertise since the beginning. “The aged cheese operation was spearheaded by Adeline Folley, who serves as the plant operations manager.”
For information on the firm’s product lines, brand names, uses and easy recipes for the table, visit its website and online store at www.vtbutterandcheeseco.com, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The firm’s telephone number is 802-479-9371.
For more information about the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund or an application please contact the National Livestock Producers Association at (800) 237-7193, ext. 10 or visit www.SheepandGoatFund.com.
The National Livestock Producers Association, founded in 1921, is an organization of livestock marketing cooperatives and credit corporations representing more than 150,000 livestock producers nationwide.