Author: Laura Carbonneau
Nestled in the quiet towns of Grafton and Brattleboro, Vermont, Grafton Village Cheese is a longstanding business within our community. Founded in 1892 by a cooperative of dairy farmers as a means to utilize surplus raw milk, Grafton Village Cheese remains a vital part of Vermont’s dairy industry. President and CEO, Ruth Anne Flore, took some time to answer our questions and teach us more about this great local business.
What makes your products unique?
Grafton Village Cheese is considered one of a handful of legacy cheese companies in the country. Grafton never wavered from its handmade, small batch production and its commitment to producing a traditional New England style cheddar; a cheddar with “bite.” Our flavor profile remains distinctive. All of our milk comes from Vermont family farms.
What is your favorite product?
Tough question…I love our 1 and 2 year-aged cheddars for their versatility and Grafton’s signature “bite.” For grilled cheese sandwiches, mac ‘n cheese dishes, burgers… the Truffle cheddar or Smoked Chili cheddar absolutely elevate the experience! Our cave-aged cheeses, Clothbound, Shepsog (mixed milk – cow & sheep), and Bear Hill (washed rind 100% sheep’s milk), are incredibly special and shine on any cheeseboard.
Why is selling locally and the local food movement is important to you?
As a Windham Foundation-owned enterprise, Grafton Village Cheese communicates a sense of place. When buying locally produced cheese, you are supporting not only the teams that make it happen, but the dairies from whom we purchase our milk, and the local retailers, country stores, inns, and restaurants who include locally produced cheese on the shelves and menus.
How does working with Food Connects help your business?
The choices we make have a direct impact on our communities. Working with Food Connects enhances our ability to educate not only students but teachers, health care, and food service professionals of the importance of using local, sustainable foods produced in our regional community.
Could you share with us some of the new business changes at Grafton? What are some of your hopes for the future?
In early April, as a result of COVID-19, we experienced a significant drop in volume and made the decision to move our block cheddar production from our Brattleboro location to the original Grafton facility. We continue to operate our cut and wrap operations, as well as our retail store and logistics from Brattleboro. Over the years, our volume and growth ambitions for the plant have unfortunately never been realized. The Retreat Farm’s interest in acquiring the property to further its mission around local food production, agricultural products, job creation, and outdoor recreation would allow us to become an anchor tenant—relieving us of long term debt and enabling Grafton Village Cheese to become financially sustainable. In May, at our Grafton facility, we completed a months’ long project of building new caves which will give us running room to increase production of our award-winning cave-aged cheeses. Combining our block cheddar and cave-aged production in Grafton, a much smaller facility, will allow us to re-focus our efforts to right-size the company.
Any events coming up or fun fact about your business/products?
Our new branding is working its way into the marketplace. It’s bold. It’s bright. It’s exciting. We are CHEESE ON A MISSION!
Our most important “ingredient” is our cheesemaking team, led by Mariano Gonzalez, our head cheesemaker. Mariano is one of the country’s best award-winning cheddar makers. Dedicated to his craft, Mariano’s cheesemaking skills are recognized worldwide.
Our cave-aged Shepsog is the Algonquin word for “sheep”, which once covered Vermont’s hillsides during the booming wool industry of the 19th century.
Our sheep’s milk cheese, Bear Hill is named for the scenic bluff overlooking the Village of Grafton.
This story by Food Connects originally appeared at https://www.foodconnects.org/fh-news-hub/2020/2020/7/7/producer-spotlight-grafton-village-cheese