An interview with the founders of Sweet Doe Gelato

Sweet Doe Gelato's Michael and Lisa Davis tell us their story

As some of you know, at this past April's Flavors of the Valley I had the opportunity to sample many wonderful new products from Upper Valley food producers and one of the great standouts was new arrival Sweet Doe Gelato, which impressed me so much that I felt the need to buy a pint after trying a taste.  I wanted to know more about the story of Sweet Doe Dairy and thought that maybe my readers would like to know too so I decided to ask the owners, Michael and Lisa Davis,  about doing an interview for this blog.  This is the result, Sweet Doe Dairy, in their own words.

Michael and Lisa Davis, with friend. Photo by Anna Goodling

UV EDIBLE EXPLORATIONS: Can you share a little bit about the history of Sweet Doe Dairy?

LISA: Sweet Doe Dairy has been more than a decade in the making. It was an aspiration long before we moved to Vermont, and it’s been quite a journey to where we are today. When we purchased our property at the end of 2011, there was virtually no infrastructure in place to support modern day dairying, let alone processing. There was no running water to the barn, no access roads, no fencing, no milking parlor, and no creamery. All we had was a historic bank barn that, while structurally sound, was in need of substantial work. We knew we couldn’t afford to hire contractors to build our facility, so we started to build it ourselves over a span of multiple years. Thankfully, an extremely generous neighbor volunteered to teach us the construction skills we needed and work side by side with us every step of the way. We did it virtually all ourselves – construction, concrete work, plumbing, electrical, you name it – while starting and growing our herd and working to develop our product, all at the same time. Looking back on it, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It was difficult in every respect. But, that’s what start-ups are all about: blood, sweat, tears…and a lot of obstacles to be overcome along the way.

We’re so grateful for all of the friends in our Chelsea community who have helped us on our journey, whether it’s assisting with chores and feeding newborns in the spring, teaching us new skills, bringing us hot meals in the height of kidding season, or offering much-needed encouragement when we were nearly at our breaking pointWe’re thrilled to be the first and only producer of goat milk gelato in New England and to finally be bringing our product to market for all to enjoy.

Sweet Doe Dairy, photo by Lisa Davis

UV EDIBLE EXPLORATIONS: Tell us a little bit about how you got started making your gelato?

MICHAEL: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always loved ice cream. I can remember sitting on the sofa at my grandparents’ house, stirring it up in my bowl and pretending to make something with it. I’ve long had a passion for cooking, as well, having grown up in New Orleans in a food-oriented culture with a grandmother who was an incredible creole cookIn fact, if I hadn’t gone into the Navy and pursued a business degree, I probably would have gone to culinary school to become a chef.

When I moved to New York in the late 1990s, my passion for food only intensified, given that we were within walking distance to some of the world’s best and most ethnically diverse restaurants. There was literally a world full of flavors at our fingertips. But, my career at that point had taken a different path. I was working in information technology for a major insurance company. It had me doing quite a bit of international travel, which was great, but my passion for food never waned. After my wife started volunteering in the greenhouse at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, NY, I decided to join her. While vegetable production wasn’t right for me, I became involved with the livestock team, which led me to explore dairy more fully. Eventually, I came back to my passion for ice cream and started experimenting, in my home kitchen, with different recipes and techniques. The rest, as they say, is history.

UV EDIBLE EXPLORATIONS: What led you to the idea of goat milk gelato?

MICHAEL: Frankly, I wanted to do something innovative. At that time, there were a lot of people who couldn’t eat ice cream because of sensitivities to cow’s milk, and I couldn’t help but notice that there were no alternatives to cow dairy in the ice cream aisle, aside from a few soy and nut-based milk products that just lacked the taste and texture that makes premium ice creams and gelato so special. I also realized that most people who have trouble digesting cow’s milk don’t experience the same issues with milk from sheep and goats.

My original idea was actually to make gelato out of sheep’s milk, but when we moved to Vermont, we discovered that our land was much better suited to goats. It has a good mixture of pasture and browse, which is what goats prefer to eat and the kind of feed on which they thrive. After significant research, I discovered that the milk profile of Nigerian Dwarf goats is nearly identical to that of sheep’s milk and produced a clean, rich taste – the best I’ve ever had. So, we got a few goats to try and found them to be sweet, funny and full of personality. That’s where our journey toward goat milk gelato began.

With Nigerian Dwarf milk, I knew I could produce a product that was even better – and better for you – than the richest tasting ice creams and gelatos out there. It was a huge risk, but we took it. No one with a sensitivity to cow dairy should be deprived of America’s favorite frozen treat, and even the rest deserve the best. We believe that so strongly that it’s part of our Sweet Doe Dairy mission today.

UV EDIBLE EXPLORATIONS: What makes your process of making gelato stand out?

LISAThere are a lot of things that make our gelato truly stand out. Some have to do with process, and some have to do with ingredients. First, we only use milk that’s produced on our farm. That allows us to handle it in a way that preserves its freshness from the time it comes out of the udder to the time we pack our gelato in pints, ready for you to enjoy.

Second, we use milk from Nigerian Dwarf goats exclusively, which is critical to our ability to produce our gelato with its distinctive velvety texture and truly outstanding taste. What’s more, we only use the very best of ingredients, from Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans, to premium Belgian chocolate and Dutch-process cocoa. The result is something extraordinary.

Lastly, high percentage of butter fat contained in Nigerian Dwarf milk allows us to produce our gelato using only the whole milk, as opposed to milk and added cream, so our product is ultimately lower in fat, to boot. But you’d never know it from the taste.

UV EDIBLE EXPLORATIONS: Tell us a little about your Homegrown By Heroes label?

MICHAEL: Homegrown by Heroes is a program started by a non-profit organization called the Farmer Veteran CoalitionI am a proud Navy veteran, having served two tours aboard a mine sweeper in the Middle East in the mid-1990s, and Homegrown by Heroes is a special logo designation that I am qualified to use on our packaging to signify that it is produced by a farmer veteran. Every time you purchase a product with the Homegrown by Heroes logo, you can feel good about supporting farmer veterans across the country in their efforts to feed America.

UV EDIBLE EXPLORATIONS: Where can people find your products?

LISA: You can find it in the Coop Food Stores in Lebanon, White River Junction and Hanover, and in select markets throughout Vermont and New England. I always do my best to alert customers when our gelato reaches new markets. You can always find a list of stores that carry our gelato on our Web site and can get timely updates on in-store availability by following us on Facebook. 

Of course, you can also buy it from us directly at our farm; we just ask that you contact us by phone ahead of time, so we can be sure someone’s available to assist you. And if you want to try a scoop, you can stop by and see us at the Chelsea Farmers Market from 3-6 p.m. on Friday afternoons through the summer months!

UV EDIBLE EXPLORATIONS: Would you like to share any plans you have for the future of Sweet Doe Gelato?

MICHAEL: Right now, we're 100% focused on making the highest quality product out there, bar none; growing sales and distribution; and awakening consumers to just how fantastic goat milk gelato – and the milk of Nigerian Dwarfs, in particular – can be.  If you're retailer or distributor interested in carrying our products, contact us!  And if you're an ice cream and gelato lover, give us a try! We're also developing some exciting new flavors to add to our line.

UV EDIBLE EXPLORATIONS: Do you have anything else that you'd like to share with our readers?

LISA: If there’s one message I’d like to leave you with, it’s this: If you’ve got preconceived notions about what a goat milk product tastes like, cast those aspersions aside and try our gelato. You won’t be disappointed. Even if you’re not a fan of goat milk or goat cheese, you will love our gelato, as there is no goatiness at all in the flavor. But don’t take our word for it; go out and get some yourself. Anyone who doesn’t try it is missing out on something special.

Sweet Doe's Coffee Gelato, photo by Kim Goodling

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