A cheese company in Windsor has earned top honors, bringing home a Gold Award for its creamy Lillé Bébé and winning awards for its Windsordale and Governor’s Cheddar, named after former Gov. Peter Shumlin, who once helped make an award-winning batch.
“I’m pretty proud,” said Vermont Farmstead’s head cheesemaker Rick Woods in a phone interview.
Calling the win “The Cheese Trifecta,” Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company shared the news recently of its Lillé Bébé, Windsordale, and Governor’s Cheddar all bringing home medals from the 2018 American Cheese Society Awards.
Woods lives in Proctorsville, Vermont and has been in the cheese-making business for 26 years after leaving a career building houses. He had just gotten married, with a family on the way, but the house-building business was not as stable as he’d hoped. He started working with the Windham Foundation and with Grafton Village Cheese cheddars and did well, and they asked him to stay and make cheese. “Cheddar was kind of my wheel-house,” he said. He has been making cheese ever since, and has been with Vermont Farmstead since 2011.
The competition was tough this year, with more than 2,000 cheeses vying for top honors.
For Vermont Farmstead’s Governor’s Cheddar to win in that category “is pretty huge,” he said. “It’s a pretty big deal.”
Woods said that the company makes rich cheese milk that is higher in protein and fat than other milk, and is grass-based, all of which makes a difference in quality. They still have the original farm in Woodstock, and they do their cutting, wrapping and retail in Windsor, he said.
Woods said it was probably one of the best moments of his career to have three of their cheeses picked as some of the best in all of North America.
“So proud of our team, the long hours in the cheese room, the dedication to our animals from the farm side, the hard work and pride our cut wrap team has to send our cheeses out into the world and the retail folks being our face to the many visitors that travel though the area,” he said.
Woods said that each winner was a significant accomplishment, with the Governor’s Cheddar earning its third ribbon in four years — establishing it as the best 12-24 month cheddar in the country — and cloth-bound Windsordale taking second for best of show, along with Lillé Bébé, the 7-ounce version of their soft-ripened Coulommiers, winning gold in its class this year, earning designation as the best Farmstead Cheese aged over 60 days in all of North America.
Last year this cheese won its first recognition at a national awards show, winning second place for the “farmstead aged over 60 days” category.
The company earned the awards at the American Cheese Society Awards, Forged in Cheese, on July 28 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Known as the “Oscars of the Cheese Industry” Vermont Farmstead Cheeses brought home three medals for their respected classes.
Governor’s Cheddar took home its third medal from American Cheese Society, earning third place in the category for aged cheddar 13-23 months this year. This Farmstead cheddar was named to commemorate a visit by Shumlin to the company’s cheese room several years ago, when they had first opened. Employees had him working on a batch of cheddar with subtle honey note and lush butter and fruit tones.
“We had him working for about an hour and a half,” Woods said. “He thought it was great!”
The first year they competed, that same cheddar cheese batch won second place in all of America. They brought a 6-year-old round of the cheese to Shumlin afterward, in commemoration of earning the medal.
The company’s limited cheese, cloth-bound Windsordale, brought home its first medal this year — a silver medal in the category for cheddar wrapped in cloth aged 13 months or more. The Windsordale is an “old school,” natural style invented 400 years ago, Woods said, and is a raw-milk cheese used with their European peg mill, which tears the curds instead of cutting. The result, a delicious, firm and flaky cheese, is available in limited quantities at Vermont Farmstead Market’s store in Windsor.
Overall, the state of Vermont brought home a total of 34 medals, Woods said, including Jasper Hill’s Harbison winning Best in Show.
The company congratulated Woods and the team, and Woods was quick to return to Vermont and share his medals with the team – including herdsmen Jacob Orton and Lucas Fletcher and cheesemaker Megan Cooney — back at the farm and creamery.
Herdsmen Jacob Orton and Lucas Fletcher
“We could not be more proud to bring home Gold in 2018!” the company said in its newsletter.
Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company began as a community effort in 2009 to preserve a picturesque 18-acre dairy farm in South Woodstock. Passionate residents raised money to purchase the land, buildings and equipment in hopes that it would remain a dairy farm. With the generous contributions and tireless efforts of an entire community, that dream was realized and Vermont Farmstead became the first community-owned artisan cheese and dairy facility in the state in 2010, all according to the website.
In June 2011, the company produced its first cheese, and five months later, after refining their product, they brought it to the public.
Vermont Farmstead Cheese has been entering the contest ever since it was eligible to do so, in the summer of 2012. Entrants are not eligible until their cheese has been in the marketplace for one full year.
In October 2012, VFCC expanded from the farm, introducing the additional production facility at 71 Artisans Way in the Artisans Park in Windsor, Vermont. In 2013, the company acquired Whitney’s Castleton Crackers. In 2015, VFCC took over a retail outlet at the Artisans Park production facility, where it showcases a wide variety of high-quality products created by local Vermont farms, food and beverage makers, and artisans, including linens, handcrafted cutting boards, maple products and more.
The company also offers catered cheese and charcuterie platters, grilled cheese sandwiches, and pizza from the oven in the garden during summer months.
VFCC also hosts the popular annual Vermont Mac & Cheese Challenge, scheduled to take place on Sept. 9 this year at the Artisan Park in Windsor. For more information, visit vermontfarmstead.com.
-- TORY DENIS