Dairy farm/Animal Farm
Tell us about your business.I started my own farmstead creamery with two cows in 2000. At the time, I was the smallest licensed creamery in Vermont. At that time, there was very little equipment available for dairy plants as small as mine. In order to obtain a license to operate, I had to find engineers to fabricate equipment for me. While there were small producers making cheese, there were no small, on-farm creameries making butter as I wanted to--in small batches, keeping it fresh, and with very little mechanization; I hand separate, do not use a cream separator, and hand wash my butter, as opposed to washing it in the churn. I found out of print books, written before the advent of factory creameries, and learned to make butter from them. I returned to the process of hand-making butter, but with the advantages of modern technology--refrigeration and pasteurization. I now also bottle real buttermilk. My goal moving ahead is to continue to highlight how delicious dairy foods can be when made with care.
What makes your business stand out?My business is unique because I produce a farmstead product--all of my raw ingredients come from the farm. My butter and buttermilk are produced solely from the milk and cream of my own Jersey cows. This gives us optimal control over our product because we harvest our hay, monitor our pastures, know exactly what our cows are eating, and have regular milk quality checks, which insures that our final product is the best we can make. We sell our butter only to restaurants (except for a local co-op). Every week, we pack up 80 pounds of butter and send it to these restaurants, who make a commitment to purchase the same amount each week (the amount is based on how many cow's worth of butter they want--a cow makes an average of 10 pounds each week). This way, we know how much butter we are selling each week, and our product stays fresh. I sell all the butter I can produce, but we are still trying to sell all our buttermilk. To that end, I wrote a buttermilk cookbook with over 100 recipes.
What's the best business advice you've received?The late and pioneering New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug once advised women to "put yourselves forward." When I was getting ready to sell my butter, I knew that I wanted to stay small so that I could always keep a connection to my cows. I knew that I had to create an excellent product and sell it to the best clients. To ensure that my product was the best, I wanted someone's opinion of it who I knew was unquestionable. I decided to "put myself forward" and wrote to Chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. This was in 2000, and Chef Keller was still cooking in the kitchen. He agreed to taste my butter, and after he did, pronounced it one of the best he had tasted and asked to buy it all. This was the beginning of a 13 year-old relationship between Chef and purveyor that has been pivotal to the success of my business, and remains so, as I move forward.
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