by Mike Furey
Lined up on shelves at either end of the glass-enclosed atrium are 30 or more gold and silver statuettes along with 18 or so plaques representing dozens of national and international awards that the cheeses and products of Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. have won in the last decade. Just recently they changed their name to the Vermont Creamery, and now there are several more significant changes on the way.
The glass atrium in Graniteville runs across the width of the aged goat cheese building and there are 10 windows that you can peer into and see different stages of cheese making. That 4000-square-foot building is now in the process of being swallowed by a 14,000-square-foot building going up around it on three sides and 10 feet above the roof. Once the new aged goat cheese production facility is up and running later this summer, Mark Groleau of Groleau Construction, Inc. of Barre, who is in charge of completing the project as construction manager, will be gutting the existing interior and rebuilding it as an integrated part of the new plant.
The new construction will be home to “geotricum” aged goat cheese production. Geotricum refers to the yeast spores that occur naturally in the air that are used to create the crinkled rind that is associated with aged goat cheese most notably from the southeastern regions of France. The “geo” process can be delicate. It requires a plant-wide computerized air handling and filtration system imported from France to control the temperature and humidity, among other things. The aging process will also be part of the production space inside the new building. We are not talking about years of aging like the sharp cheddar we are all familiar with. These cheeses are aged 7 to 10 days. Then they are ready to be packaged and sent off to chefs, restaurants and specialty cheese shops that know how to store and handle the product.
The “geo” goat cheese is currently the fastest growing product line for the Vermont Creamery. Several of the four or five aged goat cheese lines have been perennial award winners since the early days of production in 2005. Their major “bread winners” though, are made from cow’s milk, such as the cultured butter and crème fraiche, which accounts for about half of the milk that comes into the creamery from the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery. The goat milk comes from 17 goat dairy farms here in Vermont, as well as additional milk as needed from a co-op in Ontario, Canada.
Looking to secure the future, the Vermont Creamery recently initiated a project of building a model goat dairy farm in Randolph. The Ayers Brook Goat Dairy is nearing completion. A new 27,000-square-foot goat barn was built last summer and is now operational with over 200 milking goats. The plan is to demonstrate to farmers here in New England how to run a successful goat dairy farm. These new farms will hopefully provide the milk to support the expanded production.
The Vermont Creamery was the brainchild of two Vermonters, Allison Hooper and Bob Reese. While traveling in France as a college student, Allison spent time working on farm and learned the essentials of traditional French cheese making. She brought those skills back to Vermont and hooked up with Bob in 1984 to create what was then Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. In 1988 they moved their operations into the Wilson Industrial Park, just a stone’s throw from the Rock of Ages quarry in Graniteville. After building a solid reputation, about 15 years ago they began to invest in expanding the creamery. It was about 12 years ago that a young intern with the National Dairy School in France came on board and soon discovered that the geo process cheeses needed to be separate from the other cultured products, and in it’s own building. Today that intern, Adeline Druart, is now the general manager and lives with her husband and son in central Vermont.
When the creamery began operations in the new location, they hired Groleau Construction to do some minor renovations. The relationship grew and eventually Mark Groleau was hired as the construction manager for all of the succeeding expansion projects. Eventually they moved from about 1/3 of the space in the building they were in, to taking over the entire building. In that time frame, the creamery also added the new aged cheese building in 2005, which is now being more than tripled in size with the new construction.
They liked the idea of working with a local contractor, Mark Groleau. Mark has been responsible for managing all the new construction and major renovations at the plant, as well being the construction manager for the Ayers Brook goat barn. He brought with him a slew of additional local subcontractors, such as Hutch Brothers Concrete and Dexter Electric, both in East Barre. DMS Machining & Fabrication out of Barre did the steel work and BCI Construction of Orwell worked on the Randolph barn.
As Mark Groleau has come to master the stringent food industry construction requirements as relates to the Vermont Creamery, a nice working relationship has developed. There is already talk of several additional expansion projects on the drawing board. This bodes well for future farmers looking to venture into premium goat milk production, as well the contractors ready to expand the facilities to handle the demand.