Monday, October 25, 2010

Taylor Farm in Londonderry, Vermont

Making Award-Winning Farmstead Gouda

Jonathan Wright has a vision.  He dreams of artisan cheesemakers in his area sharing their resources to produce their cheeses more economically.

Within a fairly small geographical area, several cheesemakers would make their own special cheeses in the same place, using much of the same equipment, the same office workers, and the same marketing staff.  They would raise their own herds, but they would simply carry their milk a few miles down the road to the "co-operative creamery."  Then, depending on the circumstances, they would either age their cheeses there or bring them back to their own "caves" to age.

Jon is already starting to work on this, because soon he will be making cheese one day a week at the old Grafton Village Cheese plant which is a few miles from his farm.  (Grafton has moved most of their operation to Brattleboro.)  Depending on how this works for him, we might be hearing more about his vision coming to fruition.  We certainly hope so.

Meanwhile, Jon has a beautiful farm in the Green Mountains of Vermont, where he makes award winning farmstead Gouda.  He has access to 560 acres of property, including 160 acres for haying and 45 organic acres for grazing.  This land is conserved by the Vermont Land Trust and Jon has lifetime rights to the property.  He owns his house, which is right in front of the store, his barn and 20 acres of meadows. 

Following a scenic drive on Rt. 11, it's easy to find the Taylor Farm.
 The signs out front make it hard to resist dropping in.
 On a crisp, fall day, the store beckons like an oasis of warmth and good cheer. 
Inside, it's everything the signs have promised and more!
The Tour
When I had originally made plans to visit Jon, he suggested I come at the same time he would be meeting with an interested member of the local community who wanted to know more about the farm.  That turned out to be Maria Reade, an English teacher and dean of faculty at the Trinity-Pawling School in Pawling, NY.  She and her husband own a summer home near Taylor Farm.  (She doesn't really look like a dean of faculty in this picture!) 
We looked around the farm while Jon finished up some paperwork in his office above the store.
Maria told me she had heard that a few years ago the roof blew off Jon's barn in a bad winter storm.  She said the entire community helped Jon rebuild his roof and find refuge for his cows.  (Later, Jon told us about that terrible experience and how supportive his neighbors were.  He said his insurance company surprised him by coming through with full coverage, which helped enormously, also.)
The morning we were there, some of the younger cows were eating organic hay in the barn.
The rest of the milkers were out in the field up the hill.
The chickens were very friendly.
And the goats were so affectionate, I couldn't even get a picture of them!
Jon's Story
We joined Jon in his office and he graciously spent more than an hour answering our questions and telling us how it all started:

The adventure first began when Jon was a teenager in 1975.  He stopped in, on a whim, to ask the Taylors if he could work for them as part of a work-study program at the prep school he was attending in Boston.  The Taylors were milking 30-35 cows and selling their milk to a local creamery.  They agreed, and 35 years later, he and the Taylors are still working together to conserve the land.

After Jon finished high school, the Taylors offered to sell him the farm, but Jon wasn't ready.  He knew he needed an education, so he enrolled at the University of Vermont Agricultural School.  He ended up getting his degree in forest management.  When he was finished, the Taylors asked him to construct a forest management plan for their property.  By then, it was the mid-eighties and the farm was abandoned.   

In 1989, Jon made the decision to work the farm with his then pregnant wife (they have since divorced).  The Taylors gave him free rein and allowed them to live in the guest house, rent free.

He went to the bank with a crude business plan and managed to secure a loan for $20,000, which seemed huge at the time.  With that, he bought whatever cheap cows he could find and some refurbished equipment.  He used draft horses for much of the farm work.

Those were the lean years, when milk prices plummeted and none of the dairy farms were making any money.  But the community and the Taylors were supportive and they managed to milk a motley herd of 70 cows, including Black Angus, Holsteins (that couldn't walk), Jerseys and Brown Swiss.

Jon's wife worked part-time and they had a farm stand.  But, after several years, milk prices were still down and Jon was working so many hours that he didn't have enough time to spend with his 3 daughters (who are now 19, 16 and 12).  So, he began searching for a better whey to make a living.

He thought about bottling his own milk, but then he visited Marjorie Susman and Marian Pollack at the Orb Weaver Farm (at left) in New Haven, VT.  He saw that they had a good quality of life, milking 10 Jerseys and making cheese.  He was impressed.

However, at that time, there were only 12 cheese making operations in Vermont. (Now there are 48!)  So, the banks didn't quite know what to do with him.

He sold a group of his cows to build a plant and he hired Peter Dixon, a well known consultant to help get him started.  He decided to raise Holsteins and Jerseys and to make Gouda.  (Holsteins came originally from the Netherlands.)

Now, Jon has 7 full-time employees and a few part-timers.  They milk 40-45 cows (a closed herd) and it all goes into the cheese (with the exception of the raw milk they are licensed to sell). 

We met one of his right-hand men, Randy Stannard, who does a little of everything, including pumping milk and adding starter to the cheese.
Holly Peters also does a little of everything, including making cheese.  (We can't say enough good things about Holly because she brought us coffee during our meeting!)
Audrey Sager is Jon's niece, but this is a terrible picture because my camera lens was all fogged up in the make room.  (She reacted rather strongly when she realized I was taking her picture!)
Tamry Bratton has been the head cheesemaker for the last 7 years and Autumn partnered up with her 10 months ago, 3 days after she was born.  I have to say that for such a young staff member, Autumn makes an excellent cheese!
Jon made many of the molds with food grade PVC.  The followers are made of wood coated with food grade urethane.  The little molds are Kadovas from Holland.
They usually make the cheese on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  The milk is not pasteurized because the cheese is aged over 60 days.  This past year, they made 70,000 pounds of cheese and there have been years when they made up to 100,000 pounds.  Currently, there are over 50,000 pounds of inventory in their cave.
Jon and his staff have won many ribbons at the American Cheese Society's annual competition, including First Place for their Maple Smoked Farmstead Gouda.
  They sell their cheese online (, in their farm store, and at many stores and co-ops in the New England area (listed on their website).
In their store, they stock a wide variety of cheeses from nearby farms, because Jon believes in supporting fellow cheesemakers.
They also sell their wildly popular Vermont Natural Rind Gouda.  (When you see it there, I suggest you buy it, because it goes fast.  Did I mention that it's outrageously delicious?) 
They have arts and crafts, baked goods, maple sugar products, jams and jellies, sauerkraut . . .  In fact, while we were in the office, a local entrepreneur brought some of his products for Jon to sell.
It was a lot of fun visiting Taylor Farm and I hope you get a chance to go there.  In fact, if you do make the trip, they have a weekend guest lodge you can stay in to make the experience even more memorable.

If you live near Brattleboro, you can buy their cheese at one of these two venues:

9am - 2pm. Brattleboro Area Farmer's Market. Taylor Farm Cheese is proud to be one of the many wonderful farm products available at this very friendly, energetic and enjoyable market! Live music and family fun every Saturday!

Brattleboro Area Winter Market.  Post-oil-solutions will be hosting an INDOOR WINTER MARKET for farm products and craft vendors in southern Vermont! Located at the River Garden, 157 Main Street in Brattleboro, Vermont. The schedule is as follows: November 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, December 6, 20, 27, January 3 and 17, February 7 and 21, March 7 and 21.

Taylor Farm
825 Rt. 11
Londonderry, VT
Phone: (802) 824-5690


The Japanese Redneck said...

I would luv to shop here!

Spellbinding Sherry said...

thinks John would be wise
to delegate one of his staff (or daughters)
to create a Facebook page
for the Taylor Farm
for more exposure.