How Greensboro fosters the perfect cheese, beer in world
GREENSBORO – When Judy Boyd Dales was a child growing up in Greensboro, she worked in the garden in the summer, growing vegetables for guests at Highland Lodge, her family’s inn on Caspian Lake.
Dales recalls the “precious garden lettuce,” potatoes from neighboring farms, fresh vegetables, prime rib and roast turkey that were served Sundays at noon. Milk was delivered to Highland Lodge from Lauradon Farm, which was across the street from the post office.
When Dales’ family visited friends who lived out of state, they brought their hosts two gifts: Cabot cheese and maple syrup.
“Cabot cheese was highly prized, and you couldn’t get it anywhere but quite locally,” Dales, 70, said. “You could get it in Willey’s store. Even back then, we always tried to buy local.”
Willey’s is the general store in Greensboro, a town on Caspian Lake in Orleans County. Its year-round population of 721 people doubled to about 1,500 in the summer for many decades, according to the town clerk. The summer population in recent years is closer to 3,000 people, including short-term renters and summer-long cottage owners, local officials said.
Cabot cheese and maple syrup are still stocked at Willey’s. The store also carries two local products new to the scene since Dales’ childhood 60 years ago – and new since she and her husband (a former Lauradon Farm milk delivery boy) returned to Greensboro for retirement in 2002.
These Greensboro-made products – Hill Farmstead beer and Jasper Hill cheese – are also on display at the local historical society. They are on people’s minds and in their mouths far beyond Vermont. Each has achieved best in the world status for the products they make.
“There’s a strong, strong sense of community here,” said Dales, an acclaimed quilt maker. “And because it’s so small we’re very tight-knit. We want to preserve what we have. The people who come here have great respect for what Greensboro is and how pristine and beautiful the land and the lake are.
“If you have that kind of love and respect for a place, it kind of goes hand-in-hand with finding something to do on that land that can be successful, without harming what’s there and what draws you to that place. And that takes a special person.”
The founders of the companies, Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead Brewery and Mateo and Andy Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm, are those kinds of people, according to Dales and others.
Martha Niemi, a volunteer at the historical society, thinks the greatness of the products coming out of Greensboro stems from “the loyalty people have to their legacies that are here.”
Vegetable farmer Brian Titus attributes the quality of local products – and he expanded them to include Pete’s Greens farm in Craftsbury and High Mowing Organic Seeds in Wolcott – to the people who are making them.
“I kind of think you have to look at the individuals who are involved in this,” Titus said. “They’ve put the time and effort in.”
Reigning world champ
Hill Farmstead Brewery is the reigning best brewery in the world, according to RateBeer, an online rating system. It is a distinction earned by Hill Farmstead three times since Shaun Hill founded the brewery six years ago at his family’s centuries-old farmstead.
The story of Hill’s ancestors and their history in Greensboro — dating to the town’s charter in 1781 — is described in the Hill Exhibit, a permanent exhibit at the Greensboro Historical Society. Bottles of Hill Farmstead beer are on display next to artifacts of 19th-century farm life.
An original settler, Peleg Hill, was a deacon who held services in people’s homes as they arrived and settled in Greensboro, according to the exhibit. The death of his wife, Dorcas Tucker Hill, in 1800 marked the first death of an adult in Greensboro, the exhibit says.
Shaun Hill names a selection of his beers, the “ancestral series,” for his relations. Perhaps the best known of these is Edward, an American Pale Ale named for Hill’s grandfather. There are five “E” ancestors whose names appear on Hill Farmstead labels. There is also a beer called E, released last spring.
E has several meanings, according to the brewer. One of these, as described on Hill Farmstead’s website, speaks to Shaun Hill’s ethos: “Finally, E is for entelechy, the continued actualization of our potential through spirited effort and vision.”
People from every state have traveled to Greensboro to visit Hill Farmstead, according to the brewery. You can buy growlers and bottled beer, and drink glasses of beer in the taproom or on a deck. It’s beautiful country, open land with views of meadows and hills.
“Your experience leaves you with no ‘but’s,’ ‘’ said Jean Cardona, 33, a health club manager from Queens, New York, who visited Hill Farmstead in mid-July.
The beer, the people, the landscape, come together to create an enjoyable experience, each aspect enhancing another, he said.
“I’m having a great time and I’m loving it,” Cardona said. “I’ll be back.”
Chris Smith, 26, is a conservation biologist in Long Island and graduate of the University of Vermont. He’s visited the brewery several times, and was there two weeks ago with Cardona. Smith has witnessed Hill Farmstead’s growth, including the addition of the taproom with a bar made by Shaun Hill’s brother, woodworker Darren Hill.
“It’s such a good location,” Smith, 26, said. “The landscape really does add to the feeling that you get when you’re here.”
Phil Young, who works at Hill Farmstead, noted that a neighboring town makes some good stuff, too.
“I’m partial to Glover,” Young said. “That’s where I’m from, I’m fifth generation Glover. We got better puppets.”
(Glover is the longtime home of artist Peter Schumann and his Bread and Puppet Theater.)
Jasper Hill, founded and owned by brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler, is on a dirt road about two miles from the brewery. Their family has been summer residents of Greensboro for more than a century.
Jasper Hill cheese has won national and international awards. Cabot Clothbound cheddar, a collaboration between Cabot and Jasper Hill, won best in show at the 2006 American Cheese Society competition.
Greensboro food and drink fans might drive by Jasper Hill on their way to the brewery. But twice a summer, the cheesemakers host visitors at an event called Pairings in the Pasture, a fundraiser for Lakeview Elementary School in Greensboro. (The next one is Thursday.)
Guests learn about Jasper Hill’s founding in 2003 and its growth to a business with 80 employees. They taste cheese and listen to stories about grazing and aging. They sample beverages chosen to pair with certain cheeses, and watch cows walk to the pasture after their evening milking.
Last week at the event, Mateo Kehler told guests the decision to start a farmstead cheesemaking operation was an “emotional one.”
“We saw ourselves being priced out of paradise,” he said. “The cruel irony is that now that we’re making cheese, we hardly get to go to the lake.”
A driving idea behind the creation of Jasper Hill Farm was “to have meaningful work in a place that we love with people that we love,” Kehler said. Making cheese is a mechanism by which the Kehlers can have an impact on their community, he said.
Kehler suggested to his guests at the farm – about three dozen people – that the meaning of the work is derived from a pastoral ideal, from the “footwork of the farmer on the land.”
“A global catastrophe is unfolding in slow motion around us,” Kehler said. The farmers and cheesemakers of Jasper Hill represent “the latest version of the crop of optimists who came before us,” he said.
Collaborators and innovators
They are also collaborators and innovators: Two weeks ago, Jasper Hill hosted visitors from Murray’s Cheese Shop, a business that was founded in Greenwich Village in 1940; it has grown to include nearly 300 shops around the nation.
Jasper Hill and Murray’s are developing a cheese together, one that will “fit into the Camembert slot,” Kehler said. … “The idea is to really build a better cheese than something that is going to spend four weeks on a boat.”
Last year, the farm built a hay dryer on farmland in East Craftsbury. The apparatus — as simple as it sounds — is the only one of its type in the country, according to Jasper Hill. (Hay dryers are found in cheesemaking regions of Europe.)
Hot air is blown into a room that holds 50 round bales of hay, each weighing about 650 pounds. The temperature in the room is about 105 degrees, the air blows into the bales from below by a 120-horse power fan.
The hay dryer operates day and night, seven days a week, during haying season. Bales move in and out every 12 hour or so, with a goal of attaining zero percent moisture. This dry hay, as opposed to haylage (fermented hay), is preferable feed for cheesemaking cows, Jasper Hill says.
“It’s a big effort,” farmer James Coe said. “A really big effort.”
Coe is a partner in Andersonville Farm in West Glover, which supplies milk to Jasper Hill. He is also an architect who designed the hay dryer and accompanying 18,000-square foot storage shed.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Coe said. “It is a little nutty.”
Sharing ideas, staying relevant
Simon Darling, who grew up in Barnet, worked as a manager of a cheese shop in San Francisco for seven years before moving back to the Northeast Kingdom. He works at Jasper Hill, where one of his jobs is flipping wheels of cheese that are aging in the cellar.
He is gratified by the work for two primary reasons, Darling said: the quality of the product, and the people he works with.
“I think this part of Vermont allows for creativity,” Darling said. “If you’re going put in the work and you have a vision, things are possible.”
Darling also described a collaborative spirit and attitude, with producers sharing information and equipment.
“There’s a willingness to share and rise together,” Darling said. “And to tackle problems together — to figure out how to stay here and be relevant.”
Jeremy Ducharme grew up in East Hardwick and Greensboro Bend. He goes to college outside Chicago, where he’s a distance runner. He came home from college to find his stepfather and mother growing hops.
“I thought it was a joke,” Ducharme said.
But the endeavor has a name, Whitefield Hop Yard. Kevin and Karen Broderick, who run the hop yard in East Hardwick, are recipients of a Working Lands grant to help with the purchase a pelletizer. The equipment will enable Whitefield and other area hop growers to better process hops, Kevin Broderick said. He hopes to sell hops to regional breweries, Broderick said.
Ducharme’s summer job is monitoring boats for invasive species at the public boat access on Caspian Lake. If the boats go in clean, they’ll come out clean. There are no invasive species in Caspian Lake, he said.
“This lake is pretty special,” Ducharme, 20, said. “I learned how to swim here. I spend most of my life running around here.”
It’s the landscape that allows great things to come out of Greensboro, Ducharme said,
“It has the capacity,” Ducharme said. “It’s undeveloped, so you’re able to do this.”
There’s room for big ideas, big fields, big factories, he said.
“People get excited about it,” Ducharme said. “And it brings attention to Vermont.”
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This story was updated Aug. 2 with information about Whitefield Hop Yard.
Contact Sally Pollak at [email protected] or 660-1859.