We sat down with David Major, cheese maker and founding owner of Vermont Shepherd, to get an inside look at where their award-winning cheese Invierno is crafted, as well as talk about what it’s like to be one of the oldest dairies in the country.
Vermont Shepherd is one of the oldest sheep farms and dairies in the US. What does that mean to you and how does it affect the way you run your operation?
Well, it’s a source of pride for us to be one of the first. Over the years, we find ourselves providing sheep and advice to many new sheep dairies around the country. We try to be open and encouraging as the European sheep farmers were to us when we first got started.
You’ve received awards for conservation—is being ecologically conscious a cornerstone of Vermont Shepherd’s practices?
Absolutely. For us, sustainable grass farming is the most important thing we do. The flavor of our cheese is a reflection of the way we relate to the sheep and the land. We had a researcher visit who found 65 species of plants in a three square meter plot of pasture. The biodiversity of the plants our sheep eat and the biodiversity of flora in our raw milk make the cheese what it is.
How long has the Cave been a part of your operation, and how has it affected your cheesemaking process?
We built the cave in 1995 and it is also a reflection of the ecology of this place. Five minutes out of every half hour we pull fresh air into the cave from the fields and woods surrounding the cave. Depending on the season and the humidity outside, the molds that create our rinds change. We can actually see the weather patterns of the past months when we look at our cheese in the cave. The natural environment is reflected in the flavors of the cheese as well–just taste the cheese near the rind and compare it to the inside of the paste.
Do you have any plans to bring any new cheeses to your lineup?
We’ve been having a lot of fun this season making one-off fresh cheeses and sheep milk yogurt for our local farmers markets in Brattleboro and Putney here in Vermont. We’ve also been collaborating with a local company, Vermont Gelato, to create some really tasty sheep milk gelato–some of it is sweetened with maple syrup we make on the farm, some of it with local honey. You’ll have to come visit us in Vermont to try them!
Want to get a taste of these incredible sheep’s milk cheeses? You can find Vermont Shepherd’s award-winning Invierno and it’s sibling Verano on our site!