Consider Bardwell Farm has found success continuing a century-old Vermont cheesemaking tradition
It was 18 years ago when Russell glover and Angela Miller went searching for a nice quiet second home in the country and came across a huge farmstead and 300-plus acres in the stunning rolling hills of Vermont’s Champlain Valley.
“It was kismet, it stole our hearts,” says Miller. “We bought it the next day for the asking price.”
The couple soon learned that the West Pawlet land had quite the history, as it was first occupied in 1864 by Consider Stebbins Bardwell, founder of the state’s very first dairy cooperative known as the Pawlet Cheese Co. Back then, Bardwell made cheese from milk that small farmers in the area would deliver, and it was sold as far as New York City.
“Cheese! My favorite food in the world, and history, my second love,” says Miller, who convinced her husband to continue the cheesemaking tradition with pasture-based raw milk from goats and cows in a company they would name Consider Bardwell Farm in honor of its former owner.
“After four years of building cheesemaking infrastructure and reinventing the old dairy barn, along with lots of blood, sweat and tears, we were awarded our license to make and sell cheese by the state of Vermont,” says Miller. “And we have never looked back!”
In 2005, Leslie Goff joined the company as a 15-year-old high school student working part-time to pay for a vehicle and equine hobby.
“I began working in the caves, and after a year, there was a spot open for a cheesemaker,” she says. “At that point, Peter Dixon was the cheesemaker and he decided to teach me on a batch of Pawlet. I loved cheesemaking from the very first make. It is so gratifying working with a raw ingredient and turning it into something everyone can enjoy.
Today, Goff is the head cheesemaker and responsible for producing Consider Bardwell Farm’s products.
Growing the Business
In 2005, the company was only milking 30 goats and working with a very small cow milk producer, making roughly 20,000 pounds of cheese a year.
“All of our milk was received in cans that weighed 100 pounds each. We had one small vat that could hold 150 gallons and one aging room,” says Goff. “It wasn’t long before we needed to start expanding.”
Thankfully, Glover is an architect, so they were able to do much of the work themselves. They bought another vat that held 300 gallons, added a new make room and built several more aging rooms.
“About five years ago, we felt the need to expand again—this time by buying a haul tank for all of our milk so we didn’t have to receive milk cans daily, a 400-gallon vat and adding more aging rooms,” says Goff. “Today, we have five aging rooms for all of the cheese made at CBF (roughly 115,000 pounds a year). Angela, Russell and myself are very competitive people, so we always want to be the best we can be.”
In May of 2018, Liza Kaplansky, a seasoned cheese provider, started with the company as its new director of sales and marketing, and immediately set about reintroducing the cheeses to prior customers and introducing them to new fans.
“We need to firmly establish ourselves and watch cheese consistently flow from the creamery before setting any major growth plans,” she says. “To achieve that goal in a timely manner, we are setting up strong promotional partnerships with specialty-focused distributors and retail chains across the country. In the future, we hope to be able to make more goat cheese [to meet demands] and expand our creamery/cave space.”
Meet the CBF Cheese
The facility where Consider Bardwell Farm’s award-winning cheese is made is very unique.
“We are making cheese in an old 1900s dairy barn that Angela and Russell have revamped,” says Goff. “Within this barn, we have two make rooms and five aging caves. In the very far end of the barn, we are milking our goats. It has a very ‘farmstead’ feel to be able to see our animals out grazing from our make room windows.”
To be worthy of the Consider Bardwell Farm name, Miller notes the cheeses must have originality, consistency, taste of place (the farm) and be delicious.
“We make seven core cheeses—three made from goat’s milk and four made from cow’s milk,” she says. “All of our cheeses are very diverse from one another, so we can reach and satisfy as many customers as possible.”
Its top-selling cow’s milk cheese is Pawlet, an Italian Toma style cheese made from Jersey milk. Pawlet weighs 10 pounds and has a beautiful orange “smear” rind. It is aged for three months in one of the farm’s caves, then washed once a week with a morge.
Other cow cheeses are Dorset, a soft ripening cheese with a rich, buttery texture and seasonally influenced pungency; 802 Blue, aged three months; and Rupert, aged seven to nine months, inspired by Gruyère and Comté.
“Our most popular goat cheese is Manchester, a French Toma-style cheese with a natural rind,” says Goff. “The rind is very pretty, with the basket pattern and colorful molds that develop on the rind. After roughly three months of aging, Manchester looks almost like a stone. All of our cow’s milk cheeses are made from rich Jersey milk, and our goat milk is from a variety of breeds. We have been cross breeding our Oberhasli goats to increase fat and protein levels.”
The other goat cheeses include Danby, a raw goat’s milk, aged six months; and Slyboro, aged two months, washed in brine three times a week and ripened until it’s just a little soft near the rind.
The cheeses at Consider Bardwell Farm are truly artisanal—with complex flavors and seasonal changes. However, the farm is able to successfully adjust recipes and make intelligent improvements to achieve necessary consistency and quality.
“We are very proud of how our cheeses are continuously awarded top places in competitions with our peers,” Miller says. “It’s also been amazing to watch the demand for our core cheeses increase over the past 15 years. We’ve grown in brand recognition and continue to grow today.”
A Sound Strategy
Part of the philosophy that has led the company to success is always being willing to adapt, balancing between holding true to what it knows it does well and pushing itself to grow to the next level.
“On a daily basis, we have to adapt to our animals, milk and environment,” says Miller. “We also have to adapt to new industry trends, federal regulations and demands from our customers. One needs to take it easy and not grow too fast—unless you have strong sales and a balance of supply and demand, along with a solid business plan.”
Consider Bardwell Farm is also committed to sustainable farming methods that minimize waste and emphasize quality.
“Always aware of our ability to drastically affect the local ecosystem, we strive to be responsible environmental stewards, considering the humane and ethical treatment of our animals above all else,” says Miller. “We are a vertically-oriented operation, from the casting of seed on the
land to the sale of our cheese at the New York City Greenmarkets and best cheese shops. We want to support farms in our valley so that farming stays alive and are working very closely with them. We can’t make our highly-quality cheese unless we have the best quality milk as the raw ingredient.”
To that end, the company works with nearby Wayward Goose Farm and Indian River Farm, two partner cow farms within one mile of the farm.
“These farms were conventional dairy farms, but were looking for a better way of life for themselves and their families,” says Miller. “We’re able to buy their milk and pay them livable prices for it. Farms are going out every day around us, as they simply cannot afford the day-to-day expenses on conventional milk prices. It has been great to see our neighbors continue to farm with our support.”
Additionally, there are more cheeses than ever out in the market place at very low prices. The company understands that, in order to keep its place at the counter, it needs to set prices competitively and produce cheeses consistently.
“It’s also very important to have strong sales/marketing reps in the field so that our story can be properly told to buyers, mongers and, ultimately, consumers,” says Miller. “We want them to feel directly connected to us, and are working towards mutually beneficial relationships with all of our distributors, retailers, chefs, etc.”
According to Kaplansky, consumers are looking for real, clean food with a true story behind it, and retailers and chefs have the equal desire to offer it to them.
“As long as it’s also delicious, they’re willing to pay a bit more money for cheese like ours,” she says. “It’s also very ‘on trend’ to post photos of this kind of food on social media platforms; it feels like our rinds were created just to be on Instagram, since they’re so photogenic. We’ve built a strong following in the Northeast, and we’re now working hard to ensure that consumers across the country are aware of how we fit into these current trends.”
This is what keeps the cheese on top.