Vermont – 17992 Miles Driven.
Dairy farming represents the largest part of Vermont’s agricultural economy, and the vast majority of that relates to cows. In southern Vermont resides a farmer who’s decided to do things a little bit differently, and is paving the way for a new generation following in his footsteps. That farmers name is David Major owner of Vermont Shepherd, the oldest sheep dairy in the United States.
Back in 1988 David purchased the farmland where he grew up from his parents. The sheep they’d been farming had been used for meat and wool, but when a few years earlier flooding had resulted in there being no lambs and with government subsidies for sheep wool having ended, David sought to move into producing sheep’s milk cheese instead. It took years for David and his wife Yesenia to perfect, but in 1993 they finally started getting recognition for the product they were producing. The accolades keep on coming, the New York Times has declared Vermont Shepherd as ‘One of the country’s best cheeses’, and demand for the cheese often outstrips supply. David has 350 sheep; 200 are milked twice daily contributing to the 30 – 40 thousand pounds of cheese produced annually.
Other than the summer months when David will also produce a sheep’s milk ricotta, there are only two types of cheese produced at Vermont Shepherd, Invierno and Verano. Invierno, Spanish for ‘winter’, is a soft to semi-hard natural rind cheese made from mixing sheep’s milk from Vermont Shepherd with cow’s milk from a nearby dairy farm. Typically the cheese is aged for 5-9 months but some is aged for two years, and some is smoked. The cheese is absolutely delicious, full, rich and tangy.
Vermont Shepherd’s prized cheese is the 100% sheep’s milk Verano, in English ‘summer’, and as the name implies it’s only made during pasture season and only aged for 3-5 months. The cheese similar to a Basque is described as having a sweet, rich, and earthy flavour to it. I wasn’t expecting to like the Verano quite as much as I did; it was sweeter and earthier than the Invierno, and really was quite exceptional.
David was kind enough to walk me around the farm, occasionally passing and saying hello to some of the locals that he employs to work there. I got to see the impressive manmade cave that David himself built 20 years ago. It’s sight to behold, and the cave has the perfect conditions needed to nurture the 6-7 lb. wheels from their brine-dipped beginnings to the many months and years to come.
Talking to David really made me appreciate the huge amount of hard work that he, his family, and the rest of the team put in to running this farm. It’s a 24-hour operation, from milking the sheep to rotating the wheels of cheese. Being a dairy farmer is hard work, each day presents new challenges that need to be tackled. My wonderful visit to Vermont Shepherd was fittingly brought to an end by one of these challenges; a sheep had got loose and was trying to break into a field containing 10 very excited rams. Excuses made, David ran off to rescue his sheep.
Vermont Shepherd is located at; 281 Patch Farm Rd, Putney, VT 05346. Telephone; +1 (802) 387-4473.