Category Archives: Small businesses

Good companies to keep

Vermont food entrepreneurs have amazing offerings

by Bethany M. Dunbar,  October 2, 2009

Barbara Frechette and Steven Maestras of Relish Vermont.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Barbara Frechette and Steven Maestas of Relish Vermont. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Two little new businesses I have written about for the Chronicle in the past year deserve an extra mention here.  Their products are delicious, and they are just really neat people trying to make a go of it.  I want them to succeed, so if this helps, that would be great.  You might consider their products for your Thanksgiving dinner or for holiday gifts.

One of the companies I only mentioned briefly in the newspaper because I met the owners while covering something else, an announcement about a new food venture center coming to Hardwick.

The new little company I’m speaking of is located outside the newspaper’s regular coverage area — in Essex Junction.

The company name is Relish Vermont, and it was started by a woman who was recently widowed and who decided she was not just going to sit around feeling sorry for herself.  She was going to make some relish.

In truth, she has been making relish since the 1960s.  Everyone has complimented her and for good reason.  The relish is divine.  I only tried one variety, but I ate most of the jar in one day.  I put it on my vegetables for supper and in my sandwich the next day.  It goes with fish, beef, chicken, vegetables or on bread.  It’s got biggish chunks of zucchini and peppers.  It’s sweet, and it has curry in it.  It’s incredible.  I e-mailed the company owners right after my first taste and said I really need a case of this.  They are just starting production.  I am waiting patiently — kind of.

Barbara Frechette of Essex Junction is the creator of Relish Vermont.  Her husband was an accountant, and she used to give it to his clients.  Steven Maestas, a friend of the family, is helping get Relish Vermont into production.

The other company I wanted to highlight is Ploughgate Creamery of Albany.  Ploughgate cheese is heavenly, smooth and sublime.  Posted below is the story I wrote about them for the Chronicle.  Check the Chronicle web site for more such stories, including features on Eden ice cider, the Jasper Hill cheese caves in Greensboro,  Dan Maclure’s beefalo (Farm and Forest Ranch), Highland Cattle, Bonnieview Farm (Neil Urie), and a 1993 article about the Lazy Lady in Westfield — among others.

What is your favorite little Vermont food company?  Tell me who, how and why.  Recipes would be wonderful.  Thanks!

Samples of Ploughgate cheese varieties.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Samples of Ploughgate cheese varieties. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Ploughgate Creamery is a cheese business with no animals — yet

by Bethany M. Dunbar, The Chronicle, March 25, 2009

ALBANY — Princess Maclean and Marisa Mauro started making cheese in May 2008.  Called Ploughgate Creamery, their tiny agricultural enterprise is unusual in at least one noteworthy way.

They have no animals.

“Our whole motivation behind this is to be farmers,” said Ms. Mauro with a wide smile.

They just haven’t got quite that far yet.

Both young women always wanted to have a dairy farm and make cheese.  Both have worked in a variety of cheese-making settings and learned a lot about it, with hands-on experience — from California to Shelburne Farms and locally.  Not only did they learn how to make amazing, incredible cheeses, they learned about marketing as well.  So instead of starting with the farming end of things, they decided to start with the cheesemaking and selling end.  In theory, they will master the second part of the process first, so they won’t have to be figuring it all out at once and suffer the consequences of milking cows and having no market for large quantities of milk.

So far, so good.

Ploughgate Creamery cheeses are mostly soft cheeses, like brie.  The cheeses are smooth, rich and creamy, slightly tangy, and the cheesemakers are working on varieties including one washed with ice cider, so the rind carries the local beverage’s distinct flavor.

The two make small batches of cheese, between 25- and 45-gallon batches, or about 45 pounds of cheese, three or four times a week.  In the winter they use cow’s milk because sheep’s milk is seasonal, but they use sheep’s milk in the summertime.  They buy the milk from local farmers and pasteurize it.  Although they would like to make some raw milk cheeses at some point, they aren’t ready yet. Raw milk cheeses require a 60-day aging process.

“I have a hard time bragging, but when people try it, they like it,” said Ms. Maclean.  So far they have been selling Ploughgate cheeses at farmers’ markets and at the Buffalo Mountain Cooperative in Hardwick.  Claire’s Restaurant in Hardwick uses some Ploughgate cheese in its menu as well, and Ploughgate cheeses are a featured part of the community supported agriculture shares at Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury.

If Ms. Maclean’s first name seems unusual, it’s good to know that she was named by her sister, who was four years old at the time.  Her sister’s name is Emmy Lou Harris Maclean.

Ms. Maclean was born in Massachusetts and went to Sterling College in Craftsbury, studying sustainable agriculture.  Ms. Mauro, who grew up in Dorset, Vermont, also went to Sterling, but only for a year.

“I’ve just been working on farms that produced cheese ever since I was 16,” she said.  She currently works part-time for Lowell Urie.

Ms. Maclean worked at Neil Urie’s sheep dairy, Bonnieview, for five years.  Her husband, Nathan van Gulden, works at Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro.  Ploughgate ages some of its cheeses in the caves at Jasper Hill.

Ms. Mauro worked at Bonnieview as well.  The two young women decided to work together to create the new creamery.  They discovered a creamery in Albany that was not being used.  Built by Frankie and Marybeth Whitten, the creamery was the former home of Up a Creek creamery, which made sheep milk cheese and hard cheese for a few years.  For Ms. Maclean and Ms. Mauro, leasing the place was a great way to get started.

The goal of making great cheese has been achieved, but it’s far from the point where the two are making a living.

“We haven’t made any money yet, and we are working all the time, but we love it,” said Ms. Maclean.  She said they have a business plan, and that has helped.

“We never want to be big,” said Ms. Mauro.

As for the cattle, Ms. Mauro already owns a Holstein-Jersey cross and a Holstein calf.  They are boarding at Neil Fromm’s, one of the farms they buy milk from.  Ms. Maclean said she would like to have about ten cows, but her husband would like to have about 20.

“We want our farm, but it’s fun to work with other farmers too,” said Ms. Mauro.

Both said they’d like to be milking their own cows in two to five years.

It has been helpful for both women to work as a team.  They said although their experiences have been similar, they are not the same and they have been able to learn from each other and bounce ideas off each other.  The two are at the creamery six days a week, but not always at the same time.  Their paths tend to cross in the middle part of the day, a time for discussion and brainstorming.

The artisan cheesemaking culture in northern Vermont has been extremely supportive of their new little business.  Ms. Maclean and Ms. Mauro said the Vermont Cheese Council has been helpful, as have Jasper Hill, Bonnieview and Laini Fondiler in Westfield, who has Lazy Lady cheese.  Cheesemakers in this network tend to help each other instead of seeing each other as competition.  This came in handy for Ploughgate as Ms. Maclean and Ms. Mauro searched for second-hand equipment to save money.

Jasper Hill helps with aging in the caves, and with distribution.

One type of recipe the Ploughgate ladies have been experimenting with lately is cheese washed in a brine made of micro-brewed beer.

Recently the two traveled to Brooklyn, New York, for a tasting at a pub.  They met someone who knew Ms. Fondiler, who makes a cheese called Sweet Emotion.  This person told them that Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, who co-wrote the song “Sweet Emotion” which the cheese is named after, had discovered the Sweet Emotion cheese in New York and loved it.

Ms. Maclean and Ms. Mauro were quite excited to hear that news.  When they got home they called her and left a long message about it on her telephone answering machine.

It seems it’s a small, sweet world in the northern Vermont cheese business — and it’s full of emotion.

 Marisa Mauro, left, and Princess Maclean started the Ploughgate Creamery in Albany in 2008.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Marisa Mauro, left, and Princess Maclean started the Ploughgate Creamery in 2008. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar