Vendor Profile: Grafton Village Cheese
In 1892, a group of rural New England dairy farmers gathered together in hopes of solving what to do with their surplus supplies of raw milk. Because it was so difficult to store milk without refrigeration in those days, they needed to find a solution for turning their abundance of milk into a product that could be stored for a longer period of time.
Together they founded the Grafton Village Cheese Company and embarked on a shared dream—to produce cheese as a cooperative. Although over 100 years have passed since that initial meeting, it is clear the farmers—and their descendants—have never looked back. Today, their business is a rural Vermont mainstay, offering a variety of creamy, smooth flavors made from raw milk for its natural and healthy qualities. With time-tested methods and fresh, local ingredients, Grafton Village has never wavered in their dedication to the region’s economy, as well as the continued health and well-being of our community.
After a fire destroyed the original factory in 1912, Grafton Village was restored and ultimately saved by the nonprofit Windham Foundation in the mid-60’s. Even today, quality and taste are the hallmarks of the award-winning cheese made in Grafton Village. Despite it’s reiterations, their traditions have remained the same: they make their cheese by hand using premium raw milk from small, local family farms.
When you purchase Grafton Village Cheese, you are directly supporting the Windham Foundation’s work promoting Vermont’s rural economy. They have two production facilities in Grafton and Brattleboro, Vermont. The mission of the Windham Foundation of Grafton, Vermont is to support the vitality of Grafton and Vermont’s communities through its philanthropic and educational programs, as well as its subsidiaries whose operations contribute to these endeavors.
We interviewed Ruth Anne Flore, the current CEO/President of Grafton Village Cheese who wrote on behalf of the company.
Grafton Village has served the local region for over a century. How has this history shaped the business into what it is today?
Grafton has never wavered from its handmade, small batch production and its commitment to producing a traditional New England style cheddar; a cheddar with "bite." Our flavor profile remains distinctive. We consider ourselves one of a handful of legacy cheese companies in the country and definitely enjoy greater popularity in New England and up and down the east coast. Although we are distributed nationwide with an abundance of competition and sweeter flavor profiles, we still consider ourselves a regional cheese company.
What role does the Windham Foundation play in sustaining this success?
If it wasn't for the Windham Foundation restoring the original Grafton site, we wouldn't be having this conversation! As a Windham foundation-owned enterprise, Grafton Village Cheese communicates a sense of place and has developed a following of buyers and consumers who support businesses of all shapes and sizes who demonstrate social responsibility, authenticity, and transparency.
What is the timeline for your cheese making process? How do you know when to stop aging the cheese to prepare it for the market?
Grafton's grading team predicts each batch's future. Grading begins when batches are "green" or about 2 months aged and again about every 3 months. They look for a gamut of flavors and textures - creamy, crumbly, grassy, sweet like milk or sweet like caramel, rich, acidic, a little bitter, sharp, sulfury, somewhat underdeveloped with promise, others unpredictable. Throughout the process, our graders decide which batches will age for one year, two years, and beyond.
What local ingredients do you use to make your cheese stand out from other brands?
All of our milk comes from Vermont family farms. Our milk source has always been co-mingled. We have worked closely with the Co-op to develop a milk route based on each dairy's fat and protein components and understanding there will be a degree of variability and seasonality. Our most important "ingredient" is our cheesemaking team, led by Mariano Gonzalez, our head cheesemaker. Mariano is one of the country's best cheddar makers and dedicated to his craft. His ability to mentor our team guarantees the Grafton brand maintains its traditional flavor profile.
How does buying locally produced cheese help the rural economy in New England?
Well, certainly the choices we make have a direct impact on our communities. When buying locally produced cheese, you are supporting not only the teams that make it happen, but the dairies from whom we purchase our milk, and the local retailers, country stores, inns, and restaurants who include locally produced cheese on their shelves and menus. Specific to Grafton Village Cheese, as a part of the Windham Foundation, we work to support Vermont's rural communities and you directly support that mission when you purchase Grafton Village Cheese.