Allison and Don Hooper – Vermont Creamery at Home
This article first appeared in Edible Green Mountains “Cooks!” issue, November 2015.
Photos by Brent Harrewyn.
“When the boys are all home, we sit and eat as a family every night. Some sort of beef, pork or chicken, maybe veggies from Don’s garden, pasta or bread. And cheese, of course.” So speaks Allison Hooper, co-founder of Vermont Creamery.
It’s easy to eat well when you own one of the best cheese companies in the world and keep a freezer stocked with meats and produce raised on your farm. The trick is getting two busy parents and three sons in one country kitchen at the same time! Allison and her husband, Don, New England representative for the National Wildlife Federation, relish the evenings when their Brookfield home fills with their sons.
Miles, 24, works as the operations and crop manager of Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, a farm in Randolph that raises 700 goats. The milk goes directly to the creamery, destined for one of the company’s award-winning goat cheese products. Twins Jay and Sam, 21, are seniors at Connecticut College. All the boys have helped with the family business in some form or another, working in the Websterville plant or marketing cheese at trade shows throughout the Northeast.
Allison and Don enjoy cooking together even when the boys aren’t home. According to Allison, “We can eat whatever we cobble together from leftovers in the fridge without worrying about how to fill the boys’ cavernous appetites.” Don adds, “Allison works magic with some greens, a couple of eggs, a bit of bread and cheese.”
Allison’s lifelong passion for high-quality cheese led her to co-found Vermont Creamery (originally Vermont Butter & Cheese) with Bob Reese in 1984. Their goat cheeses, butters and crème fraîche have won more than 100 national and international awards in the last seven years. Top sellers include Bonne Bouche, Bijou, Coupole and Cremont. Fresh goat cheese crumbles flavored with apricot and thyme are also popular.
Yet of all the products she makes, Allison points to crème fraîche as her go-to hero for its versatility. “The cultured cream enhances the flavor of all foods, savory or sweet, from roasted veggies and soups to topping a pumpkin or apple pie. That little bit of butterfat adds satisfying richness without weight.”
Speaking of pies prompts Don to a bit of bragging. “Last year, I had a pumpkin from my garden that sat on our kitchen counter all winter. By March, I finally got the gumption to hack away its dessicated skin and make a pie. Even though the pumpkin looked pretty gnarly, its flesh was delicious and so sweet! And nothing beats a pumpkin pie in March!” Topped with a dollop of crème fraîche, no doubt.
2012 marked the inception of the creamery’s newest undertaking, Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, the first commercial-scale demonstration goat dairy farm in Vermont. Vermont Creamery partnered with three foundations (Castanea, John Merck and High Meadows) to purchase the 100-plus-acre historic property in Randolph. Not only did this collaborative act of land conservation preserve prime agricultural land, it also established a farm where current and future farmers can gain practical experience in goat husbandry and best land management practices.
“Ayers Brook Goat Dairy is our investment in the future of goat farming in Vermont. In addition to protecting a vital portion of the region’s working landscape, Ayers Brook will serve as a teaching venue for farmers and provide training opportunities for students from Vermont schools and colleges, such as our neighbor Vermont Tech,”
Allison says. 20 other Vermont goat farms will continue to ship milk to the creamery.
In keeping with their commitment to sustainable business practices and environmental responsibility, Vermont Creamery gained B Corps status in 2014. B Corporation companies harness the power of forward-thinking businesses to solve social and environmental problems. “B Corps certification is to sustainable business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA organic certification is to milk,” says Allison. “The designation reflects the values on which we founded our company, and it will ensure that our operating principles remain true to our mission moving forward. We chose to become B Corps certified not because it’s groovy or good for marketing. We pursued this rigorous assessment because it’s what we’ve always done: treat our employees fairly, take care of our animals and those who tend them, and assure that we keep focused on a vision beyond the bottom line. It’s simply the right thing to do.”
Longtime stewards of the land, the Hoopers live up a long, washboard dirt road in Brookfield. Their white clapboard farmhouse, surrounded by acres of hayfields, sits on a hillside facing west. Solar panels cover a portion of the roof, and a wide porch with colorful Adirondack chairs offers prime sunset viewing. In summertime, brilliant perennial gardens, including fragrant lavender bushes, invoke visions of Southern France.
Opposite the house is the barn where Don stores the hay that he and his sons cut and bale every year. Adjacent to the barn stands the small wooden milk house where Allison first started making the goat cheese that would become her life’s passion.
Back at the main house, guests quickly become family in the Hoopers’ country kitchen, hanging out on comfortable stools at the kitchen counter or lounging on the L-shaped couch strewn with an eclectic array of cushions and pillows collected over years of international travel. Around the corner, a small woodstove and a well-used reading chair call for a good book and appropriate libation.
The Hoopers’ relaxed approach to dining works well with their sons and myriad friends. “We never know if we’ll have three, five or 10 people with us come dinner time! We just dig into our freezer and pantry and see what we come up with,” Allison says. “Don always stocks up at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival every July, buying something from every vendor’s table, so our pantry is filled with salami, honey, jams, pastas….”
If they’re lucky, that chest freezer yields pork and chicken from their son Miles. Don contributed two Hereford steers he raised at the home farm. “We gave them a cup of grain each day in the final few weeks,” Don says. “We then had them slaughtered here on farm and processed for our freezer. The beef tastes awesome.”
Allison admits, “I’m a maniac about not throwing food away. I’ll take leftovers and turn them into a soup or mix it into pasta. It’s a family joke. We’re big meat eaters when the boys are around because they want their protein. But when it’s just us, we’ll nurse a small roast or veggie pasta for days.”
And you can bet there’s a nub of soft goat cheese or a tub of crème fraîche ready to assume hero status.
A perfect evening for Maria Reade usually involves an oozing round of Cremont or a luscious Bonne Bouche. Crackers optional.