|Producer of the Month: Boston Post Dairy|
by Jon Megas-Russell
One of the many delights that comes with taking our monthly trip to interview the Producer of the Month is traveling with a member of the Co-op department we are highlighting. I was lucky enough to travel with John, your cheese department manager, to Enosburg Falls, Vermont to interview members of the Gervais (Jar-ves) family that owns Boston Post Dairy. We passed the time on our drive with conversations about cheese (of course); John shared stories about the past Co-op cheese manager, Henry, and filled me in on the local Brattleboro music scene. John also talked about his love for Boston Post Dairy and how four sisters and their parents own the farm, store and cheese making operation. We were both very excited to learn first hand how their cheeses are made, peruse their farm store and meet the goats.
Upon arriving we were greeted by Tim, a part time employee. As Tim showed us around the store we could see Anne (Gervais) Doe through the viewing windows in the store, in the cheese making room overseeing 300+ gallons or roughly 2800 pounds of goat milk being stirred to make their award winning Très Bonne goat cheese. Anne soon came out and greeted John and I and led us into the cheese making room donning hairnets, lab coats and Crocs.
As Anne’s vat cut curds she shared the background of Boston Post Dairy. She comes from a family of 15; 11 brothers and 4 sisters, all born in Vermont. Her parents originally purchased 200 acres of land back in the 1960’s and were dairy farmers for 35 cows. Can you believe they worked the land and grew the cow herd to 1,000 cows while they raised 15 kids? What tremendous parents! The four sisters have lived on or near this land, which is six miles from the Canadian border, all of their lives. To make their cheeses they milk 100 Holstein, Brown Swiss cross cows and 300 goats, comprised of mostly Toggs, Alpines, as well as some Lamanchas on about 80 acres of grazing land, which they milk year round. They even sell some of their extra goat milk to VT Creamery. They started the cheese making operation in 2010 and opened the farm store based on the insistence of their parents to sell cheese, maple syrup, goat milk soap and many other value added products. It’s a true family operation and each of the four sisters that own the businesses have brought something to the venture.
Theresa has many years in managing a dairy farm and manages everything to do with the goats. She knows exactly how to produce the high quality goat milk used in their cheeses. Their youngest brother Michael manages the cow part of the dairy. Susan handles much of the farm store, manages the book work and produces goat products such as soaps and lotions. Anne brought the maple products to the business, and has since turned that department over to her daughter-in-law Linnea to handle. Linnea makes maple candies, confections, maple oat bread and many goat cheese baked goods as well. Annette helps in making and packaging cheese, but works mainly on her own small farm raising grass fed beef along with her husband and their 4 children. Anne is the head cheese maker and leads the charge in terms of creating the many goat and cows milk cheeses, including Très Bonne, White Diamond and Gisele, and oversees the aging caves along with their 2 employees, Patty and Tim. The sisters also employ other family members, including nieces, grandkids, and friends, to help run the operation.
When I asked why it was called Boston Post Dairy Anne mentioned that the road they grew up on, where both the original Gervais Family Farm and the Boston Post Dairy land is located, is the Boston Post Road, which is one of the original Boston Post mail delivery routes that traveled from Montréal to Boston. Additionally, the newer land is unique because the road is legally running through the property in front of the farm store despite the fact that it hasn’t existed for quite some time! She was also very proud to share that the Boston Post Dairy logo was designed by local artist Chris Neuberger, and represents their all-female-owned business and all of the different pieces of their farm, touting a girl with a goat, a cow and a maple leaf. This logo debuted back in 2010 when they started making cheese and opened the farm store.
Their first cheeses were made with lemon juice and no cultures, which some call farmer cheese. They quickly shifted into making cheeses with cultures, as the quality was much higher. Anne spoke very highly of Peter Dixon (whom you may know from Parish Hill Creamery) who helped to design the cheese making facility and cheese caves. They have a large facility that includes three caves for aging their cheeses. As we walked through the caves they were in the midst of experimenting with many different types of cheese to see what flavors and textures could be created.
Cheese making is a technical process and one that takes a keen attention to detail, high quality milk, and a passion for aging cheeses. It also takes a few long days starting at 5:30am and running into the evening. Anne described the stages starting with pumping in the raw milk from the barn in the early morning. They then heat the milk to 145 degrees to pasteurize it, and add cultures to the milk and let the cheese ripen. Their high quality milk and cultures speak for themselves, developing the delicious flavor for their world renowned Très Bonne. Once the cheese ripens rennet is added and the cheese begins to coagulate. The curds are then cut and, in this particular recipe, water is added, which is an important part of making Gouda style cheeses such as Très Bonne. After the cultured milk is curdled, some of the whey is then drained and water is added. This is called “washing the curd,” and creates a sweeter cheese as the washing removes some of the lactose. Once the cheese has reached the desired cook stage, they drain the whey and begin to “hoop” the cheese, which means to place in molds. When in the molds the cheeses is turned four times that day and next to ensure that it forms in the correct shape and consistency. Once they have taken shape they are then brined for 48 hours and then hand painted with a cheese coating to age. This all happens in the caves. Many of the cheeses age for 3-5 months, if not longer. It was interesting to hear that every cheese has a different process, whether it is Très Bonne, Gisele, Eleven Brothers, or White Diamond. These cheeses all have unique cultures, timing, and aging processes. Très Bonne won a bronze medal at the World Championship Cheese Contest last year and they hope to take another award this year. They love the feedback from the contests and it helps them increase quality, which gives them great pride. Come try it for yourself, it's delicious.
It was amazing to see the wheels upon wheels in their cheese caves. Whether they were red, yellow, brown, gray or white they all had a beautiful aroma. As Anne showed the caves, two of her sisters joined us and they started sharing reipes for their cheeses. Two of their favorites were Mac and Cheese (see recipe on page 9) and Chickem Alfredo with multiple cheeses like Très Bonne, cheese curds, and Gisele. Anne’s daughter-in-law, Linnea, also mentioned she loves adding a goat cheese like Chèvre to muffins and other bakery products. It makes them moist and delicious.
As we ended our time with the Gervais sisters they talked about the future of the farm. They all agreed they wanted to double their cheese production. While they are happy to be distributed throughout the northeast at co-ops and natural foods stores as well as a few spots in Texas and California, they want to spread their cheese even further. Come taste the Boston Post Dairy cheeses and meet Anne on Tuesday, April 11th, from 11am to 1pm.
Très Bonne is French for “very good.” When the very first wheel of Très Bonne reached maturity the girls cut it for sampling. After several people said it was really good, their mom said “C’est très bonne!” and that is how it got its name. It has won several awards, is aged 2-5 months and is their version of Gouda. Made from goat milk, it is a crowd pleaser with the kids because it is mild, nutty and smooth.
The sisters’ mom, Gisele, works behind the scenes helping out. She doesn’t want anything for working, so the girls named this cheese in recognition of her.
Gisele is an alpine style blended milk cheese, finished with a spiced apple cider wash. Aged 4 months, it has also received numerous awards.
This is a goat milk bloomy rind cheese, similar in style to Camembert. A quickly growing favorite among their cheeses.