• Publishers' Note Summer 2008

    Publishers' Note Summer 2008

    As the weather warms here in Vermont, we get to experience the promise of another growing season. But many people in our communities struggle with food security, unable to get access to Vermont’s amazing bounty. Summer is a good time to think of these community members. Here are some ways that we can make a difference.

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  • Llama Beans for Your Beds

    Llama Beans for Your Beds

    At our small hilltop farm here in Craftsbury Common, the melting winter snow recently revealed piles of one of Vermont’s gardening treasures: llama manure. Also known as “llamanure” or “llama beans,” llama manure has become the fertilizer of choice for many friends and neighbors of llama farms. Thus, on a recent bright spring morning, our neighbors arrived in pick-ups, shovels in hand, ready for the spring ritual of scooping poop provided by our small herd here at Maple Leaf Llamas.

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  • A Cheese for the Ages

    A Cheese for the Ages

    One can easily imagine the feelings of pride in the hamlet of Plymouth Notch when a cheese factory opened there in 1890. It was a cooperative community venture, founded by five local families, and it soon became a centerpiece in the town of Plymouth.

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  • Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    As I downshift off the Putney exit of I-91, my husband, Jerry, is roused from his dozing by the hollow sound of several hundred jostling maple syrup jugs. It’s April, time to buy containers for our maple syrup at Bascom’s 10% container sale, and time to post Farm Camp flyers.

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  • Set the Table with Hot Peppers

    Set the Table with Hot Peppers

    There’s an old adage that says, “You can’t grow peppers in Vermont.” But then there’s another expression: “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those doing it!” In the heart of dairy country in West Addison, Michael and Lisa Shannon are growing an extensive assortment of hot peppers on approximately one acre. They say these fairly tough plants, many of which originated in Central and South America, can thrive in Vermont’s climate.

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  • Diary of a Farm Apprentice—Part 1: Spring

    Diary of a Farm Apprentice—Part 1: Spring

    I want to be a farmer. It is 5:30 in the morning, and the rooster, who lives very close to my window, is crowing before dawn. I find it useful to remind myself: I want to be a farmer.

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  • Beyond Ben & Jerry’s

    Beyond Ben & Jerry’s

    Let’s face it. We’re spoiled by many artisan food producers in Vermont. Bread bakers Randy George and Liza Cain of Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex. Cheesemakers Willow Smart and David Phinney of Willow Hill Farm in Milton. Bob and Martha Pollak, makers of Snowflake Chocolates in Jericho. The list goes on. Vermont is a foodie’s paradise.

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  • Three Square—Summer 2008

    Three Square—Summer 2008

    Growing up in Vermont I ate chokecherries, dandelions, venison, and tempura daylilies. I recently returned to live here full time. Since then, I’ve noticed that conversation often turns to food. What’s for dinner? In this series, I visit a variety of Vermonters in their homes, peer into their iceboxes, and share their thoughts about what they eat. Because of the often personal nature of their stories, I’ve chosen to omit their last names.

    I’m sitting with Ezra on a couch in the living room of his family’s apartment, upstairs from On the Rise bakery in Richmond. I ask him what he likes to eat for lunch. Ezra is six.

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  • An Interview with Tom Stearns

    An Interview with Tom Stearns

    High Mowing Organic Seeds is a thriving Vermont company that sells to gardeners and farmers around the country. In January, High Mowing became one of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit that asks the federal government to postpone the release of genetically modified (GMO) sugar beets until a more rigorous environmental analysis is done. (Sugar beets are used to make sugar; table beets are the ones we eat.) Tom Stearns, founder and president of High Mowing Seeds, talked with Local Banquet about his company’s decision to join the lawsuit. – Caroline Abels

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  • Build a Solar Food Dryer

    Build a Solar Food Dryer

    I built this solar food dryer about 15 years ago and I’ve been using it ever since to dry vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms. The design is similar to a suitcase. Each end has a simple screen–covered frame that allows warm air to circulate from the bottom, over the eight drying racks, and out the top, while preventing unwanted guests from getting to your food. This easy–to–build project is a great way to preserve food.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Baby Tastes

    Farmers' Kitchen—Baby Tastes

    There’s an old adage that says, “You can’t grow peppers in Vermont.” But then there’s another expression: “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those doing it!” In the heart of dairy country in West Addison, Michael and Lisa Shannon are growing an extensive assortment of hot peppers on approximately one acre. They say these fairly tough plants, many of which originated in Central and South America, can thrive in Vermont’s climate.

    Continue Reading

  • Last Morsel—Jr. Iron Chef

    Last Morsel—Jr. Iron Chef

    If you had walked into the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction on April 12, you would have seen dozens of teenagers from around Vermont having fun with... sprouts. And root vegetables. And wheat berries. And winter squash.

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Beyond Ben & Jerry’s

Vermont’s Smaller Ice Cream Makers Come in Many Different Flavors

Amy Huyffer of Strafford Organic Creamery
Amy Huyffer of Strafford Organic Creamery

Written By

Lisa Harris

Written on

June 01 , 2008

Let’s face it. We’re spoiled by many artisan food producers in Vermont. Bread bakers Randy George and Liza Cain of Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex. Cheesemakers Willow Smart and David Phinney of Willow Hill Farm in Milton. Bob and Martha Pollak, makers of Snowflake Chocolates in Jericho. The list goes on. Vermont is a foodie’s paradise.

So why not expect the same diversity with Vermont’s ice cream? Ben & Jerry’s may be our most famous export, but there are other ice cream makers around the state freezing up some terrific stuff, and they represent a variety of approaches to the making and marketing of ice cream. They’re mostly small-batch, artisan producers, and even better, they’re using Vermont milk in their recipes.

From the Northeast Kingdom to NYC

On a snowy day in April, I headed out to the Vermont Milk Company processing plant in Hardwick to meet the people behind the product. Brian LaCoss spent two years selling organic milk in Lyndonville; now he serves as president of the Vermont Milk Company, which makes about 350 gallons of ice cream per week.

“We currently produce five flavors,” LaCoss said: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, coffee, and maple. They’re sold at many co-ops and markets around the state, including some Hannaford and Grand Union locations—“and we’re working on Shaw’s right now,” LaCoss adds. Restaurants are also requesting three-gallon tubs. The Wayside Restaurant in Berlin, for example, typically serves six or seven tubs of VMC ice cream each week.

The Vermont Milk Company also produces “One-Shot Creamies.” Single-serve containers (recyclable, of course) are placed in a user-friendly dispenser and the ice cream comes out in a creamy soft swirl. Part-time Waitsfield resident Johnny Reid recently approached VMC about introducing their Creamies to New York City, where Reid spends the rest of his time. He took Creamie machines to the Central Park Zoo and the Circle Line tour boats, and now the ice cream is being sold to Big Apple tourists through Reid’s Vermont Ice Cream Company.

“Several major New York restaurants are interested in carrying it in three-gallon containers,” Reid told me. “The celebrity chefs like the maple product, as it does feature real, 100% Vermont maple syrup. While the roll-out is small and slow, early signs are that the ‘Vermont brand’ is indeed a hit.”

Helping Farmers and Small Producers

The founding goals of the Vermont Milk Company, which was started by a few farmers and some non-farmer investors, were to create a cooperative of dairy farmers, set up a facility to process their milk into value-added products, and put more money into the pockets of farmers and the local community. The company has had some tough breaks since it began—for example, fuel prices have reached all-time highs, and the minimum price the company had set to pay for milk, which was originally well above the market price, is currently below what even conventional farmers are receiving.

Even though it’s been a challenge to pay a fair price to the farmers who supply milk to VMC, the company has had the blessing of diversity: its value-added processing facility can be used by other ice cream producers, and VMC also makes yogurt and cheese, in addition to ice cream.

“There aren’t a lot of diversified dairy plants around the state,” said Anthony Pollina, a founder of the company who recently stepped down from his role as VMC’s vice president to run for governor. “It’s a valuable resource.”

A case in point is Wilcox Dairy in Manchester. The Wilcox family has been making ice cream since 1928; they are the oldest ice cream manufacturer in the state. A fire destroyed their manufacturing plant in 2001, but they were able to continue operations at a facility in Greenfield, MA. However, when Vermont Milk Company opened its doors, they chose to make their ice cream in-state.

Howard Wilcox and his daughter, Chris, drive six hours round-trip to make their ice cream at the Hardwick plant. “My dad and I travel there every Friday to work with the Vermont Milk Company crew,” Chris says, to flavor, freeze, and package their ice cream, all made with milk obtained through the VMC cooperative. They make 1,500 finished gallons in a day, which they transport back home and distribute out of Manchester along with many other frozen treats—including some made by Ben & Jerry’s.

When I asked how they’re able to distribute other companies’ frozen desserts alongside their own, Chris explained that there are many different markets that want different products. “Ben & Jerry’s is very sweet, and they target customers who want the sweetest and most chunkiest thing in their hand.” By contrast, she said, her father “wants people to taste the flavor of the ice cream,” which contains all-natural ingredients and high-end flavorings and additions, including pure vanilla bourbon extract from Madagascar.

Michael Lesser and Carlo DePrato, owners of Leonardo’s Gelato & Sorbet, are also looking forward to utilizing VMC’s facility. They have been making delicious Italian-style ice cream since 2000, and are working on a base-mix recipe that will be produced at VMC’s plant, then finished off in Leonardo’s own facility in Barre. According to Lesser, “we’re looking forward to having Vermont milk in our product, which will only improve it.” They hope to start production there by the end of the year.

The On-Farm Approach

Over in Strafford, ice cream is being made in a different way at Rockbottom Farm’s Strafford Organic Creamery. Husband-and-wife team Earl Ransom and Amy Huyffer use the certified organic milk from their herd of 40 Guernseys to produce 13 different flavors of small-batch ice cream, about 100 to 150 gallons a week. They incorporate fresh-brewed coffee, mint plucked by hand from their garden, and organic eggs. Some flavors include coconut almond, egg nog, and black raspberry. Smooth maple is a popular choice among localvores, since the ingredients are all from Vermont.

Seven people, plus Amy and Earl, do all of the field work, milking, processing, administrative duties, and delivery of products. The creamery also produces milk sold in glass bottles. Their ice cream can be found in stores, co-ops, college cafeterias, and restaurants from Craftsbury to Brattleboro.

“We do almost all our own distribution, but we do deliver to [distributors] Squash Valley Produce in Waterbury and Hillside Poultry in Wilmington, and they bring our stuff to places we can’t get to, like Waitsfield and Manchester,” says Huyffer.

I asked Huyffer what she thought of Ben & Jerry’s.

“My hat is off to them for paving the way for what we do,” she said. “They introduced people to super-premium ice cream, in a pint at the grocery store, from cool people in Vermont who went out of their way to make a great product.

“As for whether Ben & Jerry’s, or anyone else, is competition for us, I think we’re probably too small to have any of that matter. We sell out of ice cream every summer...and have a knee-deep waiting list of stores and restaurants that are interested in carrying it. I suppose if another operation came along and made ice cream that was better than ours and less expensive, that might be an issue, but I’d be surprised if anyone could make ice cream as good as ours for less money. I think it might be hard to make ice cream better than ours on any kind of commercial scale, period.”

A Tale of Two Tastes

Huyffer initially wondered if Vermont Milk Company ice cream would impact Strafford’s market, particularly “for the people who are motivated to buy our stuff because it’s made locally.” But she isn’t worried, given the clear difference in the products.

I agree. After a taste test of both ice creams, I found they exhibit two totally different styles that would appeal to different taste preferences.

Vermont Milk Company produces a mild-tasting ice cream. Their chocolate has a delicate milk chocolate flavor that doesn’t scream ‘chocolate!’ in your mouth. Instead, the texture is light, with a mild sweetness. Their vanilla is also light and fresh, with just enough vanilla flavor balanced again with a pleasant sweetness.

Strafford Organic Creamery’s ice cream reminds me of the ice cream my family made when I was young. Their organic vanilla has a bolder custard flavor than Vermont Milk Company’s. The organic chocolate almond also has a stronger custard consistency, with a rich, dark chocolate flavor. It is a bit creamier than their organic vanilla.

So when the temperatures rise this summer and you’re looking for a great treat that’s locally made and supports farmers and local communities, try some Vermont Milk Company or Strafford Organic Creamery ice cream. Remember that Wilcox Dairy ice cream and Leonardo’s sorbet and gelato are also available.

And the next time you’re in New York City, swing by the Central Park Zoo or hop on a Circle Line cruise around Manhattan, and ask for a Vermont Ice Cream Company One-Shot Creamie. You’ll feel like you’re home.

Photo of Amy Huyffer courtesy of Strafford Organic Creamery

About the Author

Lisa Harris

Lisa Harris

Lisa Harris currently lives in Huntington, where she writes, eats, and is breathing new life into her blog.

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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.

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