Cutting the Cheese has Never Smelled So Good

The Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences likes their cheese. It is responsible for the new Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese (VIAC) at UVM. VIAC has its beginnings in a USDA grant called the Fund for Rural America, which was awarded to UVM a few years ago. With the grant, the Department started offering a series of courses designed to help small food producers. The most popular offerings turned out to be cheese making courses, and when the four-year USDA grant expired, other funding became available for the specific establishment of VIAC. Vermont has the greatest number of artisan cheese makers per capita than any other state in the nation. Having always been agriculturally oriented, “Vermont reflects small scale agriculture values; it is still the antithesis of megafarms,” reasoned Cathy Donnelly, a food microbiologist and professor of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University. She is also the Associate Director for VIAC and an expert in the safe production of cheese. The unique heritage that characterizes Vermont makes it perfect for producers in the burgeoning business of American artisan cheese making. Artisan cheese is created primarily by hand and in small batches, paying close attention to tradition and detail. The process involves as little mechanization as possible, is labor-intensive, and requires skill and experience. Artisan cheeses may be made from all types of milk and can have various flavorings depending on what is locally available. Cheddar cheese making has long been a part of Vermont history (companies like Cabot and Grafton Village Cheese Company date back to the beginning of the 20th Century). But to learn the processes for cheeses that we now consider common, like goat cheese, people used to have to travel to Europe and study cheese making for months before being able to bring that knowledge back home to the States.”We can really help by instead of having people go over there, we’ll just bring experts here,” said Donnelly of the new possibilities VIAC offers artisan cheese makers. Vermont artisan cheeses ship mainly to cities like Boston, New York, and Washington, DC, where there is a growing demand for high quality, atypical cheese. The VIAC classes are generally attended by people currently working on small, often family-run farms that want to get into cheese making as a way of diversifying or earning extra income, or by people retiring from one field of work and interested in moving into another. These people come to VIAC from all over the country, where they are awarded a Cheese Making Certificate upon the completion of six classes at the Institute. Classes are offered in the fall and spring and range from one to three days in length. These courses teach the basics needed to go into cheese making. As the program develops, they hope to offer a Master Artisan Cheese Maker Certificate for further levels of mastery.Last year, some cheese making classes were offered to UVM undergrads through Continuing Ed. Currently, creating research opportunities is the only real cheese making option available to undergraduates. However, if more UVMers show an interest, cheese making courses could perhaps become a part of the future regular course offering each