Appeared February 2008 in Dairy Foods Magazine
Copyright BNP Media

Willow Hill Farm is located up a mountain road near the Vermont shore of Lake Champlain, about 20 minutes north of Burlington. Willow Smart and her husband David Phinney run the multifaceted operation centered on a flock of about 100 East Friesian and Icelandic sheep. They sell lamb meat, wool, wool blankets, and of course, cheese. The farm also operates a seasonal u-pick blueberry business. The couple acquired the 400-acre abandoned dairy farm in 1991. Willow Hill currently produces nine cheeses, including six types of sheeps milk products, and three cows milk and mixed milk cheeses, and yogurt. Some of the milk of both types is purchased from outside the farm, so that the company can keep up with demand for its cheeses.
Recently a half-dozen Dutch Belted and Jersey cows were introduced, and that herd might reach as many as 20. Smart, who grew up on a 170-year-old beef cattle ranch in Hawaii, had thought she would never again tend to cows, but she was convinced to do so for the sake of the cheese.
It’s mostly the cheese she tends to now. Like most farmstead cheesemakers, Smart makes cheese every day, depending on the season. Since last summer, she has done so in a brand new, grade-A creamery adjacent to the milking barn. Smart and Phinney designed and contracted the facility themselves, building it into a natural slope of the hilly terrain. With this design, the milk is handled gently, being gravity-fed to the vats. Cheese load out is also made easy. A few steps from the creamery, cheeses are aged in a small cave dug into a hillside, with exterior constructed of native stones.
Willow Hill Farm’s animals graze on seasonal pasture and the variety of flora in their diet make distinct contributions to the flavors in the cheese. The affinage in the caves allows these flavors to be fully expressed, and the resulting products are spectacular.
Cheeses like Autumn Oak, Vermont Brebis, Summer Tomme and Mountain Tomme are considered among the best examples of artisan cheese in the U.S., and Willow Hill has won numerous awards here and abroad.
Smart’s education in the cheese arts included the Dairy Sheep Education Center program offered in the 1990s by Vermont Shepherd, Putney, Vt.
Willow Hill Farm
* 313 Hardscrable Road, Milton, Vt.
* Cheesemaking established 1997
* www.sheepcheese.com
* Open to the public, cheese sold on site
* Internet sales available

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