The cheese case can be overwhelming: All the split wheels with their mysterious flavors; the organization that is evident yet elusive; the signs - there is much to absorb and process. And you’re eager to taste something, to coordinate the details of the perfect cheese plate. The conversation explores flavor and aesthetic: Will a stinky washed rind clash with a grassy cheddar? What’s the best way to add a splash of color?
Underneath each of those complex considerations is a story. At the Bedford Cheese Shop it is the story of a small farmer and her community. Whether a cooperative of shepherds in the rocky Larzac region of southwestern France or a self-taught artist-turned-cheesemaker in Delaware County New York, we work with exceptional producers rooted in local traditions. Every piece of cheese we sell supports a long history - and vibrant future - of cheesemaking and dairy farming.
But in the past few years, it has grown more difficult for independent farmers and producers dedicated to responsible and loving production practices to stay afloat. Where national trends once determined milk prices, farmers and processors now face pressure from international markets. In Vermont, about 200 family-owned dairy farms - or 20 percent statewide - have closed since 2010. In France, small-scale dairy farmers have been on and off strike for close to two years, resisting the growing influence of large dairy companies, steep competition, and falling prices.
Through the work we do bringing farmstead cheese to our local communities, the Bedford Cheese Shop supports farmers who work day in and day out to carry on cheesemaking traditions. This week we chatted with Peter Henry, the New York City Sales and Marketing Manager at Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlet, Vermont.
“It's great that people are more interested in sustainable, small scale agriculture, and pasture-based dairy, but the business side of things has to be just as sustainable. I want people to be involved and care about what we do, but my mission is to prove that well-run dairy farms can also be a well-run business. The best you can do to help these farms is to buy their products and shop at stores that stock their products. Small farms and the land they occupy can't wait for the food movement to slowly shift away from Big Ag and even large-scale organic.
The deck is stacked in favor of commodity dairy in this country, but every time you buy well-made and well-sourced butter, milk or cheese, you're helping to move the needle further in our direction, investing in your region's small businesses in a way that makes a massive splash. You're also helping to show the future cheesemakers and dairy farmers that it's possible to make good farming profitable.”
We’re dedicated to supporting the farmers and cheesemakers that resist homogeneity, who fight to carry on their local traditions - and we’re stoked to fill the cases with the cheeses that tell those stories. And through weekly classes in The Homestead at 67 Irving Place, we dive deeper into the specifics and tell some of the stories we’ve collected from conversations with cheesemakers around the world.