By Jake Claro, Farm to Plate Director
Owning and operating a small dairy had long been a dream when Stina Kutzer received a beautiful Jersey calf named Babette for her birthday in 2004. Stina had worked with dairy cows throughout her adult life and with milk from Babette began to produce handmade butter and yogurt. When Babette gave birth to twin calves, Stina’s herd of milking cows grew, as did her production of handmade dairy products. Her interest in producing these products coincided with the rapidly growing localvore movement and in 2010 Gammelgården Creamery was born.
Stina founded Gammelgården Creamery in Pownal, Vermont with her sister Marta Willett. Her husband Peter also helps run the operation. It’s a small dairy and in the early days they sold their products mostly at local farmers markets. In addition to butter, buttermilk and yogurt, Gammelgården started producing Skyr, a traditional Icelandic cultured dairy product.
“Skyr is technically a soft cheese and is made using cheese cloth but it more resembles Greek yogurt,” says Stina about Gammelgården’s signature product.
When Gammelgården began producing Skyr there was immediate demand in the local community. The popularity of Skyr quickly grew and Gammelgården started selling throughout Southern Vermont, Albany, NY and Western Massachusetts areas. When they started selling to Williams College in Williamstown, MA, the need to increase production grew even more.
“The student’s love Skyr,” said Stina. “When they graduate, they ask how they can continue to buy it when they move on to the next phase of their life.”
The popularity of Skyr is a great success story for Gammelgården Creamery, but it also brought the challenges of running a small dairy in Vermont to light. Initially, Stina, Peter and Marta had to go through the same extensive licensing and approval process as a large industrial dairy operation, which was challenging both in terms of time and money. The cost of packaging and distribution can also be cost prohibitive and time consuming because they still pack, label and deliver products themselves. They are currently exploring how to increase distribution so Gammelgården can continue to grow.
Despite the daunting effort required to produce and distribute Gammelgården products mostly by hand, Stina is proud of the operation. They buy ingredients mostly from local vendors – an example being the jam used to flavor the Skyr. Now milking six cows, the Kutzers purchase additional milk from other local dairies to supplement their production when demand is high. Being part of and supporting the local economy is something that is very important to Stina, who currently employs three people, and with expansion, may be able to employ more.
Gammelgården Creamery exemplifies the drive and spirit that empowers so many small Vermont farms. The combination of relatively traditional production and distribution methods and 21st century economic opportunities, such as farmers’ markets, local coops and college food service using local products, allow farmers like Stina to realize their dreams.
This article is the 4th installment in Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund’s Face of Farming Series. The series will profile a variety of farmers throughout Vermont who are employing best practices, implementing innovative approaches and who together represent the evolving face of Vermont’s agricultural system.
Feature Image courtesy of Gammelgården Creamery.