Friday, September 23, 2005

Vermont Cheese Trail—The Next Napa Valley?

“Taking a trip along the Vermont Cheese trail is akin to taking time to smell the flowers,” is how the website starts your journey. I’ve been looking for this “Napa Valley of Cheese” since my March 30th blog when I was in Green County, WI.

Here’s some of what I said that day, “Today cheese is considered a commodity product, much like wine 20 or 30 years ago. Thirty years ago there were only a couple of dozen wineries in California’s Napa Valley, churning out unexceptional products for an American consumer who had little taste for wine. Thru astute marketing, branding, and differentiation wine has changed their image as it has grown into a $22 billion industry. And, it appears to me that in many ways, cheese is a very similar product. And, SW Wisconsin has all of the ingredients to be at the center of it…... If the “Napa Valley of Cheese” were centered in Green County other companies would set up shop just as they have in the Napa Valley because of the burgeoning wine industry. Tourism would soar, art galleries would flourish and jobs would be created…..As it stands now, the master cheese makers are being recruited by other states. One left last year for Indiana……California has seen first hand the impact of Napa Valley. I hope that Green County, WI can maintain their cluster and develop it into the “Napa Valley of Cheese.” They’ve got all of the tools to do so. Now they just need a plan and a brand.”

I found what SW WI needs to emulate in VT, where the Vermont Cheese Council was set up in 1997 to assist cheese makers market their products better. Today there are 31 cheese making members, the majority of which are only producing from 10,000 to 100,000 pounds/year out of the 70 million pounds produced in VT. They’ve set up a trail of their members shops at

Making cheese isn’t rocket science. Neither is wine making. Both are fairly simple processes. Cheese starts with good milk, a starter culture for fermentation, rennet to help coagulate into curds and salt. You add heat and you’ve got cheese. Anyone can do it, but a craftsman can develop their product into a niche that people will drive hours to buy.

I’m certain that we will one day have a “Napa Valley of Cheese” which will be recognized as THE place for boutique production. It might be in VT or perhaps in WI. Or it might be in one of your hometown because someone made it happen.

1 comment:

Christopher Parker said...

We in Vermont certainly have some pretty amazing cheese. It's hard to imagine Wisconsin being a contender.