Blue Ledge Farm
Husband-and-wife team Hannah and Greg transformed an old cow dairy farm in Salisbury, Vermont into a successful, modern farm cranking out some of the best cheese in the country.
A nine-year-old girl named Hannah returns home from summer camp in Vermont with two companions. She lovingly names her sheep George and Maria. Years later, two young students studying abroad in Florence, Italy, meet and, connected by a passion for art and culture, begin a shared dream of owning a farm. Three years later in Salisbury, Vermont, Hannah Sessions and Greg Bernhardt transform an old cow dairy farm back into production with goats. It’s a heartwarming story that involves two people who knew exactly what they wanted.
After a brief stint of teaching for Greg, while Hannah worked on a dairy farm in southern Vermont, these young Bates College graduates turned their attention to farming and got to work creating delicious goat cheese and cow’s milk cheese that is now enjoyed all over Vermont and throughout the Northeast including Boston and New York City.
Blue Ledge Farm comprises 150 acres of woods, hay land, pasture and wetland. Husband-and-wife team Hannah and Greg had a business plan to find a farm that had not been conserved to allow them the opportunity to sell the development rights to help fund the purchase. A farm located just down the road from where Hannah grew up and nurtured a lifelong love of animals was a perfect fit. In 2000, Blue Ledge Farm began milking four goats. Today, 150 goats spend their spring, summer and fall days browsing in the woods before returning to the barn for their 4 pm milking and then lounge around in a pasture as evening sets in. Goats are also milked daily at 5:30 am, and pigs enjoy the bucolic setting as well as fresh whey from the cheese operation.
“Our goats live a life of luxury as we run from job to job across the farm,” Hannah says. “We sometimes wonder who works for who!” Cheese making and production happens seven days a week, and despite the long hours and hard work, Hannah embraces the routine of farming and the opportunity it allows to have quality family life. Hannah shares, “Routine is grounding for me. Farming limits the multitude of choices that are part of our current culture. You have to embrace daily tasks to run a farm and create quality cheese.”
Each day is different in the cheese-making world here. The formula for turning out a wide variety of delicious cheeses involves a small talented team of five workers, including a seasoned cheese maker with a science background, who together work productively with a fine-tuned synchrony. Hannah and Greg are part of the team where every step counts and each cheese has its own unique process, technique and timing. To maintain robust production, a large underground cheese cave was built in 2007 that is connected to the cheese room and three different aging rooms.
A sampling of the weekly schedule offers a glimpse into the cheese operation. Monday is Middlebury Blue Cheese Day, when nearby Scapeland Farm delivers cold milk from Ayrshire cows that is processed immediately. Tuesday is Fresh Chèvre Day, where 1,200 to 1,500 pounds of goat’s milk creates 600 to 800 medallions. The rest of the week the curds are gently hand-ladled—the secret to the light texture of the fresh cheeses. Camembrie is also made from fresh pasteurized Ayrshire milk. Lake’s Edge, a dramatic ash-veined pasteurized goat cheese that is aged for three weeks and named after the stones found along Lake Champlain, was selected as one of the “Best 100 Cheeses in the World” by Wine Spectator magazine. Crottina, a velvety smooth cheese with a white mold exterior, took a first-place award in the American Cheese Society competition in 2006 and put Blue Ledge “on the map.” Its classic simplicity has a loyal following of goaty fans.
Having access to a wide range of cheeses close to home—a charming farmhouse located on the property where children Livia and Hayden and family dog Boomer live with their parents—allows for unique food creations that grace the dinner table.
Inspired through farm happenings, these recipes (see sidebar) each have a story. During the early days, Hannah laughs about her zealous approach to her vegetable garden, which produced an abundance of butternut squash. Her butternut squash soup became a staple all winter long, and sprinkled with Middlebury Blue cheese, it’s a winner. Beets are prolific in the garden and captivated by a delicious beet salad at Café Provence in nearby Brandon, Hannah and Greg tried their best to replicate it using their fresh chèvre, although Livia and Hayden prefer the beet greens. The trick to this simple refreshing salad is chopping up the beets very fine, the size of your pinky nail.
With an active household and both children involved in sports, it’s key to have a quick healthy meal the family loves, including one that draws a crowd. Greg’s homemade pizza is just that. Greg’s grandmother Livia, a second-generation Italian, passed down her pizza dough recipe, which, coupled with goat cheese topping, creates delicious flatbreads for Friday pizza night—a family tradition. Team dinners any season at the homestead draw a crowd.
Hard work, a love of animals and a lifestyle that allows for quality family time are a few of the countless joys that Greg and Hannah embrace. A commitment to sustainable farming practices remains a strong ethic. Now, 17 years later, Blue Ledge Farm continues to thrive with frolicking goats, a few pigs and a growing list of goat cheeses. The latest creation: a marinated chèvre.
During summer months you’ll find Hannah and daughter Livia at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market with a bevy of regulars at their table abundant with samples of their cheese. Hannah loves that people truly enjoy the product and relishes the opportunity to interact with a multitude of diverse individuals—both locals and visitors. Above all else, they love family life on a beautiful farm tending to flocks of contented goats. Sharing the fruits of their labor at the table is a treasured reward.
Laurie learned that one of the keys to delicious cheese is keeping your goats happy while humans work diligently—clearly a secret of success at this farm.