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Wichendon, MA—One of New England’s pioneer specialty cheese companies celebrated 30 years of operation here last month, looking back at those first years when most consumers “thought Gouda was a goat’s milk cheese.”
Smith’s Country Cheese, Inc. is owned and operated by Carol and David Smith. In June, the company welcomed customers with a special celebration featuring cheese at 1985 prices.
“I rolled the prices back to what they were 30 years ago. The first 30 people through the door got free T-shirts, and the kids got free hats,” David Smith said. “Just before we opened, there were 50 people in a line out to the road, waiting to get in. It was very well-received.”
The company’s first and signature cheese is original farmstead Gouda. When we started 30 years ago, customers didn’t know what Gouda was – they thought it was a goat’s milk cheese, Smith said. Today, people are much more familiar with cheese.
Also, 30 years ago, per capita consumption was in the 10-pound range, and it just broke 33 pounds last year, he said.
“They also travel more, and get these good cheeses they couldn’t get at home unless someone stepped up to the plate and started making them,” Smith said.
The farmstead company produces its cheese using roughly half of its own milk supply, with the other half sold to a nearby bottling plant.
Gouda is made in a variety of flavors, along with Medium, Sharp, Extra Sharp and flavored Cheddars, and its newest additions,
Havarti and Leyden with Cumin.
Havarti flavors include Creamy, Garden Vegetable, Naturally Smoked and Dill.
This month, Smith’s Farmstead added Gouda with Salsa to its cheese lineup.
“Flavors are a big trend, which is why we started doing some hand-rubbed cheeses,” Smith said. “Our wholesale customers always want what’s new. We’re always trying new flavors to keep them interested.”
“Also, as the consumer population ages, they want stronger and different flavors – different from the same ones they’ve had all those years,” he continued.
Smith’s Country Cheese is available on-site, online and in supermarket and specialty grocers in the eastern US from Maine to Florida. The cheese is also sold in select Texas and Florida grocery stores.
All cutting and packaging is also done on-site, and the company puts out roughly 200,000 pounds of cheese annually. Gouda is the top seller, and accounts for the majority of cheese production, followed by Cheddar and Havarti.
The company also makes spreadable Gouda in 8-ounce containers in 10 to 12 different flavors. All the trim from the company’s cut-and-wrap business is used to make the spreadable Gouda line.
“The spreads do very well among my small accounts,” Smith said. “I don’t need to make a million dollars off them; it’s a way to reduce waste.”
The company is also very committed to recycling and green technology, and reuses whey to feed its
In support of energy conservation, Smith’s Country Cheese recently made a commitment to reduce its carbon footprint, with a goal of cutting power consumption by 50 percent through a combination of photovoltaics and conservation.
The farmstead’s new grid-tied photovoltaic solar system features the latest technology in power management and monitoring.
The company is currently in the early stages of a project to use solar energy to heat the water used inside the plant.
Cheesemaking In New England
The specialty cheese category is definitely maturing fast at this point, Smith said. It was pretty much nonexistent when we started, and it’s a totally different environment now.
“It was quite a sell, going to someone and trying to present our product. It was also more expensive, because cheese was just a commodity back then for the most part, so you couldn’t compete with that on a small scale,” Smith said.
“Our first supermarket accounts did it more for image on their part to support the small, local companies,” he said. “Then all the other large chains started carrying our cheese.”
New England’s specialty cheese industry has yet to become saturated, and a lot of a company’s success depends on the type of cheese they make.
We make Gouda, which isn’t a very fancy cheese. That’s who I am – a meat-and-potato guy. If the cheese represents your personality and taste, you’ll be successful, rather than trying to cater to a customer base you’re not interested in
or communicate with, Smith said.
“In Massachusetts, we don’t have that many small cheese makers, but in Vermont, it’s huge – they’re springing up all over the place,” he said.
“Flavors are a big trend, which is why we started doing some hand-rubbed cheeses...As the consumer population ages, they want stronger and different flavors.”
—David Smith, Smith’s Country Cheese
But I don’t think it’s become saturated because if you’re not right for the market, you’ll just fall along the wayside, anyhow, Smith continued.
There’s a lot of competition and you have to have a good product. If it doesn’t sell, you need to go back to the drawing board and figure out why – is it the price or is the product not appealing, Smith continued.
Capitalizing on the “small, local” trend is also a route to success. It’s what the consumer wants, Smith said.
“There’s also a big demand for ‘clean’ labels,” he said. “You can’t get a cleaner label than cheese. When I go to special events, I’m amazed at how much people are in love with cheese. It makes you feel darn good. You don’t have to sell it – people just want it,” he said.
For more details, visit www.smithscountrycheese.com.