Vermont Creamery Co-Founders Bob Reese and Allison Hooper

Vermont Creamery co-founders Bob Reese and Allison Hooper.

Vermont Creamery co-founders Bob Reese and Allison Hooper were inducted into the Specialty Food Association Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City on Sunday.

The Specialty Food Association represents thousands of artisanal food producers with annual sales of $150 billion, the fastest growing sector of the food market in the United States. On Sunday, the association inducted eight individuals whose accomplishments within the specialty food industry were recognized.

Vermont Creamery was founded in Websterville in 1984, when Reese and Hooper were pioneers of the artisan cheese movement in the United States, introducing Americans to fresh and aged goat cheeses, European-style cultured butter and crème fraîche, which have won hundreds of national and international awards. In its 35th year of business, Vermont Creamery supports a network of more than 17 family farms, promoting sustainable agriculture in the region. B Corp-certified in 2014, the creamery was ranked one of the “Best Places to Work in Vermont” by Vermont Business Magazine. In March 2017, Reese and Hooper sold the business, which remains independently operated, to Minnesota-based Land ’O Lakes, one of America’s largest agribusiness and food companies.

“It’s certainly an honor to be included in such an unbelievable group of food entrepreneurs, artisan food producers within the Specialty Food Association,” Reese said in an interview Monday. “We did our first show back in 1987, and that was a launching point where we could see the movement of international imported cheeses switching over to interest in local foods being produced in the United States.

“That was a gratifying moment because we thought we could never compete with these international cheeses. But then we would go to a show and someone said, ‘It’s about time someone is making local goat cheeses — I’ve been waiting for this for so long,’ so it was a magical moment,” he added.

Reese said the artisanal food movement offered Vermont farmers the chance to overcome the slow failure of the dairy industry as overproduction lowered milk prices, putting many Vermont farms in jeopardy. Reese noted that there were over 8,000 dairy farms in 1984, while today, there are just over 700.

“In 1984, when we started Vermont Creamery, there were only seven licensed cheese companies in the state, and today, the Vermont Cheese Makers Association lists 55 cheese makers, and last year, there were 40 exhibiting at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival at Shelburne Farms,” Reese said. “We were pioneering all of this in the beginning.

“I think there’s maybe a dozen farmstead artisanal cheese companies making fresh goat cheese and selling it locally, so that’s a real tribute to Vermont being a state of entrepreneurs, Vermont making high-quality milk that can create high-quality cheese. There’s also a lifestyle commitment where you have a family farm with the younger generation starting to operate the value-added parts of the business. It’s just a win-win,” Reese added.

“We are grateful for the validation from our peers in the specialty food business,” said co-founder Allison Hooper. “Having transitioned ownership two years ago makes it especially poignant to be recognized for our legacy.

“I’m glad we haven’t been forgotten. Those 35 years that we were doing this were really significant. That’s when all the development was happening, all of the awareness was happening, and now, it’s become very competitive.

“Bob and I started this business with $2,400. We just bootstrapped the thing together, making a mistake here and there, and every once in a while, doing something right, making it work. Who knew that we would have created what we did and really provided some momentum for a lot of others to do similar things? It’s a great honor,” she added.

“Bob and Allison ingrained an entrepreneurial spirit in Vermont Creamery that remains at the heart of who we are today,” said Adeline Druart, president of Vermont Creamery. “It takes a village to build a business, but without their vision, our dream to bringing artisan cheese and cultured butter to Americans would have never been realized.”

For more information about the Hall of Fame, or the inductees, visit www.specialtyfood.com.

To learn more about Vermont Creamery, visit www.vermontcreamery.com.

stephen.mills@timesargus.com

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