During the month of May, in celebration of American Cheese Month, we’re spotlighting a few of our local cheesemakers. These small producers keep our cheese case well-stocked with their unique, handcrafted cheeses. Each one has a unique story and a true passion for the craft of cheesemaking.
Thank you to Tim Capron at Maplebrook Farm in North Bennington, Vermont, for sharing with us the farm’s unique origin story and also what makes their cheese different from other mozzarella and burrata on the market. (You’ll never buy mass-produced cheese again!) Also, find out Maplebrook’s new product on the shelf!
Q. What can you tell us about the history of the creamery?
A. Tim felt the story as told on their website explained it best:
In 2003 Johann Englert had a flash-back to her college years abroad, while visiting Manchester, Vermont. A cluster of fresh mozzarella balls sitting on the counter of an Italian specialty shop brought her back to a tiny groceria she and her mother visited while traveling through the Napali countryside. To her surprise, these Vermont cheese artisans produced genuine, Old World mozzarella. Since Johann could not find such quality cheese in Boston, she bought 20 balls of mozzarella on the spot. Before she left that shop, she asked the owner’s son, third generation cheesemaker Mike Scheps, if he would supply her with more small quantities in future. Little did they know, a business was born.
When 5 out of 6 gourmet shops in Boston wanted more of this genuine mozzarella, Johann and Mike knew they were onto something. Shops sold out of cheese as fast as they could supply it, and business boomed. Soon their operation moved from a kitchen to a small store to a 50,000 sq. ft. building. What began with 3 local Vermonters has grown to include 65 employees making small batches of cheese and wrapping them by hand every day of the week. From those first 20 mozzarella balls to the current 40,000 pounds of cheese produced weekly, Maplebrook Farm has established itself as a premier producer of handmade artisanal cheeses in the Green Mountains of Vermont, distributing unparalleled quality cheeses throughout the country.
Q. Who is your cheesemaker, and where did they receive their training?
A. Michael Scheps is a third-generation cheesemaker who started working in his father and grandfather’s operation, Scheps Cheese in New Jersey, when he was 14 years old. He’s been hand stretching mozzarella ever since and is also an absolute expert with ricotta. Maplebrook makes all of its own curd from only 100 percent Vermont milk and essentially uses the same recipe that Michael learned from his father when he was a boy.
Q. What types of cheeses do you produce?
A. Mozzarella, Burrata, Ricotta, Feta, Cheddar Bites (cheese curds), Ciliegine, Ovoline, Bocconcini, Stracciatella and Scamorza. We also have an assortment of smoked cheeses.
Q. What makes your product unique or special?
A. 100 percent Vermont milk from family farms that is rBGH & rBST-free. We are very selective about the milk. Most mozzarella and burrata in the U.S. is now made by machine. Maplebrook Farm still produces at scale handmade mozzarella where we hand-stretch the curd and hand-form each individual ball. Virtually no other major producer still does this. All of our burrata is made 100% by hand and our ricotta is hand-dipped from our 100-year-old kettles. Many mozzarella makers today simply buy curd with little regard for the milk it was made from and put it into a machine to make the balls of cheese. We select our milk bringing in only Vermont’s finest, make the curd from scratch with Michael’s family recipe, and keep the whole process very artisanal.
Q. What are the most important things to you in the cheesemaking process?
A. High quality milk and Old World techniques.
Q. How did the Covid-19 crisis impact your business?
A. We stayed very busy. Turns out people turned toward comfort food and lots of traditional home-cooked recipes. Our traditional cheeses did very well through the pandemic.
Q. Anything new or exciting coming up at the creamery?
A. We recently started making butter with Ploughgate Creamery and through a partnership brought all of Ploughgate’s butter-making into our facility in North Bennington. Each ball of butter is hand formed and hand wrapped so there are a lot of similarities to our cheese-making processes.
Q. Do you have a desert island cheese?
A. BURRATA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Maybe with some figs and a little honey drizzled over the top.