As part of our American Cheese Month celebration, we asked Laini Fondiller, owner and partner of Lazy Lady Farm in Westfield, Vermont, to tell us the story of her farm and how she got involved in cheesemaking. It was a simple question. But Laini’s cheese story is anything but simple.
We already loved her cheeses. Lazy Lady Farm makes, hands down, some of the most delectable cheeses in Vermont. But now we appreciate the fruits of her labor even more. Because labor-intensive it has been.
Thank you, Laini, for staying the course and sharing your delicious cheeses—and incredible story—with us.
Q. Can you tell us the history of your farm and how and when you first got involved in cheese?
A. OMG. It was started in 1987 with very little money. No electricity. No phone. No running water. One tiny shed. One tiny, tiny house. I started with one acre of vegetables, three sheep, and one goat. I had worked on dairies around Vermont for 10 years. Then I left and went traveling around the world by myself. No money. No real plans. I ended up in France and stayed there illegally for three years. This is where I discovered goat cheese and raising sheep.
In 1986, I met Jack Lazor while working on a farm in Randolph, Vt. He offered me a job on his farm that was making yogurt with 10 cows. This was my springboard into the world of maybe being able to do value added and processing. But I had no money and not really a clue as to how to do this.
I met Jack’s neighbor, who owned the land where Lazy Lady Farm is now located. We partnered up. He wanted nothing to do with the running of the farm but was a big help with projects. I worked here on the farm by myself for 15 years. Barry built a barn with wood from the land here. I got up to 30 sheep to help finance the farm through meat and wool (which I turned into rugs and felted items). I slowly added goats and made cheese in the kitchen. Still no electricity. Did get a phone. No running water.
In 1995 the state made me stop making and selling cheese that I was making in my kitchen. They allowed me to build a 10-by-16 room for making cheese, and I was able to use a handmade 5-gallon pasteurizer. $5,000 total. Got some solar panels. Heated water with a 1800’s laundry stove and a solar water heater. Found a better spring for bringing water into the house.
I was milking 12 goats at this time by hand. Barry made my first cheese cave. I got up to 20 goats. Someone who moved here from California built a house next to ours. I offered her a job for $100 a week. I got more panels and was able to begin to milk goats with a machine! During all of this, I had two carpal tunnel operations.
In 2001, I got rid of the sheep and switched to just goats and making cheese.
In 2003, I was able to get a loan from the Vermont Community Loan Fund and was then able to build a small cheese plant.
More solar panels. A well for running water. I was now milking 35 goats. A little more hired help.
In 2004, Barry started working here full time. We were processing 240 gallons per week in a 35-gallon pasteurizer.
In 2006, I started milking 40 goats, sold the pasteurizer, and bought a 50-gallon pasteurizer.
In 2007, I built second cave, etc. etc. etc.
Today our farm is 40 goats. We process 300 gallons of milk per week. I make cows’ milk cheeses in the winter, purchasing milk from friends who have 30 cows. I have two full-time ladies who help here in the cheese room and in the barn.
Turning 69 soon. Still working 7 days a week. 12-14 hour days.
Q. Who names your cheeses?
A. I make up all the recipes. I think of an idea for a cheese and come up with a name from the news cycle. I make cheese with the natural environment in the cheese room and in the geo-thermal cave, so my cheeses are subject to the weather around them.
Q. What’s the most important part of the cheesemaking process?
A. The milk. It changes. The weather changes……so I gotta be on my toes.
Q. Anything new or exciting coming up at the farm?
A. Always something. Stay tuned.
Q. What is your desert island cheese?
A. La Petite Tommes
Laini and her farm were featured this spring in WCAX’s “Made in Vermont” series. You can watch it here: MiVT: Lazy Lady Farm Cheese (wcax.com).