A young lady meets an old farm and a delectable butter is born.


Marisa got her first taste of dairy life at age 15. As a farmhand at Woodcock Farm in Weston, Vermont – a stone’s throw from her hometown of Dorset - she was introduced to artisan cheesemaking. In it she discovered a passion that would set her on a decade-long course working with some of the most renowned cheesemakers in the country including Yerba Santa & Bodega Goat Cheese, Shelburne Farms, and Bonneview Dairy. At age 23, Marisa put those years of study to work. She founded Ploughgate Creamery in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and began making her own cheese, including a buttery washed-rind cow’s milk named Willoughby

 
Ploughgate Creamery made small batches of cheese, between 25- and 45-gallon batches, or about 45 pounds of cheese, three or four times a week.
 

For three years Ploughgate’s cheeses earned her accolades and fans until a fire destroyed the cheesemaking facility in 2011, ceasing Ploughgate Creamery’s production. Marisa was 26 years old. Following the loss, she took a break from the dairy industry and didn’t have plans to return.

While working as a waitress in Waterbury, Vermont, friend notified her that the Vermont Land Trust had purchased a historic property in Fayston. They would resell it for its agricultural value to the entrepreneur with the best plan. Marisa visited the property and was immediately inspired to apply. Resurrecting her cheese operation would have been the obvious choice but she was ready for a new challenge.

I had been making cheese since I was 15 and when I began to do research I found that little had been written on butter-making in a very long time. There also didn’t appear to be much equipment for small to medium size producers left in the U.S.
— Marisa

 While artisan cheese production in New England was thriving, butter was being neglected. Marisa drafted a 30-page business plan and entered a pool of thirteen candidates vying to take ownership of Bragg Farm. Like cream from milk, Marisa rose to the top and was awarded that opportunity in December 2013.

Azro and Anna Bragg were the first in a long line of Braggs to own the Fayston property (and bestowers of the farm’s namesake). It turns out Azro and Anna also made butter, and lots of it. Carefully preserved letters from Bragg family members tell of butter that was hand-churned from the milk of forty cows and transported to Boston by way of wagon and train. It’s fitting symmetry that a century later Marisa’s butter travels the same route.

Azro’s and Anna’s son Frank raised the property’s iconic bank-style barn in 1909.  All the lumber for the project was milled from the surrounding forests during the winter of 1908.

On June 12, 1909 a small army of locals participated in framing the structure. Since then it has seen intermittent periods of activity and idle. Until Marisa, Bragg Farm had not been used as a dairy enterprise since the early 1970s.  Without the Vermont Land Trust’s conservation efforts changing that trajectory it likely would have remained that way.

Resurrecting the farm from a forty-year hiatus delivered the challenge Marisa sought. Her first year was spent on construction projects, equipment sourcing, and recipe testing. Each presented its own roadblocks. As her initial research foretold, little equipment matching the scale of her vision was available. Undeterred, Marisa patched together a solution. She purchased a churn from Wisconsin and a separator from Ukraine. The latter she had modified in Maine to meet U.S. standards. 

 

After renovations to the 100-year old property were complete, Ploughgate Creamery commenced butter making in 2014.

 

Words by Emily Nichols
Much of this story was Originally published in t.e.l.l. new england
Photographs by Lily Landes, Emily Nichols & Ali Kaukas