On the Bright Side: New cheese, dairy group offers help for farmers

Local cheese and dairy producers can benefit from a nonprofit organization formed last fall in Arkville, several of those involved said Wednesday.

The Cheese and Dairy Society of New York State aims to unite artisanal and farmstead cheese and dairy producers statewide, according to a media release. This includes support, advocacy and promotion of local farmers as well as educational opportunities throughout the community.

With about 20 members, “we are still in our infancy but we are having a lot of success,” said executive director Jessica Halbrecht. This included promotion of state cheese, beer and cider through co-sponsorship at the Greater Northeast Cheese Fest in Queens in December.

It is planning its 2016-17 calendar now, trying to provide educational opportunities to members as well as the public. For instance, it is trying to develop a state cheese trail, similar to efforts in other states, she said.

One of those who participated in the December event was Jos Vulto of Vulto Creamery in Walton. It was a good idea that he would be involved with again, he said.

His business annually produces about 15,000-20,000 pounds of handmade cheese using raw milk from local producers. This type of advocacy group for small cheese and dairy producers is something that is important in competing against products from other states, he said.

Society executive officer Nicole E. Day Gray said “people are increasingly diversifying their farmstead products and broadening value-added dairy processing, and the field is only widening. By helping promote these talented farmstead entrepreneurs and offering valuable education programming the Society is enhancing the way people look at dairy and agriculture in New York State.”

Changes in foods regulations can be a real barrier that the Society can helps members navigate, she said.

“We are looking forward to helping others,” she said.

One of those receiving the support is Cotton Hill Creamery in Middleburgh, which produces both milk and cheese from goats. Co-owner Heather Kamin said she appreciated receiving the expertise of more experienced cheese makers as well as the networking opportunities the Society provides.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County agricultural team coordinator Mariane Kiraly said such efforts can be an important way to support cheese makers locally and statewide, and can help to strengthen farms and multiply their economic impact.

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