Little farm, big success
Gammelgarden Creamery produces rich, creamy skyr
POWNAL — In 2004, Peter Kutzer wanted to find an extraordinary gift to celebrate the 50th birthday of his wife, Stina — short for Christina). He chose a Jersey calf that Stina Kutzer christened Babette.
"It really wasn't that unusual for us," she said. "Many years earlier, I brought a horse to the marriage."
Initially, Babette was simply a pet, along with the many dogs and horses that long had been part of the Kutzer family, which also included three human children: Signe, Peter and Astrid. By 2010, Babette went from the only cow to the matriarch of a small herd of Jerseys.
The cows are now the foundation of the family business, Gammelgarden Creamery, in Pownal. (Gammelgarden is Swedish for small farm.) The Kutzers offer a line of dairy products that include butter and buttermilk. But their signature product — and biggest hit — is skyr, which is similar to yogurt, but richer and creamier.
"People schedule their trips to our store to make sure they are here on the days Peter replenishes the shelves," reported John Maltezos, the owner of Nature's Market in Manchester. "It's that good."
Everything about the small business is a family affair. Stina Kutzer and Marta Willet, her sister and their business partner, were looking for a dairy product with roots in their Swedish heritage. "We researched the internet, but struck out," said Stina Kutzer. "So we moved on to other Scandinavian countries and found the Icelandic dish, skyr."
And Babette's heritage as a Jersey cow provided another benefit to the new business.
"Jersey cows have the highest degree of butterfat in their milk," said Peter Kutzer. "It creates more cream for butter and adds more flavor."
Producing skyr goes well beyond milking cows. Stina Kutzer experimented with various types of cultures for creating just the right flavor and texture. She also dealt with inspectors to make sure the pristine production facilities, built from scratch a few steps from their home, were up to code. "To keep our status as a Grade A dairy we are tested every month," said Stina Kutzer as she washed her boots carefully before entering the pasteurization room. "So we are constantly focused on cleanliness and quality."
They also rely on local ingredients to create their skyr. Of course, Vermont offers an abundance of maple syrup. The fruit preserves, meanwhile, that create added zing to the skyr come from Sidehill Jams, in Brattleboro.
"Stina works with them to customize our flavors," said Peter Kutzer. That includes adding a small lemon zest to the strawberry skyr. Other skyr choices include plain, maple, cherry almond, raspberry maple and wild blueberry.
With Stina Kutzer overseeing production, her husband focuses on distributing the products and building the business. They started in farmers markets and today, Gammelgarden Creamy skyr is carried in specialty food stores from the Berkshires, up U.S. Route 7 north to Middlebury, and west to Albany, N.Y.
Gammelgarden's biggest client and fan base is nearby Williams College, where Peter Kutzer drops off cartons of skyr daily. The skyr is so popular that after the students graduate and move on across the country and the globe, they still want their Gammelg rden fix. "Someday, we'll explore how we can make long distance deliveries," said Stina Kutzer, "but there's no time for that now."
They may have some free time soon. We know that birthdays are a big deal to the Kutzers, and to celebrate Peter's 70th, their children Signe, Peter, and Astrid went all-out. "They are sending us off for our first real vacation in ten years," he said. "Stina and I will spend a week fishing and relaxing in the Pacific off Baja."
Then it's back to their small farm with the Jersey cows, daily dairy routine, and the life they love.
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