Saxelby Cheesemongers offers a premier selection of American farmstead cheese, focusing on cheeses produced in the Northeastern United States. Co-owners Anne Saxelby and Benoit Breal pride themselves on selecting cheeses from small producers who farm sustainably with respect for their land and animals.
Laini Fondiller of Lazy Lady Farm has been making goat cheese in the hinterlands of northern Vermont since WAY before artisan cheese was on anyone’s radar, let alone cool! Laini fell in love with cheese and goats while interning on different farms around France. After her visa expired and she was ‘kicked out’ of France (her words), she decided to try her hand at making goat cheese in Vermont.
Let’s start with the fact that the name ‘Lazy Lady’ could not be a more ridiculous moniker for Laini Fondiller. On Laini’s farm, the Lazy Ladies are the goats, who bask in the luxury of a warm, clean barn, listen to NPR, and who are taken out for long walks every Monday afternoon to forage for sapling trees, shrubs, and other tasty browse in the surrounding woods. Laini is basically a one-woman show – doing the work normally divided between several people on a farm – milking the goats, tending the goats, making the cheese, aging the cheese, and selling the cheese at farmer’s markets and to lucky folks like us!
When Laini started making cheese in the early 1980’s, it was basically the dark ages for artisan cheesemaking in the U.S. There were virtually no resources available – no cultures, no equipment, and hardly any dairy goats either! Luckily for us, artisan cheesemakers tend to be a bit nutty (in all the right ways) and seem to love to do things the hardest way possible. Not only did Laini and her partner Barry have to build the cheese house, cave, and barn from scratch, they decided to go 100% off the grid and constructed their own wind turbine and solar panels to provide all the farm’s energy needs.
Barry built Lazy Lady Farm’s first ‘pasteurizer’ from a steam kettle because there were no small pasteurizers available for small-scale cheesemakers to purchase, and Laini taught herself to make the delicate, bloomy-rind goat cheeses she loved from France by reading books on the subject. Her cheeses quickly gained a following, especially in New York where chefs were hungry for delicious and unique goat cheeses from America and abroad.
Laini now makes over thirty different kinds of cheese from her goats’ milk as well as from purchased cows’ milk in the wintertime when her goats are dry and waiting for their kids to be born. Laini’s playful and witty spirit comes through in the names of her ever-changing roster of cheeses – Thin Red Line, Marbarella, La Roche (‘The Rock’ in French) Fake Cheese, Bonaparte, and Sweet Emotions are of some our recent favorites.
Over the years, Lazy Lady Farm has been equal parts cheese maker and goat breeder, supplying dairy goats to many up and coming farms across America. In fact, if you visit her website (and we encourage you to do so!) the first thing you see is Laini’s meticulous notes detailing how her goats are bred, birthed, and raised. Her goats have been certified organic since 1987 (again… WAY ahead of the curve!) and Laini thinks of them as family.
Laini Fondiller is a true pioneer in the annals of American artisan cheese. Saxelby Cheesemongers celebrates Lazy Lady Farm and Laini’s amazing cheese!!
Lazy Lady Farm cheese is the culmination of an enduring reverence for the land, a fascination with Old World cheesemaking traditions and a constant, near-pathological thirst for reinvention. Drawing creative inspiration from music, politics, geography and language, always with a winking sense of humor, LLF has churned out dozens of one-off varieties of cheese in addition to its core lineup of favorites (La Petite Tomme, Capriola, Pyramid, Bonaparte, Sweet Caroline, La Roche), each one sprung fully formed from the mind of the farm’s proprietress, Laini Fonidiller.
Since well before chevre was a commonplace fixture of culinary life in the U.S., Fondiller has been crafting small batches of goat and mixed milk cheeses by hand, winning over palates and inspiring an entire generation of artisan producers to throw their hats in the ring. Drawing from her formative experience farming and making cheese in France and Corsica in the early 1980s, Laini struck out on a path to reinvent the landscape of American cheese with one goat and a dream, and she never looked back.
Decades later, her repertoire of cheese styles is dizzying, and her mad scientist impulses, while certainly more informed than they were when she began, are just as whimsical and far-reaching. Why continue to experiment and invent when so many other creameries choose to focus on one or two or three types of cheese? According to Fondiller, that would be akin to a painter painting the same portrait over and over again. With milk as the ultimate canvas, and so much possibility inherent in its complexity, why would you want to limit yourself?
Fondiller and her farm have always at their core been concerned with pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Is it possible to live lightly on the land and still extract what is needed to create an artisan product? When you insist in living off the grid, electing to get your power from sun and wind and rotationally graze your small ruminants, it is. Is it possible to remain truly small scale when so many other farms feel the pressure to scale up to remain financially viable? When you devote yourself to decades of focused genetics and holistic herd health, it is.
Is it possible to harness the microbiological complexity of cultures and molds, of the techniques of affinage and the seasonal variation in milk and simultaneously reflect an individual vision and perspective in relation to the world at large? Look no further than the Barrick Obama, a beer-washed goat’s milk cheese that’s an homage both to our former president and to a linguistic affectation of the Hoosiers of Fondiller’s native Indiana (where a “brick” is pronounced ‘bahrick’). Or the Bonaparte, Fondiller’s own interpretation of the classic French cheese Valencay, which according to lore was Bonaparte’s favorite.
Every cheese has a story, some convoluted and some as simple as Fondiller’s relentless restlessness. After thirty-some odd years, one has to keep things interesting. To taste a Lazy Lady cheese is to get a glimpse into the mind of a visionary and to ingest her worldview, from her perch in a rugged corner of the Green Mountains. It’s a sight — and a taste — to behold.
Barn First Creamery is the newest addition to our roster of stellar Vermont artisan cheesemakers! Barn First was started by Merlin Backus and Rebecca Velazquez in 2013, and is now home to a herd of thirty-odd milking goats (and their human caretakers). Before diving into the cheese business, Merlin and Rebecca lived in NYC and were frequent visitors (and favorite customers!) to our Essex Market shop. As Rebecca tells it, they would load up on Vermont cheese at Saxelby Cheesemongers, and then schlep it up to Westfield, Vermont, where Merlin is originally from, to share with his family.
After leaving NYC, Merlin and Rebecca were ‘romantically homeless’ for a few years before decided to make the move to Merlin’s native Westfield. They decided to make the move when a parcel of land next to Merlin’s family home came up for sale that had a barn on the property… hence the name Barn First! That barn, in an ironic twist of fate, eventually became a distillery run by Merlin’s brother, but it planted the seed for their nascent dairy business, and was home to their first few goats.
When they landed in Westfield, Rebecca was looking for work. Merlin’s father assumed that because of her love of cheese, she should obviously go work for Laini Fondiller at Lazy Lady Farm, one of Vermont’s best and most pioneering goat cheese makers. Let it be known that Lazy Lady Farm is close to nothing in the world, save for Merlin’s family home! In fact, before she started the farm, Laini worked for Merlin’s father Dan as a logger and a hog castrator. Is there nothing this woman can’t do?!
So Rebecca went to work for Laini, learning the ropes of goat husbandry and cheese care. Though Rebecca regularly turns to Laini with goat health care issues, she is quick to stress that she never asked Laini for cheesemaking tips or recipes, wanting to respect the relationship between the two of them, and Laini’s thirty year legacy of goat cheese making.
While she was working for Lazy Lady Farm, Rebecca and Merlin goat to work building a barn of their own and bought two old goats from Laini to begin a fledgling herd. They hand-milked seven goats from 2013-2016 before their barn, milking parlor, and cheese room were up and running. They now milk roughly thirty goats seasonally, and produce a wide range of cheeses, ranging from bloomy rind to washed rind to blue. When asked how she learned cheesemaking, Rebecca replied that she learned from books – mostly cow’s milk cheese recipes that she altered to fit the slightly different milk profile of goats, and her taste buds. She wanted to make the types of cheeses she wanted to eat, and wanted to have enough variety to ‘make a whole cheese plate’.
We at Saxelby Cheese are thrilled to be working with Barn First Creamery! Stop by our Chelsea Market or Essex Market shops to try some today!