Call it a cult following: if you know, you know. And our customers know that Animal Farm Creamery's grass-fed cultured butter is some of the best you can buy, anywhere.
Every few weeks, Saxelby Cheesemongers has the exclusive privilege of bringing you butter from this beloved and tiny producer in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. Animal Farm makes only 100 pounds of cultured butter a week from a herd of just 10 cows. Most of it goes directly to a list of top restaurants including Per Se in New York City, The Inn at Little Washington in Washington DC, and the French Laundry in Napa. We sell this butter for $60 per pound, and we mean it when we say it's worth it.
In January 2022, Animal Farm went through a changing of the guard. Owner Diane St. Clair sold her herd and operations to Hilary and Ben Haigh: lifelong farmers of a younger generation who are equally committed to the same agricultural and animal welfare standards. The new batches of butter taste just as delicious as ever, and we caught up with Hilary to see how the creamery is going in its new home.
"I've known Diane since I was younger," Haigh says. She used to house-sit for St. Clair and keep an eye on the cows and dogs, "and her husband was our large animal veterinarian, so when we heard they were slowing down we wrote Diane a letter of interest." The creamery equipment and herd have been relocated to the Haighs' farm, and the cows seem happy in their new home.
That's important. Haigh intends to continue St. Clair's mission to "give these cows the best life they can possibly have. When you have a small herd, you can pamper them and cater to their needs. We don't want to expand. The way Diane operated it fits into our farm so perfectly that I don't think we want to change anything."
Animal Farm's Jersey cows produce a higher fat cream than most breeds; it can be churned into a butter containing over 87% butterfat, compared to the 80% minimum required by US law. Those genetics combine with a rich and varied pasture diet to produce exceptionally flavorful cream for butter-making.
In order to make truly exceptional butter, Haigh processes this cream with the most painstakingly manual of methods. Like St. Clair, she hand-skims the cream from the milk instead of relying on a mechanical separator, which keeps the precious fat globules in pristine condition.
After the cream has been separated and gently pasteurized, it cultures for about a day, using buttermilk as a starter. "So often the taste of cultured butter comes from the culture, but not this one," Haigh explains. "It comes straight from the cream. If you taste it by itself, it's so good! The culture is just in there for 24 hours—less now that I'm making summer butter—to give a gentle tang." The cream is then churned and kneaded by hand until perfect for the table.
Hilary and Ben, both 33 years old, own Rolling Bale Farm, where they raise chickens, sheep, and cows for meat. Hilary grew up on a produce farm that transitioned to livestock when she was 11. She rode horses as a kid, and working with St. Clair's cows has reminded her of the relationships she once made with those animals. "I never thought of anything else other than working with animals," she says.
Haigh studied Animal Sciences at the University of Vermont. After college, she continued to work on her family's farm, punctuated by stints as a butcher and organic agriculture inspector, before starting Rolling Bale with her husband in 2014. Adding dairy to her roster is a new step that she's eager to take. "I like learning about different worlds that are separate from mine," she muses. "I'm excited to get into the rhythms of dairy. There are so many important details, and I look forward to feeling like I have it down pat."
Try Animal Farm's life-changing butter today!
Photos of Hilary and Ben Haigh courtesy of Animal Farm Creamery, shot by Corey Hendrickson