Barn First Creamery was started by Merlin Backus and Rebecca Velazquez in 2013, and is now home to a herd of roughly 50 milking goats and their human caretakers. Before diving into the cheese business, Merlin and Rebecca lived in New York City and were frequent visitors (and favorite customers!) to Saxelby Cheesemongers’ original Essex Market shop. As Rebecca tells it, they would load up on Vermont cheese at Saxelby Cheesemongers, and then schlep it up to Vermont, where Merlin is originally from, to share with his family.
After leaving New York, Merlin and Rebecca were ‘romantically homeless’ for a few years before they decided to make the move to Merlin’s native home of Westfield, a tiny town in Vermont’s northeast kingdom. 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 geographically 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, proving once and for all that there is nothing that Laini Fondiller 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 got to work building a barn of their own and bought two older 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 fifty 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 replies 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’.