When Marisa Mauro was still in her teens she opened a charge account at an Italian deli in her hometown of Manchester, Vermont. Her visits ran up tabs for stacked focaccia sandwiches and fresh mozzarella, which the deli made in-house, and she grew friendly with the owner Al Scheps and his son Mike. Once the dairy bug bit her, it didn't let go; she started working on dairy farms at 15 and began making her own cheese at the age of 22.
Now 37, Mauro is the creator of Ploughgate Creamery, a line of cultured butters that rank among the best made in the United States. In January 2022, Mauro sold Ploughgate to mozzarella mainstay Maplebrook Creamery, so she could grow the brand beyond the limits of its original production site. "I felt like I had taken Ploughgate as far as I could on my own," she says. "I wanted to work with a team." Like Ploughgate, Maplebrook is a Vermont company with 40-odd employees that focuses on quality dairy, and Mauro just happened to be old friends with one of its founders: Mike Scheps.
"Maplebrook is a larger company but by no means another corporation," she continues. "It's a Vermont business supporting Vermont people. That's really freaking cool."
Cultured butters like Ploughgate's are made from high-fat cream infused with a soured starter, like yogurt. Ploughgate's cream cultures for 24 hours before being churned, lending the butter a distinct tangy and nutty flavor. The butter is then kneaded by hand to expel more moisture and develop the lip-smacking richness of fresh butter. The sweetness of the cream shines through the careful culture, creating an elegant and balanced butter that's among the best we've ever tasted.
The move from Ploughgate's historic Bragg Hill Creamery to Maplebrook's advanced facilities will give Mauro the freedom to expand her capacity while keeping a close eye on production. "They want me to be more creative," she says of the Maplebrook team, who are taking administrative responsibilities off her plate so she can focus on "product development and work I really enjoy, but haven't had time to think about because I was in daily production."
Mauro is still geeking out about Maplebrook's loading dock, of all things. Her old production site is on a steep hill at 1,600 feet. When distributors came to pick up orders, some drivers were unable to make the climb. She'd have to pile boxes into her truck and drive down to meet them.
With time freed up from billing and box hauling, Mauro is becoming Maplebrook's innovation tsar. She wants to experiment with an old Italian tradition of wrapping lumps of butter in fresh cheese, using Maplebrook's scamorza. In the days of pandemic lockdowns, Mauro developed flavored butters to help customers "be inspired by my past travels and love of food." She makes a seaweed butter with dulse and nori harvested by a company in Maine, and is about to launch new flavors including crystalized ginger and balsamic-fig.
Most important, Maplebrook's larger operation affords Ploughgate a kind of support and stability rarely available to tiny producers of top-notch ingredients.
Sourcing enough cream for Mauro's productions can be difficult. She used to buy all the excess cream from a Vermont dairy called Monument Farms; that source dried up when Monument's bottled milk products grew in popularity. Now she works with a Vermont dairy farmer coop. "Unless you're milking your own cows or working with a small bottling company, you're kind of out of luck," she explains. Every year, independent dairies are forced to shutter or sell off to giant corporate manufacturers. By growing and streamlining production, Ploughgate can remain competitive in a difficult market.
For Mauro, there's another crucial element: opportunities for mentorship from Mike and his dad Al, who at 83 years old is still sharing hard-won dairy wisdom with the new generation. "Mike and I have been family friends for so long and our dads are both close," she says. "It feels like family."
Butter production photos courtesy of Ploughgate Creamery.