Tucked away on Route 5 in Brattleboro, Vermont Commonwealth Dairy produces Green Mountain Creamery Greek yogurt and has many connections to the local, national and global dairy industry. These connections were very clear when I met with Plant Manager Mike Hassay and Green Mountain Creamery Brand Manager Ann Pratt. From the local Vermont milk they process to their international global partnership with a German company Ehrmann, it is quite a comprehensive and impressive business. When founders Thomas Moffit and Ben Johnson opened Commonwealth Dairy in 2011 their main goals were to create a dynamic local business that would create jobs and heavily support the dairy industry in Vermont. They had a goal of hiring at least 35 people in their first years but after only six years in business they now employ 130+ people. They are also pleased that their growth has afforded Green Mountain Creamery the ability to be the lead sponsor at the Strolling of the Heifers. What a wonderful success story this has been, thanks to the consumer’s love of Greek yogurt.
The scale to which Commonwealth Dairy makes Green Mountain Creamery is a highly technical process that starts with regular deliveries of fresh raw milk. A busy week may bring multiple truck deliveries, with the vast majority of the milk originating from VT family dairies. Commonwealth Dairy takes great care in ensuring that the entire process is extremely clean and the end product is of the highest quality for customers like our shoppers at the Co-op. In fact they test the raw milk right off the truck to ensure that it does not contain antibiotics, and have been known to reject entire 6,800 gallon deliveries. The raw milk is then piped into the blending room, where they achieve the proper balance of milk fat and protein. After pasteurization and homogenization, cultures are added to get those health-providing probiotics growing. The milk then rests in a fermentation vat for many hours and is closely monitored to ensure the temperature and pH are correct. Some of the yogurt whey is removed and often sold as animal feed to local farms. Once fermentation is complete the finished yogurt is placed into containers.
It is clear in chatting with Mike that he is very proud of their entire team for their constant process improvement. He emphasized that investing in staff development is a big priority for them and they are always seeking to support skill and career growth from within. One area they are able to leverage is their partnership with a German yogurt maker, Ehrmann, which is one of the largest yogurt producers in Germany and Europe. Ehrmann has a highly skilled and technical team located in the Bavarian region of Germany that works to train and support the team in Brattleboro as well as the sister facility in Casa Grande, Arizona. Due to overwhelming demand for Greek yogurt they plan to expand their facility in Brattleboro, which is one of the reasons why their investment in staff development is so important.
You may be wondering, “but what is Green Mountain Creamery?” It all started back in 2012 when some folks from the Brattleboro Food Co-op visited Commonwealth Dairy and inquired how we could start selling their yogurt. In response to this request and quite a few others in the region Green Mountain Creamery became the house brand of Commonwealth Dairy. With this product, they aim to balance artisan yogurt-making with the newest technology to create, as they say, “the ultimate dairy treat.” One of the differentiators with their Greek yogurt is that they do not use artificial colors, preservatives, additives, artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup and it is rBST free. When you taste a cup it is milder than your typical Greek yogurt, which is due to the lower acidity level they are able to achieve. When I asked how they make this possible, Ann said “It’s all in the culture.” Green Mountain Creamery yogurt is currently distributed heavily in Vermont and across New England. Many small distributors, such as Food Connects, help deliver the yogurt all over the region. (See page 9 for more on this).
What does the future bring for Green Mountain Creamery yogurt? Ann said that they hope to grow distribution and will invest in trade shows as well as launching a new website, a new logo and a new look and feel to their packaging. The up and coming yogurt in the industry is a Scandinavian recipe called SKYR that has a much more tart flavor and Green Mountain Creamery has now perfected their own recipe. They are also investing in an awareness campaign by becoming the official yogurt of the Boston Celtics next season! Their yogurt is absolutely delicious and it comes in many yummy flavors, including seasonal flavors. As you head back to school or work this fall, bring a Green Mountain Creamery yogurt as a snack or lunch.
by Jon Megas-Russell