Dreaming of a Family Creamery in the Historic Hudson Valley
Dreaming of a Family Creamery in the Historic Hudson Valley
A family dream of crafting all-natural, local artisan cheese to please the most discerning palates.
A family dream of crafting all-natural, local artisan cheese to please the most discerning palates. Read more
Cheese worth clucking about.
That’s what we make at Four Fat Fowl. What began as a full time job for two of us has turned into a family's dream of building and sustaining an artisan cheese operation from the ground up. We know good cheese and we have the skills and experience to make it and market it. We’ve tested and proven our triple cream recipe in our newly renovated creamery. We have passed our state inspections and are ready to hit the ground running. We bought a vat pasteurizer, a set of moulds for forming the curd, and a new boiler for heating the milk. We've made several small sample batches. Now it's time to grow to a full-scale operation that will provide a high-quality, locally-sourced cheese that we, our fans, and our community can be proud of. To do that, we still need a few things.
In order to scale up our operations to make enough cheese to turn a profit, we need a few important pieces of equipment. One is a machine for washing our cheese moulds. So far, we have been doing this by hand, which can actually be quite meditative. But the problem is, it takes a ton of time and labor. If we had a machine to wash the moulds, we could spend that time making more cheese! Another piece of equipment we need is an additional aging cooler. The type of cheese we are making stays in the cooler to age for about 2 weeks and takes up a lot of space. The more aging space we have, the more cheese we can make. We will also need additional cheese moulds to scale up the operation. Our vat holds 200 gallons of milk and we currently have moulds to hold about half of that. If we double our moulds, we can make full runs of cheese. More cheese is better!
Additionally, we need operating capital to get us through the all-important first year of operation. Milk and cream are expensive and we need to make sure that we always have enough in the bank account to purchase the raw materials we need. We have spent all of our own and our family's money already getting the creamery set up and we just need a little more to give us that final push.
What’s in a name? – Four Fat Fowl
We decided at the outset of this project that we are committed to making a locally-sourced product that we can be proud of. It seemed only fitting that our name should be locally-sourced as well. Our operation is based in Stephentown, a small town in Rensselaer County, NY. In the seventeenth century, the Dutch colonized this area of the Hudson Valley and a landlord, called the patroon, took possession of the area. The last patroon of Rensselaerswyck (what is now Rensselaer County), after whom Stephentown was named, collected annual rents from his tenants which included "four fat fowl", a day's labor, and ten to twenty bushels of wheat per hundred acres. This fantastic history gave us the perfect name for our group of four.
Who are the Four Fat Fowl and what are we trying to accomplish?
First and foremost, we are family. We are two couples and two of us are brother and sister. We're also friends. We've spent many nights sitting around the kitchen table together laughing and talking. In the last few years, our conversations have been more and more about our dream of starting a family creamery. Between the four of us, we have the perfect skills and experience to make it work, so now we're taking the plunge.
Willy Bridgham - the talent. Willy is a well-known cheesemaker with nearly 15 years of experience making small-batch, locally-sourced, award-winning cheeses ranging from Camembert to blue cheese to chevre. In his professional life, he's hit the trifecta of milks, working with sheep, goat and cow milk. Willy not only loves to make great cheese, he loves to eat it, too. His pride in using the best local ingredients to craft the finest product means that you can be sure our cheese will be top-notch.
Shaleena Bridgham - the sales superstar. Shaleena is a mover and shaker in the cheese sales and distribution business with the contacts and know-how to get our cheese out there. She has nearly 15 years of experience in the industry. She was in on the early stages of an artisan cheese start-up and was instrumental in bringing its sales to a multi-million dollar level. Now, she works for a major cheese distribution company, advising and supplying specialty markets, restaurants, and cheesemongers with fine cheese products.
Josie Madison - the motivator. Josie is a professional historian, editor, and educator who has helped our group recognize and appreciate the roots of the community in which we produce. She brings an invaluable community network and a great eye for how to broaden our relationships. She has the work ethic and determination to make this company work. She keeps us moving in the right direction. She has also become a great assistant cheese maker to her brother, Willy. Her specialty is affinage (the art of patting and talking lovingly to the the cheese).
Seth Madison - the brains. Seth is a brilliant student of business who has helped the group build a sustainable business plan that will ensure we can bring a local cheese to market as quickly as possible. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and participated in the building of a start-up tech company that was recently sold for millions of dollars. When Seth speaks, we all listen.
Working and learning together, our goal is to establish a self-sustaining artisan creamery in Stephentown, NY able to supply locally-sourced cheese to restaurants, farmer’s markets, specialty stores and anyone who enjoys a fine cheese product. Our first milestone, and the focus of this Kickstarter project, is to perfect and successfully sell one type of cheese, our ridiculously delicious triple creme, through both local markets (for our local friends) and distribution (for our friends not so close).
What type of cheese are we making?
Right now, we are focusing on a cow's milk triple cream. Currently, there is no such cheese made in the Hudson Valley and it is underrepresented statewide. But why, we asked ourselves? It's so sinfully delicious!
St. Stephen, our first cheese, is a beautiful, hand-crafted triple cream that bursts with buttery and milky overtones. A smooth, silky interior made from all natural jersey cow’s milk and fresh jersey cream creates the perfect texture, while our soft, bloomy rind adds an earthy flavor with nutty undertones. St. Stephen will leave you wanting more to share with a friend and a glass of bubbly. This classic cheese works anytime of day – spread it on your toast for breakfast, serve it as an appetizer before dinner or dress it up with some honey or berries for a fancy dessert.
Where are we in the process right now?
We have purchased and installed all of the essential equipment needed to begin production. Why do we need your help and what will we do with your support? We have raised almost all the money we need to get started but we need your help to make it the rest of the way.
Kickstarter is by no means our only source of funding for this project. We have raised $85,000 from ourselves, friends, family, and investors. But our financial projections, in which we’ve tried to be a conservative as possible in determining our start-up costs, show that we need $35,000 more to make sure an unforeseen circumstance won't close our doors before we've even gotten started.
There are certain risks inherent in small-batch cheese production. While we’ve been able to make great small batches (30 pieces), the scale-up of production to larger cheese runs (250 pieces) makes things a little riskier. While we’ve tried to plan for what we can control, there are some issues that can arise. For example, whole runs of cheese are often lost in large and small creamery operations due to unforeseeable things like failure of delicate equipment. For a start-up this can mean the end of the line if you don't have the funds to keep operating as you’re trying to get samples out and establish your brand.
Some of the specific items your contributions will go to:
1. Milk and cream of course (yum!)
2. Cheese moulds
3. Packaging materials
4. Milk and cream transportation costs
5. Product delivery costs
6. COP washer for washing moulds
7. An aging cooler
And last but not least, your contribution will allow you, a lover of locally-sourced artisan cheese, to participate in this exciting new venture. It’s always fun to be in on the ground floor of this type of project. You’ll be able to say you knew Four Fat Fowl back in the day! Plus, depending on your donation level, you’ll be able to sport some cool gear and hopefully taste some great cheese.
As we grow we will be sure to share our successes and (hopefully limited) setbacks with the Kickstarter community and all of you who share an interest and passion for our cheese and the way we make it.
Risks and challenges
We've already touched upon some of the challenges of setting up and growing a new cheese making operation in our Story above, namely the risk of losing cheese runs early on in the process. However, there are other issues that can arise, including difficulty in scaling up a recipe for increased production, issues with raw material (milk and cream) supply, and failures in the cheese aging process.
While the issues mentioned here are by no means exhaustive of the risks involved, we are confident that we can overcome any and all difficulties that may arise during the course of this project. Our confidence stems from a couple of key strengths we bring to this project as a group, namely:
1. Willy, our cheese maker, has over 15 years of experience, not only in making cheese at the scales we're working at, but also in managing the equipment and processes involved in production creamery work.
2. Shaleena, our sales specialist, brings the same level of experience to the sales side of the business. With her support and contact network, we will be able to immediately reach a wide range of people with our wonderful product.
3. Josie, our historian and amateur cheese maker, has the drive to support of the aspects of our project and muscle us through any issues that may arise.
4. Seth, our MBA, will help us avoid the common pitfalls that can arrest the development of our new enterprise.
Taken together as a whole, our well rounded team is prepared to overcome any setbacks we can foresee. And with your help and support, we can drive that risk down to zero!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)