(that you’ll actually want to read)
This Valentine’s Day, Saxelby Cheesemongers wants to tell you a wonderfully cheesy love story about Hannah Sessions, Greg Bernhardt, goats, and Blue Ledge Farm. In this season of hackneyed Hallmark gifts, this story of true love and cheese is bound to put a smile on your face!
Cheesemakers Hannah Sessions and Greg Bernhardt met while studying art in Florence, Italy. In addition to art, both Hannah and Greg were passionate about farming, sustainability, and good food. At the tender age of 23, Greg and Hannah embarked on their collective dream and started Blue Ledge Farm in Vermont’s Champlain Valley. Their idea was simple – to have a farm, make delicious goat cheese, and weave their art making practice into their daily lives.
Simple is an interesting choice of words – because after a day on a goat dairy, it’s instantly apparent that there’s nothing simple about it! Goats need to be milked twice a day, cheese needs to be made and meticulously aged, cheese houses need to be cleaned, fields need to be hayed, fences mended, kid goats birthed once a year, and then the cheese needs to be wrapped, packaged, marketed, and sold.
But to hear Greg talk about it, the idea was simple… He once told me that the idea of being in love with someone and then spending your entire working lives away from one another doing separate jobs, only sharing those few precious hours in the morning or evening as a family just wasn’t enough for him. By starting Blue Ledge Farm, he and Hannah could work side by side, sharing the love and labor that goes into making a farm, great cheese, and a family too.
Greg and Hannah were drawn to cheesemaking because like painting, it is a creative pursuit, but a good painter, like a good cheesemaker, puts in countless hours of work – repetitive work, to make something that’s good. As Hannah put it, ‘We love the seemingly endless potential for flavors, character, nuance, complexity, terroir of cheese. We like making a product that people get excited about.’
They chose Addison County Vermont because of the relatively mild weather (it’s known as the banana belt of Vermont due to the warming effect of Lake Champlain) The climate is ideal for them to pursue their love of outdoor activities, the landscape makes for some beautiful painting inspiration, and they like having Hannah’s family close by. They chose goats because they are a smaller investment in animals and equipment versus cows. They’re a bit safer too! Being kicked by a goat is one thing – being kicked by a cow is another – and because of the goats’ great personalities.
Now Greg and Hannah have two lovely kids – Livia, who was born the same year that the farm began making cheese (in 2002), Hayden who is 10, a farm, AND have somehow managed to still make art on top of it all.
In 2010, Saxelby Cheesemongers organized a show of Blue Ledge Farm paintings at the Cuchifritos art space in the Essex Street Market, so we can personally attest to their impressive output! Greg’s paintings were mostly still lives of cheeses and cheese molds – on the surface pretty straightforward stuff. However when Greg explained his thinking behind one of the paintings – which featured the two little button-shaped cheeses, they suddenly came very much to life. He said that when he was painting them, he was thinking of how one was like Hannah, and the other like Livia, his daughter or Hayden, his son. Upon closer inspection, these drums of cheese appeared to be leaning into one another ever so slightly – having an intimate chat or sharing a joke.
Hannah’s paintings were portraits of the goats and depictions of the farm’s buildings and surrounding landscapes – bold red barn sides, goats parading in for the evening milking, endearing close-ups of favorite caprine friends – a celebration of the beauty of the farm’s daily rhythms and the Addison County countryside, where Hannah was raised. When exhibited together, Greg and Hannah’s paintings encompassed a holistic view of the farm. If the works were viewed apart they would still be lovely, but when seen together all was enhanced.
When I asked Greg and Hannah what they loved best about their jobs when they began, they responded, ‘Being able to work and be together, and to be able to creative in every aspect of our business.’ And now? I asked. Their response was ‘The very same things.’ Now that’s a love story that will stand the test of time – and produce LOTS of great cheese to boot.