On Saturday, March 12, 2011, Vince Razionale from Jasper Hill Farms spoke about the unique model that entrepreneurs and farm owners Andy and Mateo Kehler have developed to support the farmstead and cheese-making culture in northern Vermont. The brothers bought Jasper Hill Farm in 1998 and began the hands-on learning process of farming and cheese making. In 2004 their efforts paid off when a NY Times article catapulted their small business into the news. Around that time, they were approached by Cabot Creamery to first age, then distribute, a niche market cloth bound cheddar. As success with this single product grew, the Kehler brothers saw a business opportunity that would revitalize the small dairy farm industry in northern Vermont. Working with Cabot, the brothers built a 22,000 square foot cheese aging facility with seven “vaults” or cellars to separate and house different varieties of cheeses. The award winning Cabot Clothbound cheddar currently occupies two of these vaults and other area farmers are able to sell their cheeses to the “Cellars at Jasper Hill” (a separate entity from the Jasper Hill Farm cheese making business) to be aged and distributed. While all the cheeses are co-branded with the producing farm, the Cellars at Jasper Hill takes responsibility for marketing, distribution, and customer relations. This model makes it economically viable for small dairy farms to diversify by producing quality cheeses that can be aged and brought to market centrally. Vince noted that farmers can realize as much as five times the value on their cheese product as on their milk, which makes it much more likely that the farm will continue to operate. The Cellars at Jasper Hill currently has seven artisan partners that they represent. The discussion and tasting was co-sponsored with the Cheese Club at Cornell.
On Tuesday, March 8, 2011, Heather Sandford (CALS ’91) shared the challenges of owning a small scale farm. Heather and her husband Brad (also CALS ’91) own “The Piggery” a company whose product springs from their heritage breed pig farm in Trumansburg, NY. The Piggery model is based on CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares, sold both locally and to NYC customers, as well as local sales at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market and The Piggery Deli in Ithaca, NY. The Sandford’s have their hands full with the farm, which currently has about 183 pigs. All heritage breeds, the pigs are pasture fed, supplemented with locally raised small grains and whey and the Sandford’s provide on-site charcuterie, turning just about every bit of the pasture pork into products their customers can use quickly and easily. In addition to their primary role in the daily farm operations and meat processing, Heather and Brad spend a considerable amount of time on marketing, sales, and education. They see it as part of their business to not only provide fabulous charcuterie but to educate their customers with recipes and cooking tips, farm tours, and general information about their operation.
While “The Piggery” operations are growing for now, government policies play a large part in the stability and financial success of this type of farm. The breadth and seemingly capricious nature of the USDA processing regulations means small slaughterhouses find it increasingly difficult to maintain their facilities, threatening the smaller area farmers who rely on them. With many regional processors booked two years in advance, the closing of any single processor can be devastating to an individual farm.
Both Sandford’s are relatively local (Heather is from Rochester and Brad is from Geneva) and after a number of years in California, they were delighted to find such a strong network of small farms in the Ithaca area. With outlets such as the Ithaca Farmer’s market and their individual CSA’s, this community of producers not only support one another but encourage the growth of the small farm model. The event was sponsored by the SHA/CIA Alliance and the Cornell Dinner Club.
On Friday, February 18, 2011,the Cheese Club at Cornell and the SHA/CIA Alliance sponsored an all American cheese and beer pairing, featuring six unique cheeses and beers, as well as locally made traditional breads. In addition, Stefan Senders, of Wide Awake Bakery, brought samples of the different styles of bread he produces and talked about the key characteristics of each. Wide Awake Bakery produces French country boules, Italian Ciabatta and Pugilese, German Vollkornbrot. All of Stefan’s grain come from local farms and is milled locally. Stefan has recently finished the construction of a rotating commercial size hearth oven where he does all the production for his bakery. The pairing and discussion of the production process for the various cheeses and beers was led by Daina Ringus and Matt Stasiewicz, both graduate students in CALS Food Science.
Video of Stefan Senders, Wide Awake Bakery
On Sept. 23, 2010, Jeannine Sacco CIA ’06, SHA ’09, founder and president of BeetNPath, shared her experiences in starting a new retail food company. Founded in 2009, BeetNPath is focused on supporting a healthier lifestyle for students, by providing meal choices made from all natural ingredients. Jeannine discussed the difficulties of translating a vision or idea into a revenue producing product and the host of financial, marketing, sales, and operational skills necessary to launch a new product. In the case of BeetNPath, the challenge of developing PrOats, their signature product, was not just in creating the right flavor but adjusting the ingredients to maintain the key 20 grams of protein, while producing it on a commercial scale. At the same time, Jeannine was developing the first full meal items, Loafer’s Delight™ and Bolo’tini™, meatloaf and pasta entrees respectively. Then came production; the meals are packaged in MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging) containers that allow the entire meal to be stored with a longer shelf life but still reheated directly in the packaging. Jeannine described the many hats a new business owner wears, finding suppliers for the packaging, sources for the raw ingredients, and producers of the commercial volume of product. She recalled orchestrating the complicated dance that brings these factions all together to create the final product to be distributed to customers. And finally, sales, sales and more sales. With an additional two entrees in development, BeetNPath is taking off, with multiple flavors of their original PrOats now available, and distribution to over 20 locations in colleges and universities across the northeast. Read more about Jeannine and BeetNPath in our alumni spotlights.
On November 11, 2008, author, restaurateur, and entrepreneur, Michael Turback SHA ’66, led a discussion about his experiences opening “Turback’s of Ithaca” at age 22, pioneering the use of local and New York State foods and wines. His restaurant became an Ithaca icon, and popularized the concept of “dining local”.
He went on to develop “The Original Made-In-New York Stores” which sold only New York State products, co-founded The NEW YORK FIRST Company, one of the earliest online department stores and the History Company, an online source for historic pieces, and has written eight books on various topics from the Ice Cream Sundae to the Ithaca Farmers Market Cookbook.
On October 28, 2009, Kate Arding led a discussion on her career in the cheese making industry and a tasting of some regional cheeses. Now an independent dairy consultant specializing in small scale cheese production, Kate has worked in the farmhouse cheese industry for 18 years . She is also a co-founder of Culture, the acclaimed first national consumer cheese magazine launched in December 2008. A native of Britain, She started her career as wholesale manager for Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, where she developed extensive knowledge – and love – of the farmhouse cheese industry, then moved to California in 1997, to help establish Cowgirl Creamery and Tomales Bay Foods. Since 2003 Kate has worked as an independent consultant focusing on affinage (refining of a cheese), sales and marketing, and helping small-scale cheese makers adapt to changing market demands. The event was co-sponsored by The Cheese Club at Cornell and the SHA/CIA Alliance.
Irena Chalmers kicked off a series of discussions on non-traditional food jobs. Chalmers, author of Food Jobs: 150 Great Jobs for Culinary Students, Career Changers, and Food Lovers, used her book as a foundation to encourage students to think creatively about job opportunities and to widen their professional expectations. More than 80 students from the School of Hotel Administration and other venues across campus (food science, nutrition, viticulture/enology) gathered to hear Chalmers’s insights on identifying food trends and translating those trends into career paths in the food industry. Chalmers’ humorous anecdotes and wealth of experience demonstrate that same insights noted in her book – if you have a passion, evne for divergent interests, with a little thought and creativity there are often ways to combine your interests in to a successful career. An informal reception followed the student discussion highlighting locally grown foods in a presentation from the Cornell Dinner Club.
On September 25th, 2009, a group of 15 students travelled to Wegman’s, a regional grocery chain, a regional grocery chain, where they talked with CIA ’97 alum and Executive Chef Mike Washburn about his experiences leading up to his current role at Wegman’s Ithaca. The students explored Wegman’s role in the retail food industry, how Wegman’s differentiates themselves from other grocery venues, and about the diversity of skills necessary for advancement. Operating in a retail venue is very different from traditional foodservice, the margins tend to be even tighter, price sensitivity is higher, and the customer expectation is different. In addition, because most people shop weekly or even more often, keeping menu items fresh and appealing takes continuing ingenuity. Wegman’s accomplishes this through a variety of means: product specialists that have been around the world learning about their areas, constantly changing merchandising, and offering public education and different meal packaging enhances the customer experience. Mike noted that in his role he wears many hats – in addition to traditional areas such as menu planning, staffing, and procurement, he is responsible for areas such as liaising with the Executive Chefs at different locations, creating unique offerings and translating them across multiple venues.
October 5th, 2009, 14 students from the School of Hotel Administration, the Cornell Dinner Club and the Cornell Viticulture and Enology Club explored beverage management with Cheryl Stanley, SHA ’00 and CIA faculty member. Cheryl shared her background and experiences in beverage management at the Four Seasons in California, including the challenges of pairing a wine to the customer tastes and chosen menu. She covered the unique challenges of retail sales which she experienced while at The Wine Cask. Finally, Cheryl gave an in depth perspective of the requirements of becoming a sommelier, describing all the factors that can influence a wine as she shared photographs from her extensive travels.
On February 15, 2011 Katie Brown (Cornell Arts & Sciences ’85), entrepreneur and TV personality, talked about her experiences developing her wildly successful eponymous home arts show on public television and some of the challenging decisions she had to make along the way. A strong advocate for the liberal arts background that gave her versatility in many arenas, Katie attributes her success path to her college graduation speech given by Frank Rhodes, who encouraged students to be true to themselves and to make a difference in their world. Recognizing that she was a creative, ambitious person, happier working for herself than others, Katie set about creating a lifestyle that would support her goals. As an aspiring actor, she waited tables and was fascinated by the flow in the restaurant kitchen. This led her to start catering – first on a small scale, eventually opening her own restaurant “Goat”. Through these entrepreneurial experiences, Katie described developing an alter-ego of sorts, one that could negotiate a deal, see an opportunity, develop an idea into a full- fledged program, and embody a confidence in her own abilities that has stayed with her through her career. This public persona has become formalized in the “Katie Brown” brand, a formula she sticks to consistently when developing new ideas. Yet Katie is still an entrepreneur and it is her ability to adhere to the tenants of her brand while exploring new avenues, such as home goods and increased internet offerings, that has contributed to her overwhelming success.
Katie was a featured speaker in the Conversations with Entrepreneurs series presented by the Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at Cornell University, streamed live to the Culinary Institute of America through the SHA/CIA Alliance.