Ephs investigate origins of beloved Skyr yogurt

April 20, 2016 by Jack Greenberg, Executive Editor and Marit Björnlund, Executive Editor

Stina Kutzer and her husband Peter produce Skyr yogurt, a popular snack among College students, on their farm in Pownal, Vt. Marit Björnlund/Executive Editor.

Stina Kutzer and her husband Peter produce Skyr yogurt, a popular snack among College students, on their farm in Pownal, Vt. Marit Björnlund/Executive Editor.

Polled on “Where was the first place you went when you got back on campus” for the paper’s “Alum on the Quad” feature in 2014, most respondents were quite excited to see what came of the $86 million project to replace old Sawyer Library. Sarah Gottesman ’14 and Lily Neinstadt ’14, however, may have better captured the enduring priorities of Ephs over the past six years in their joint response: They got Skyr. Served at three on-campus locations as well at local favorites like Tunnel City Coffee and Spring Street Market, this Icelandic yogurt (that, technically, is regulated as a “soft cheese”) has found its way into the hearts and stomachs of plenty of Ephs both past and present with its creamy texture and refreshing flavor. Upon discovering that the maven behind this incredible breakfast necessity was merely a phone call and quick car ride away, the Record found its way to a little farm in North Pownal, Vt. in the honest pursuit of knowledge, cow company and possibly even free yogurt at Gammelgården Creamery.

The Creamery, a small business endeavor owned by Stina Kutzer and her sister that caters to a hyper-local and impressively immediate market, appears at first glance like any other modestly sized Vermont farm. The grazing pasture extends out no more than 20 acres, and Kutzer’s three yellow Labs freely roam the property, greeting visitors with unbridled affection. Kutzer’s husband Peter, a former landscaper, tends to the property with trowel and tractor as the horses his wife keeps take an afternoon nap in their stable. Kutzer bounces between the shed-like structure outfitted for milking up to five cows outdoors and the interior product and processing setup where non-pasteurized cow’s milk eventually turns into delicious concoctions like maple Skyr as well as cultured butter and buttermilk that the Creamery sells to Mezze Bistro + Bar and other high-end outlets. “We have a smooth, good production schedule,” Kutzer proudly declares. “Our production is really good.”

The creation of Gammelgården Creamery fulfilled a lifelong dream for Kutzer, who has lived on farms in Vermont for most of her life. The first steps toward the launch of the successful business occurred in 2010 when Peter gifted her, for her 50th birthday, her first dairy cow, a three-day-old calf named Babette. Babette would go on, in a rarity for Jersey cows, to become pregnant with female twins. Kutzer’s herd tripled, and her business started taking off.

After some experimentation in and research about both yogurt-making practices and food safety regulations, Kutzer decided that instead of traditional yogurt, the primary product of Gammelgården would be the Icelandic-style Skyr. Now, four times a week – though she pares down production to three batches a week during the College’s summer vacation and other breaks – Kutzer, her husband, daughter and a couple of employees produce Skyr on the property she calls home.

While Kutzer now milks five cows and has three more baby cows that will give milk soon, she has had to get some extra help as the Creamery grows. She supplements her cows’ milk production with similarly high-quality milk from a farm three miles down the road and concedes that even this small sacrifice of some self-sufficiency was tough. She also brings in hay from another local farmer because the three-day haymaking process was too disruptive to the normal operations of her farm. Regardless, the whole production is still intimately tied to the small-scale, localized Vermont system of agriculture. The jam in her single-serve cups of Skyr comes from a local producer whom she met at a farmer’s market; the Battenkill Brittle mix-in originates at a producer in nearby Arlington, Vt.; maple syrup arrives in five-gallon jugs from Kutzer’s other sister’s farm in Middlebury, Vt. and is harvested by an elementary school classmate. She sells the whey byproduct from the yogurt to another nearby farmer to feed his pigs and surplus cow manure as fertilizer to other area farms. Disabled workers at Berkshire Family and Individual Resources in North Adams apply the sticker labels to each container.

The Skyr students consume in the College’s dining venues accounts for about half of Gammelgården’s total demand and is made by Kutzer just days before Ephs dive into it spoon first. In the past, Kutzer delivered the cases of Skyr herself in addition to handling the caretaking of the animals, cow milking, food production and administrative responsibilities. Recently, though, Gammelgården has grown enough in scale such it can support Kutzer’s husband, too. Peter makes deliveries [every day] to the College and several times a week or month to locations as far as Manchester, Vt. Their younger dogs, Pearl and Pippi, love joining Peter on the daily rounds, and Pearl can be seen every morning in Williamstown with “half her body out the window” of the car, Kutzer said of the canine, who once jumped out of the car on Park St. to chase a squirrel.

Ultimately, Kutzer is thrilled that she has found a way to fulfill her dream while supporting her family with a product that has become a College-wide obsession. “It’s what I always wanted to do,” she said. “I’ve always liked cows, and I like the whole idea of farming, especially [on] local farms. It’s a no-brainer: You have land, you might as well use it to feed the people in the area.”

Kutzer enjoys routine, which makes her well suited to farm life. “I do enjoy the time with the cows. My husband probably won’t agree with me because sometimes I get really mad at them,” she said. “In the morning, I get up really early and feed the dogs, feed the cats, then I go out. I have one horse who, if she’s in the stall, whinnies to me like, ‘Good morning!’ And the cows are all ready like, ‘Where is our breakfast? Where is our food?’ I like getting outside first thing in the morning. It’s very peaceful, and it’s just kind of me and them.”

Because she sells directly rather than through a middleman, Kutzer can earn a sustainable living as an independent farmer. “I can do it. I can live on it,” she said. “I can’t believe I can, because when I first started doing this I said, ‘No way, there’s no way I can support myself and my husband with this little business.’ But now six years later, here we are. He works with me and we can eat, and live here. It actually worked. I wasn’t sure for awhile.”

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