Vermont has long had a reputation as the source of fine dairy products including Cabot’s award-winning cheddar. Over the last decade or so, the small Northeastern state has also developed a worldwide reputation for its booming craft brewing scene. Beer and cheese make for delicious pairings at the table, but there is also synergy beyond that. At several Cabot farms, the two come together and tell a story of sustainability.When beer and cheese come together on the #farm. #FarmLove #Sustainability #CabotFarmers Click To Tweet
The dairy herd at Percy’s Bouchard Farm in Stowe gets a regular taste of something that draws many beer-lovers to Vermont: the sought-after beers from The Alchemist Brewery, especially renowned for Heady Topper, often named the number one beer in the world.
Well, ok, so that’s stretching it just a bit. The Percy family’s cows don’t really quaff beer. (Neither does farmer Paul Percy himself. “I can get myself in enough trouble without it,” he says with a chuckle.)
But the milking herd of about 400 Holsteins and Jerseys does eat nutritious, recycled (non-alcoholic) spent grain from two Vermont breweries: The Alchemist’s newest Stowe operation and Magic Hat Brewing Company just outside of Burlington.
Spent grain is what is left after the brewing process takes what it needs from malted barley (and sometimes other grains) to produce beer. It is a significant byproduct that breweries need to get rid of, but it is still rich in carbohydrates and protein and so can contribute nicely to a healthy, balanced diet for some kinds of livestock, including dairy cattle.
“The cows like the taste of it and it smells good,” Paul Percy says. “It goes good with corn,” he continues, noting that it complements the 680 acres of hay and corn the farm cultivates. If he couldn’t source the spent grain, he’d have to spend more on feed, Paul says. “I think it’s good food for the cows and I get a good buy on it. Plus the brewers need someone to take it off their hands. This is a good use for it.”
Lisa Kelly of Magic Hat Brewing Company says that the brewery has always recycled some of its spent grain as animal feed. “We’re a strong supporter of local farmers,” she says. Back in the early days, she recalls, “I remember shoveling the stuff out into farmer pick-up trucks.” These days, Magic Hat works in partnership with PurposeEnergy to biodigest much of their spent grain and other brewing byproducts into energy with which they fill about 40 percent of the brewery’s power needs.
Jen Kimmich, co-founder of The Alchemist Brewery, adds, “Brewing can be very high impact, so it is our responsibility to find innovative ways to reuse the byproducts we create.” The brewery finds creative ways to turn potential waste into rich compost and, like Magic Hat, it also contributes to energy production via a biodigester at Vermont Technical College. “However,” Jen continues, “the simplest step we take is a practice that has been proven effective for hundreds of years: sending our spent grain to local farmers so that is can be used to feed and nourish livestock.”
Back on Percy’s Bouchard Farm, feeding cows well is one of the many pieces of the puzzle that keeps the fourth-generation farm chugging along. The Percys also run a maple syrup operation in the spring and build a corn maze for the busy fall tourist season in Stowe, which Paul’s wife, Lee, manages. Their son Ryan works with them.
Paul has been a director of the co-op board for more than 30 years and he is 100 % committed to the farming life, despite its challenges. “I enjoy it,” he says simply. “I guess that’s what is important, isn’t it?”
In addition to Percy’s Bouchard Farm, Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, Vermont and Flood Brothers Farm in Clinton, Maine both work with local breweries to source spent grain as part of their herd’s diet.
It’s no news that beer and cheese make great partners. “Nothing goes better with beer than cheese,” says Lisa Kelly of Magic Hat Brewing Company, who send some of their spent grain goes to the dairy herd at Percy’s Bouchard Farm. Here is one of our most popular recipes for a hearty soup that combines the two and also some tips on how to pair styles of beer (and hard cider) and cheese.
Here are some tips on how to pair styles of beer and cheese:
Vermont has more than 50 breweries…and counting! The spent grain enjoyed by Percy’s Bouchard Farm comes from Magic Hat Brewery just outside of Burlington and The Alchemist Brewery in Stowe. Here’s a place to start planning your own trip with tasting trails by region.
In addition to Percy’s Bouchard Farm, a number of other co-op members work with breweries to feed recycled spent grain to their cows.
- Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, Vermont with Long Trail Brewing Company
- Flood Brothers Farm in Clinton, Maine with Shipyard Brewery
- Ferland Farm in Poland, Maine with Baxter Brewing Company
- Blue Hill Farm in Morrisville New York and Carlwood Farm in Canaan, Connecticut both with Budweiser
- Other farms who have worked with spent grain include: Greenbacker’s Brookfield Farm (Durham, CT), Freund’s Farm (East Canaan, CT), Kel-Vista Farm (West Winfield, NY) and Fort Hill Farm (Thompson, CT).
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Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).