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Say Cheese: Meet Allison Hooper

Talk to almost anyone in the world of food and they will tell you about the one meal, the one dish, the one ingredient, that changed their lives. For Julia Child, it was a plate of sole meuniere, eaten at a restaurant in Rouen.

Recipe Included

For Allison Hooper, it was cheese. Hooper did not set out to be a trailblazer when, together with partner Bob Reese, she opened the Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. in 1984. She just wanted to reproduce the wonderful array of fresh goat’s-milk and cow’s-milk cheeses that she had learned to make on a small farm in France while earning extra cash as a traveling college student.

“When I lived in France, I was surrounded by all of this fabulous cheese, all of the time,” says Hooper. “It was such an important part of life. When I got home I thought, ‘We have to eat this stuff. Of course Americans are going to catch on.’ ”

It took a little while, but they did. VB & C now produces 1.5 million pounds of goat’s- and cow’s-milk cheese per year. The company, which recently changed its name to Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery, is celebrating its 25th year in business, and Hooper is celebrating the publication of her cookbook, "In a Cheesemaker’s Kitchen," which features recipes using the creamery’s signature cheeses: chevre, creme fraîche, fromage blanc and mascarpone.

With $2,000 between them, Hooper and Reese began making and selling chevre, which Hooper calls "beginner goat cheese" because of its mild flavor. Because most Americans were not familiar with fresh goat cheese, they took their product to chefs. “They were very discriminating, but at the same time very encouraging,” Hooper says.

Allison's Chevre and Smoked Salmon Scones. (Domenica Marchetti)

Still, Hooper says, the biggest challenge was not getting Americans to reach for cheeses with names such as fromage blanc or mascarpone. It was, and remains, developing and maintaining a consistent supply of goat’s milk. “In the early years, we had growing demand and not enough milk. Then we had milk but we didn’t have demand. It was always feast or famine.”

Today, the creamery works with 20 regional farmers who supply goat's milk, cow’s milk and cream. “Maintaining that balance is always a delicate challenge,” she says.

But Hooper’s entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. In recent years she has begun broaden her line of cheeses. The creamery now produces three French-style soft-ripened goat cheeses, called Bonne Bouche, Bijou and Coupole. Next year, it plans to introduce a double-cream cheese made from a blend of cow’s milk and goat’s milk, which will be called Cremont.

-- Domenica Marchetti is the author of "The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy" and "Big Night In." She will be at La Fromagerie, in Old Town Alexandria, on Saturday, beginning at 11:30, handing out samples of Savory Cheese Biscotti and Crostini With Gorgonzola Spread and signing copies of her books.

Allison’s Chevre and Smoked Salmon Scones
Makes eighteen 2-inch scones

Adapted from a recipe in "In a Cheesemaker's Kitchen," by Allison Hooper (Countryman Press, 2009).

2 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
5 ounces chevre (goat cheese), crumbled
3 ounces smoked salmon, chopped
1/2 small bunch chives, snipped or chopped (3 tablespoons)
3/4 cup half-and-half
1 small egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for brushing the scones

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor; pulse to blend. Distribute the cubes of butter around the bowl and pulse until the butter is the size of peas. Add the crumbled chevre and process briefly to distribute it evenly. Add the salmon and chives; pulse briefly to combine.

Add the half-and-half and process just until the mixture comes together.

Lightly flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the surface and pat it into a disk; use a rolling pin to gently create an even thickness of 3/4 inch. Use a small round cookie cutter to form 18 small (1 1/2 to 2-inch) scones, re-rolling the scraps as needed. Then arrange the scones on the baking sheet, spaced at least 1 inch apart.

Brush the tops of the scones with the egg wash. Bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

Per scone: 146 calories, 5 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 33 mg cholesterol, 341 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  December 8, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Recipes , Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti, Say Cheese, chevre, recipes  
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