meet the monger: sam hooper
December 13, 2016 // by Kara Young
Sam grew up farming and making cheese in Brookfield and Websterville, Vermont.
Now he is a reformed cheesemonger and the newest addition to the sales and marketing teams at Vermont Creamery.
His board, "Summer in Vermont" is a celebration of all things fresh and seasonal.
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Name: Sam Hooper
Hometown: Brookfield, Vermont
Company: Vermont Creamery
Cheeseboard: Summer in Vermont
How long have you been in cheese? In my 23 years of being raised on Vermont Creamery products, I can honestly say forever, as my mom and Bob Reese started Vermont Creamery 33 years ago. Haying fields, milking goats, pasteurizing milk, wrapping butter, making cheese, and mongering has filled my time outside of school for many years. I started full time in sales and marketing after graduating from Connecticut College in May.
What brought you to back to Vermont Creamery?
A genuine interest in cheesemaking, farming and the family business.
Let’s talk about cheese.
What’s the most common question you get asked?
People always ask me if Bonne Bouche is Blue Cheese, it’s not.
What should a novice cheese buyer look for in a cheese?
Look for cheese that looks good, has a nice intact rind, and tastes good to you. Find flavors and aromas you like and seek them out, but don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and experiment. Most of all trust your local monger, they are there for you.
What do you say to a customer who declares that they, “Don’t like goat cheese,” or are put off by an appearance or aroma of a cheese?
Cheese doesn’t always taste like it smells, some cheeses have more bark than bite. Give it a try, if you truly don’t like it, then move onto something you do. Where goat cheese is concerned, I tell people that goats absorb their environment and that environment is reflected in the milk they give. If goats are kept in well-ventilated, open-air and clean barns like ours at Ayers Brook, the cheese will reflect their conditions. Furthermore there is no one goat cheese that is the same as the next. You may love one but not the next, they are all unique, so prepare to be enlightened… then they’re hooked for life.
What advice do you have for novice cheese buyers who are building their first cheeseboard? Are there rules?
No rules, just ask your monger for recommendations; most people don’t know that cheese is seasonal and doesn’t taste the same all year round. Shake your fears and explore your palate as it changes every handful of years and cheeses change every day.
What's one thing about cheese, cheesemaking or the cheese world that would surprise or excite an average cheese buyer?
I can say that most buyers, mongers and visitors we see at the Creamery are pleasantly surprised and excited to find our Goat Farm, Ayers Brook, just thirty minutes down the interstate from Vermont Creamery. I think they’re all interested in how much goes into making cheese, from our relationships with our farmers to our many skilled cheesemakers. As Joey Connor says (Creamery Supervisor), “we’re letting the milk tell our story.” Every cheese is different and every creamery has a different story… cheeses are good, but the stories behind them are amazing!
Describe your board and the inspiration behind it.
I like to eat whatever is in season; we’re big gardeners, so I tend to eat whatever is ready to be harvested. Summer in Vermont is short, but sweet. It’s always about a big, fresh salad, ripe fruit and assorted herbs. I did a classic tomato salad with Maplebrook Farm Mozzarella and basil, fresh bell peppers with fresh chevre and micro greens, and watermelon salad with mint sprigs and feta.