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It’s no mere happenstance that the Grafton Village Cheese Company’s aged cheddar makes for one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches around. In addition to using raw — not pasteurized — milk for their aged cheddar, the Vermont-based cheesemaker pays a monthly premium to local family farms based on the quality of their milk.

Grafton Village Cheese distinguishes itself from larger competitors by using raw — not pasteurized —milk for their aged cheddar and by paying a premium for quality local milk.

So when the company decided to build a new plant in 2006, it was important to remain close to its rural suppliers. While the bucolic Brattleboro, Vermont, location that it chose lacked easy access to natural gas, the company didn’t have to sacrifice by paying exorbitant prices for energy or specialized equipment. It was able to install low-emission propane boilers to heat and power the processes that turn high-quality milk into delicious aged cheddar.

Moving the cheese

The propane boilers are integral throughout the cheesemaking process, says Ellyn Ladd, vice president of operations for Grafton Village Cheese. The cheesemaking begins when heat from the boilers is used to heat-treat the milk. Workers then use steam from the boilers to cook the curds and a steam-injected hoop washer to clean the dishes. A steam-based clean-in-place system is used to clean everything from supply lines to the building’s tanks and silos. Finally, the cheese-packaging system uses a steam table that shrinks the packaging over the cheese.

Propane boilers provide heat and steam for nearly every stage of the cheesemaking process.

“We can’t do it without propane,” Ladd says. “If our boilers don’t run, we can’t make cheese and we can’t pack cheese.” The boilers also feed the facility’s space heating and the storage tank water heater that meets the building’s domestic hot water needs. “Our heat system, to keep our employees warm in the cold winters of Vermont, runs off steam,” she says.

Propane was by far the best choice for this type of building, says Mike Troisi, energy advisor for Osterman Propane, which supplies the facility. “They don’t have any natural gas in that section of town,” he says, “and it really would be cost-prohibitive to go with oil or electricity for the manufacturing and the heat load in the building.”

Mission critical

By enabling the company to remain close to its family farm partners, propane also serves the mission of the Grafton Village Cheese Company, which has deep roots in the rural agriculture community. Originally founded in the 1890s as a co-op for dairy farmers to make their surplus milk into cheese, the company was restored in the mid-1960s by the nonprofit Windham Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting rural Vermont communities.

“We do have an environmental mission to reduce our impact, our carbon footprint.”

Last year, the cheesemaker paid out more than $100,000 in quality premiums to its 30 farm suppliers. “Part of the mission of Grafton Village Cheese is to support rural agriculture,” Ladd says. “We do have an environmental mission to reduce our impact, our carbon footprint.” Propane lends itself to that environmental cause as well. Propane can reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 50 percent compared with electricity in applications such as water heating, because much of the nation’s electric power is generated by coal- and oil-fired power plants. Propane has similar advantages over heating oil.

Located in bucolic Brattleboro, Vermont, with a petting zoo on-site, Grafton Village Cheese remains close to its family farm suppliers.

Osterman Propane has recently helped Grafton Village Cheese boost the performance of its heating systems and reduce fuel costs. The propane retailer replaced the building’s four old 2,000-gallon tanks with eight 1,000-gallon tanks, which will improve vaporization and provide more energy for the facility’s processing and heating, according to Troisi. “The Osterman rep has saved us thousands of dollars,” Ladd says. “They’re a great partner for us.”

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Jeffrey Lee