Fletcher Farm, Pittsfield, ME, Producer-owners of Cabot.
Photo courtesy of Cabot Creamery Cooperative.
A Cooperative of Dairy Farm Families Dedicated to Quality and Community
The Cabot Creamery Co-operative story reaches back to 1919, when a group of dairy farmers in the area of Cabot, Vermont joined forces to turn their excess milk into butter. Ninety-four farmers made up the original cooperative. The cost to join was $5 per cow, plus a cord of wood to fuel the boiler. They purchased the Cabot village creamery, built in 1893, and began producing butter under the Rosedale brand name. They brought their product to the Boston market by horse and buggy and by barge to New York City.
Over the next two decades, as the nation's population flocked to urban areas, Cabot's farmer-owners thrived by adding milk to their southern shipments. While the national economy shifted away from agriculture, the Vermont economy was growing for dairy farming. In 1930, cows outnumbered people in Vermont 421,000 to 359,000, a fact that remained true until the mid-80s. Just after the Great Depression, the cooperative hired its first cheesemaker and cheddar cheese entered the Cabot product line for the first time under the name American Cheddar.
By 1960, Cabot's membership reached 600 farm families, despite plummeting farm numbers nationally. In the mid-1980s, the total number of farms in Vermont sank below 2,000 for the first time. Cabot Creamery dropped the Rosedale name and started marketing high-quality cheeses and butter under a new brand - Cabot.
Word of Cabot’s quality spread quickly when in 1989 Cabot took first place in the cheddar category at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest held in Green Bay, Wisconsin. That ribbon started an impressive list of national and international competitions in which Cabot won every major award for taste, including first place in the 2016 American Cheese Society Contest for Cabot Old School Cheddar.
In the early 1990s, Cabot teetered on the edge of bankruptcy due to pressures of owning a growing brand when farm costs took almost every cent the farmers had; the Cabot farmers had no choice but to look for options. In the end, the Cabot membership voted to merge with the farm families of Agri-Mark, a New England co-op with roots dating back to 1913.
With more farmers to support the Cabot brand, investments in plants and machinery upgrades followed. In 2003, another merger joined New England farms with those in upstate New York, resulting in more farmer-members and an increase in Cabot’s production capacity with the newly acquired cheese plant.
Today, the Cabot Creamery is a brand owned by 1,100 farm families from New England and New York State who each share 100% of year-end profits based on the amount of milk they ship annually, including 85 Maine dairy farm families. The cooperative also has a retail store along the popular Portland waterfront to help market its award-winning cheddar and other dairy products directly to consumers.
The Cabot story, born nearly a century ago, started as a need for farmers to work together as a cooperative to survive. Today, the farmers’ business is able to go beyond survival by improving lives, both on the farm and among the communities where the farmers’ products are sold. While the farmers focus on producing high quality milk, their employees craft quality cheese and help improve local communities by actively embracing volunteerism, community service, and sustainability.