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Slow Down And Savor The Experience At Sugarbush Farm: Enjoy Cheese, Maple, And More

Jun 12, 2024 08:00PM ● By Mary Gow Photography By Lynn Bohannon
On the wooded Maple Path, through a stand of mature Acer saccharum, a young couple strolling hand in hand pauses to read a little interpretive sign explaining how to tap a maple tree and collect sap to boil into syrup. Nearby, by the trailhead, a preschooler swings on the swing set—his grandparents as delighted as he is. At the other end of the trail, a family explores the sugarhouse with its massive stainless-steel evaporator and displays on maple sugaring. In the Tasting Room in the 1860s farmhouse, the hub of Sugarbush Farm in Woodstock, visitors sample cheeses, comparing aged sharp cheddar with creamier jack cheddar, tangy Mountain Blue, and others, and then shop in the farm store.

Betsy with granddaughters Sierra (left) and Liz. Bottled

“This is one of those stops you make where you don’t have to move 100 miles per hour. You’re on vacation. You should enjoy yourself,” says Liz Luce, who, with her sister Sierra, has been answering visitors’ questions about the goats—Nibbles, Kibbles, and Peanut Butter. Liz and Sierra are in the fourth generation of their family operating Sugarbush Farm.

An Authentic Working Farm

Sugarbush Farm is now in its 80th year in the Ayres/Luce family. At this working farm, the Luces produce maple syrup from nearly 10,000 taps on their trees, age and hand package their signature cheeses (about 100,000 to 120,000 pounds each year), and have a small herd of beef cattle. Beyond producing high-quality products, the Luce family shares this authentic Vermont farm experience with visitors.

At the end of a dirt road—all three routes there eventually go to dirt— Sugarbush Farm is a destination. With its farm store, trails, resident goats and horses, educational experiences and materials, and low-key picnic and play spaces, even a sublime woods chapel for quiet contemplation, it’s a place to experience the Vermont working landscape. The exploring, sampling, goat patting, and other activities are free—the only cost is what visitors choose to buy in the farm store.

“We have lots of long conversations with people and not just about cheese,” says Betsy Luce, who was a toddler when her parents, Jack and Marion Ayres, bought this 500-plus acre farm and aged farmhouse without indoor plumbing in 1945. Betsy has worked here all her life, so far, only recently cutting back a bit as her granddaughters Liz and Sierra take on more responsibilities.

It Started with Cheese

Sugarbush Farm’s acclaimed cheese business launched shortly after the Ayres’ move to Woodstock. Jack, who had Vermont roots but lived in New York in his early years, yearned to get back to the land. He aimed to be a dairy farmer, but soon redirected to cheese. Tourism was expanding in post-World War II Vermont. Roadside gift shops sold a variety of Vermont products to travelling tourists. Vermont cheese was popular, but not very portable. As Betsy explains, cheese was sold at that time in big round wheels, with pieces chopped off into wedges.

Jack recognized potential in making cheese more user friendly. His innovation was to work with existing cheese producers, purchasing fresh cheese from them and then aging and packaging it at Sugarbush Farm. Instead of irregular wedges, he devised cutting it into convenient-sized bars, wrapping each one in foil, then dipping it in food-grade wax. Three layers of wax make each bar of cheese airtight, and, with the foil and colored wax, very attractive. His further innovation was the design of the bars—each one is approximately one-and-a-half inches wide by one-and-a-half inches thick, the bars varying in length for different weights: four ounces, eight ounces, and more. When sliced from the end, each slice is perfectly proportioned to sit on a cracker.

Sugarbush Farm was soon delivering cheese to gift shops, eventually all around the state. With an initial foray into mail order using Marion’s Christmas card list, they developed a robust mail-order business. Jack sent Sugarbush Farm cheeses to food editors, and word spread around the country. Betsy recalls trips to New York City and television appearances talking about their cheese.

Beyond mail order, they added a website and online ordering in the 1990s. These days, from online and phone orders, Sugarbush Farms ships hundreds of boxes a day during their busy pre-holiday season, including many to customers who have been with them for decades.

Moving on to Maple

When Betsy married dairy farmer Larry Luce, cows came back to the farm—a herd of Jerseys. Besides establishing the farm’s dairy herd, Larry reignited Sugarbush Farm maple production, first in the old sugarhouse on the farm, then building a new one in the 1980s. Betsy and Larry’s sons Jeff and Ralph, the third generation of the family, now head the maple production. The Luces combine traditional ways and state-of-the-art equipment. Much of their land is forested, providing abundant firewood. With this ready fuel, the evaporator that boils the sap is wood fired. Their evaporator itself is a spiffy, efficient, stainless-steel model. Their reverse-osmosis system removes water from the sap, reducing the time and fuel in boiling.

From late February into April, visitors can see the maple process in person. The rest of the year, the sugarhouse is also open, but for self-guided tours. A video and lots of displays illuminate the sugar-making process and labor.

Sample, Shop, and Savor

In the farmhouse, the tasting room and farm store are open year-round, except for a few holidays. Visitors sample maple syrup and learn about its different grades and sample some of the farm’s 14 varieties of cheese. Depending on the day, samples may include their award-winning naturally smoked cheese, cheddars from a light low fat to four-year-old sharps, and flavors including tangy horseradish. Visitors may also see the cheese wrapping and dipping process in action. The Luces and their employees are knowledgeable and sincerely interested in sharing information about their products and the farm with visitors. The store is well stocked with Sugarbush Farm fare and products from other small businesses—heavenly maple shortbread cookies, Vermont sausage, and handmade ornaments among them.

Sugarbush Farm invites a slower pace and an opportunity to savor the pastoral landscape. An informal picnic area overlooks pastures with a view to Mount Ascutney. Two big retired Belgian horses, Spud and Ben, practically pose for pictures. A walking trail meanders along pastures and in the woods. Posted at different spots around the farm are small informative signs—not QR codes, but real signs—to read and learn about birds, snowfall, history of the farm, and more.
“People can come here and learn something about Vermont farming, maple syrup, and cheeses: this is what it takes to make an eight-year-old cheddar, sap comes out of the tree like water and has to be boiled down,” says Liz. “And people really enjoy the sanctity of the view.”

Sugarbush Farm
591 Sugarbush Farm Road
Woodstock, VT
(800) 281-1757 <>

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