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Vermont Smoke and Cure Inc.: Smokin’ the Competition with Artisan Flavors & Locally Produced Pork
In 2005 Chris Bailey, now CEO of Vermont Smoke and Cure Inc. (Vermont Smoke and Cure), stepped into Roland’s Smokehouse (Roland’s), a step that has changed his life and bolstered the meat market for Vermont farmers. As a former farmer, Bailey hoped to find a way to help farmers get a better return on products. “I noticed that the meat market hadn’t gone through the same transition as other foods,” recalls Bailey. “I saw natural, organic and locally raised smoked meats as a developing category in which to create a business that could offer new opportunities to farmers.”
The Green Mountain Way
Bailey set out on his mission to create better bacon by rebranding Roland’s to its current designation. However, Bailey did not forget the company’s reputed flavors, as the original Roland’s was established by French Canadian Roland LeFebvre in 1962. For locals and old-timers, Roland’s meats were a reminder of the way bacon and ham use to taste: smoked with the ingredients that used to be the only ones available (corn cobs and maple shavings); the way it has always been in the Green Mountain State.
Bailey wanted to keep the traditional flavors of Roland’s alive while taking a natural, sustainable and healthier approach. “The process starts with brining all of our bacon and ham in pure Vermont maple syrup,” details Bailey. “Using the pure maple syrup and not a lot of salt gives the product a flavor unique in the market. The smoke with corn cob and maple wood, traditional to this region, work well with the maple syrup.”
Out with the Old
Since 2006 there has been a high demand for Vermont Smoke and Cure’s products, forcing the company to make room for more production. “We were in the back of a gas station until 2012, and we had outgrown it,” shares Bailey. “It’s just one of those things in Vermont; sometimes food companies come out of the back of gas stations.”
Although Bailey jokes about the company’s former location, the move has made way for serious expansion. “As of April 2012, we’re now located in Hinesburg, Vt., and employ over 20 people,” he details. “We moved 50 miles from the old facility and we’re now in a former cheese-processing plant. We went from 8,000 square feet in two locations to 21,000 square feet in one location. We’ve upped production and, though in the past several years we’ve developed a presence in New England, we’re now starting to sell nationally in a more significant way.”
Vermont Smoke and Cure ships its trademark pork to retailers everywhere from public markets in Portland, Maine, to Whole Foods stores in Southern California. Foodies and bacon lovers alike can also order directly online and have smoked summer sausage, pepperoni, maple wood smoked bacon and ham delivered to their doorstep.
Although the move to Hinesburg has improved Vermont Smoke and Cure’s business, Bailey admits it hasn’t come without some headaches. “The first phase of the move went well, but getting all of the new equipment to work has been a challenge,” he says. “Thermostats, the boiler, airtight doors, processing equipment; all the stuff you just expect just to work, we had a struggle with. We were able to celebrate our company’s 50-year anniversary, though, with a grand opening of the new location … that was special.”
The Proof is in the Pork
While remaining grounded in the traditional Vermont-style brining and smoking recipes, the company has launched a product line made from antibiotic-free, free-range, grass-fed pigs. The 5 Knives label is made of exclusively locally grown pork from a single farm in Franklin, Vt.
“Our Vermont-grown, humane bacon comes specifically from Greg Finch of Finch Family Farm,” details Bailey. “I like knowing I can go out and visit the farm to see how the pigs are raised. I can pick up the phone or stop by and see Greg and talk about factors that affect quality. Working with local farms also allows for a certain level of stability in pricing, unlike commodity pork.”
Offering processing as a service for area farmers is the other part of the business that helps create opportunities for area farmers: Vermont Smoke and Cure now works with over 75 local farms. Bailey notes that one of the company’s partner farms belongs to Beth Whiting. Whiting owns Maple Wind Farm in Huntington, Vt., and raises 100-percent grass-fed beef and lamb, pasture-raised pork, poultry, eggs, organic vegetables and maple syrup.
“We’ve seen an increase in demand for pasture-raised pork over the past few years,” shares Whiting. “The products that Vermont Smoke and Cure offers are in line with what our customers want; without nitrates and locally grown.” Whiting views her farm’s relationship with Vermont Smoke and Cure as a way to add value to the food she produces and means to develop more markets for her meats.
Bailey remains true to his original commitment to local farms because, as he knows from firsthand experience, it’s not an easy way to survive. “We process and package for many small farms that sell directly at farmers markets,” he says. “Our mission is to keep these services available to them.”
As business continues to boom for Vermont Smoke and Cure and its associated local farms, Bailey says the company is always looking for innovative new products. “Our newest venture is a product line called RealSticks,” he reveals. “They’re like a healthy version of a Slim Jim, made with beef and pork. We currently have three flavors of RealSticks, but are looking to up that to five or six within the year, including a spicy smoked Serrano pepper flavor.”
Eventually, Bailey hopes to completely phase out conventional product lines and shift the company toward only natural and Vermont-grown foods. “I’m pushing for more and more natural, antibiotic-free meats, because it’s definitely a rapidly growing market,” he details. Bailey continues to lead Vermont Smoke and Cure Inc. down a road based in traditional flavors, while providing for today’s demand for farm-to-fork foods.