The Hildene Estate (now Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home) was the home of Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. It was built in Manchester, Vermont in 1905. At the time, Robert was the President of the Pullman Company; the largest manufacturing firm in the world at the time.
The name Hildene is an Old English term meaning hill and valley with a stream. Robert, who had also served as an Amabssador to the Court of St. James’ as well as Secretary of War in the 1880s and 1890s, lived on the estate until his death in 1926. The home remained in the Lincoln family until 1975 when the last descendant to live at the estate, Mary Lincoln Beckwith, died. Three years later, after a long struggle, Friends of Hildene, a non-profit organization purchased the estate to save it from development and to restore the house and grounds. The estate now serves as a historic house in Vermont with tours and educational programs for children.
Part of the Estate is the Rowland Agricultural Center at Hildene Farm, or Hildene Farm for short. The Farm’s mission is to educate visitors on the agricultural heritage of the estate, which included the presence of a herd of dairy cows and other livestock. It is also tasked with connecting farming heritage with the 21st century need to utilize green practices in farming. This includes using solar power for the farm’s energy needs and education on sustainable farming, renewable clean energy and forest management.
Hildene Farm Chevre is made by hand from the milk of the farm’s herd of 25 milking does. The goats are milked twice a day, once in the early morning and once late in the afternoon, from April to December. Demonstrations on how the goats are milked are part of Hildene Farm’s public tours and educational programs, so the milking times were adjusted to ensure that the children participating in the program are able to see how goats are milked.
It takes four milkings to gather enough to make a batch of the Chevre. Once enough milk is collected, typically around 48 hours after the initial milking, it is pasteurized and allowed to cool.
Cultures and a minute amount of rennet are then added to the milk and it is divided into small, 4-gallon containers that are covered and allowed to rest overnight. During this time, the milk coagulates into a semi-solid mass. The cheesemakers closely monitor this coagulated milk until it reaches a specific pH level. Then it is hand-ladled into molds without cutting or stirring. The newly molded cheeses are allowed to drain while in their molds for a full day.
They are then transported to a cool, temperature controlled room, where they are removed from their molds, salted and left to drain on cheese matting. Over the course of an additional two days, the cheeses are salted and flipped a few more times until the flavor and consistency are correct.
This cheese-making process is vital to the educational program at Hildene Farm. Students from local schools are invited to visit the farm throughout the year, where they are able to see the cheese-making facility through a glass-enclosed space. They are able to interact with the goats and also participate in a class where they learn about goat health and help make cheese. Students are then able to sample Hildene Farm Chevre.