Alpeter taking an old company and trying to make it new

For a man with a history of working for start-up companies, taking a job at a firm that’s been in existence since 1892 might seem odd but for Curt Alpeter, there are a lot of parallels between his new job as CEO at Grafton Village Cheese and his previous work for IDX, MyWebGrocer and Runamok Maple.

“I refer to it as a 130-year-old startup,” Alpeter said. “It has a long history but it’s a company that’s had a variety of different lives. It’s a very Vermont brand with a lot of great components.”

Alpeter said a common theme of his career has been either starting, building or fixing companies. Although Grafton Village Cheese is an older company, he believes skills from his previous positions are applicable and that he is bringing a start-up mentality to the business.

Photo by Lynn Alpeter.
Curt Alpeter likes working for a mission-driven organization that creates an iconic Vermont product.

Grafton Village Cheese is part of the Windham Foundation. The foundation began in 1963 when a New York businessman saw changes in his summer community of Grafton. He realized that manufacturers were leaving small rural communities which often led to an economic downturn in those places. He created an endowment to bolster Grafton and help other rural communities survive.

Grafton Village Cheese was created as a co-op so local farmers would have a consistent source and price for their milk.

“It was very mission-driven,” Alpeter said.

As the business struggled, the Grafton Inn also suffered since there wasn’t much reason for people to visit the town. The Windham Foundation responded by buying the inn and the company. The foundation also established the Grafton Trails and Outdoor Center. Grafton Village Cheese is a for-profit company, but all their profits go back to the Windham Foundation.

The company has three primary categories of cheese: aged cheddars, infused cheddars and a newer line of cave-aged cheeses. They are best known for the aged and infused cheddars, but the newer cave-aged products have been receiving awards, and Alpeter said they are a big part of the company’s future.

Grafton Village Cheese is sold in approximately 30 states. Its two-year aged cheddar is their flagship product, though Alpeter favors Shepsog (an Algonquin word for sheep), which is cave-aged cheddar made with both sheep and cow milk.

After he moved to Vermont, Alpeter began working at IDX, which was a small privately-owned company.

He considered leaving to go out on his own but instead, joined MyWebGrocer which was also in its infancy.

After nine years, he again thought about leaving to start his own business but instead, took a job at Runamok Maple where he spent seven years. Grafton Village Cheese may seem like a very different venture from Alpeter’s previous positions, but he doesn’t see it that way.

“All these incredible companies were doing things that I thought was a better path than doing something on my own,” Alpeter said. “They allowed me to learn about the start-up world.”

One issue he had with IDX and MyWebGrocer is that although they were Vermont companies, they didn’t do much business in Vermont and didn’t have a visible product. That’s what drew him to Runamok Maple which, during his tenure, grew to be a $10 million business. The owner was also the CEO and Alpeter yearned to run a company on his own, an opportunity he found at Grafton.

Surprisingly, Alpeter isn’t the only Charlotte resident involved in Grafton Village Cheese. Two members of the board of directors, Jeff Smith and chair William Bruett, are also Charlotters.

Alpeter has done his share of volunteer work including stints on the boards of the Charlotte Land Trust and Green Mountain Audubon.

The Audubon connection taught him about the rare gold wing warbler, which lives on his property. He became part of the Champlain Valley Bird Initiative so he could manage his land to protect the warbler’s habitat. A portion of his property has been conserved by the Vermont Land Trust.

Alpeter considers himself lucky to have been involved with so many Vermont companies. “I’ve worked for two bigger software companies and two food-driven organizations,” he said.

In Grafton Village Cheese he believes he has found the best combination of attributes and a mission-driven organization that creates an iconic Vermont product.