Now Reading
Village Cheeseworks: Helping Revive Loudoun’s Local Dairy Industry

Village Cheeseworks: Helping Revive Loudoun’s Local Dairy Industry

Written by Victoria Peace | Photos by Michael Butcher

Village Cheeseworks founders Eric Hilgartner and Kelly Harding know that it takes a village to get high-quality cheese from farm to consumer — that’s why every step of the way, they have partnered with local farms and small businesses in order to deliver a product that is delicious, historic, and community-centric.

Established in 2020, Village Cheeseworks is a joint venture between Hilgartner and Harding. Both partners come from a dairy background, and the pair met while they were helping get another creamery off the ground. Hilgartner has a degree in animal science from Virginia Tech where he completed several classes in dairy management and has previously served as a beef cattle, land management, and farm business consultant. Harding has almost 30 years of experience as a creamery consultant and helps creameries craft recipes, train employees, create protocols, and receive certification from the state.

Hilgartner says that while there were aspects of starting a small business during the midst of a global pandemic that were intimidating, it also presented a huge opportunity. “COVID gave us the chance to work together and pull the trigger,” Hilgartner emphasizes. Hilgartner and Harding took the time to revive an old creamery site in Upperville that had not been used in 15 years, getting it recertified and tailoring it to their specific needs. 

After about a year, they produced their first cheese. The duo initially focused on making soft cheeses because with their shorter expiration date, they were harder to procure during the pandemic due to supply chain pressures. “We wanted people to have access to a really good product at a good price — and this is still what we hang our hat on,” Hilgartner says.

Village Cheeseworks currently partners with several local businesses to distribute their cheese including wineries, breweries, restaurants, and resorts. They offer free delivery and low order minimums to stay small-business friendly.

Village Cheeseworks sources the majority of their milk from Dogwood Farm in Purcellville, Virginia, the last remaining operational dairy farm in Loudoun County. In the 1950s and 1960s, Loudoun County was one of the most prolific per capita dairy farming areas in the world; there are even milk drops lining the border of the Loudoun County flag to symbolize the historic importance of the industry. However, in the decades since, dairy farming in the area has experienced a sharp decline. “We are trying to draw attention to the fact that if we don’t support this, all of this goes away and we don’t get to enjoy it — the visual appeal of driving by and seeing cows and open land and stone walls,” Hilgartner says. 

Hilgartner and Harding are passionate about increasing collaboration in the cheese production process, and getting the raw product to a value-added form that pays everyone along the value chain back a little more than under the traditional system. “We want [value] going back to the farmers, we want it going back to the people adding the value into [cheese] and providing the raw products,” Hilgartner emphasizes.

In honor of Village Cheeseworks’ hyper-local model, many of their cheeses are named after small towns in Hunt Country. “We wanted to put a stamp in the history books to highlight these little towns where all of the historic dairy farming happened,” Hilgartner says. Village Cheeseworks’s offerings include Zulla, a washed rind cheese; Atoka, a soft-ripened cheese; and Round Hill Camembert-style cheese, a nod to the town where Hilgartner grew up and attended high school.

Village Cheeseworks also produces Philomont Feta, named after a local town which is home to a unique, dairy-centric memorial. A plaque located next to the Philomont Country Store honors Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation, a bull raised in Loudoun County whose genetics have influenced 90% of Holstein dairy cows in the world. Hilgartner likens him to the “Genghis Khan” of Holsteins, born and bred right here in Virginia.

Hilgartner’s favorite cheese from Village Cheeseworks is the Zulla. “I love everything about it — if you let it mature to its peak ripening phase, it’s super funky,” he says. The process of making it is definitely a labor of love. Every other day, Hilgartner and Harding have to scour and scrape the cheese with a brine-soaked rag. However, this process results in a rind with a “delightful mouth feel” and a smooth, pâté-like interior.

“Long term, we have visions of collaborating with a lot of other cheese makers to market and distribute and sell dairy products on a broader scale and put the mid-Atlantic on the map,” Hilgartner says when discussing plans for the future. “We’re a very strong agriculture and dairy area. You hear about Vermont, you hear about California, but you don’t hear a lot about Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, or Pennsylvania. We’d like to draw a little more attention to the unique features of our agriculture systems here and the high quality of our milk and dairy products.” ML

Author’s Note

I had the pleasure of sampling two of Village Cheeseworks’ cheeses when writing this article: the Round Hill Camembert-style cheese and the fresh cow’s cheese with garlic and herbs.

The Round Hill Camembert is incredibly smooth and buttery with a slightly earthy aroma. I can’t wait to bring it to my Twilight Polo tailgates this summer, perhaps accompanied by some prosecco and fig and walnut crackers. The fresh cow’s cheese is light, tangy, and herbaceous, and paired perfectly with a loaf of bread from the farmer’s market for a mid-afternoon snack. 

You can purchase Village Cheeseworks cheese at multiple different locations around Hunt Country, including but not limited to Fields of Athenry Farm Shop, Market Salamander, Market at Bluewater Kitchen, and Great Country Farms. For more information, please visit:

Published in the May 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.

Scroll To Top