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Backstory: Saddest Epilogue


Published December 29, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 29, 2021 at 2:17 p.m.

Anne Saxelby, 1981-2021 - COURTESY OF CHRISTINE HAN
  • Courtesy Of Christine Han
  • Anne Saxelby, 1981-2021

This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2021.

I never met Anne Saxelby, who opened Saxelby Cheesemongers in New York City in 2006, but I interviewed her via email and phone probably half a dozen times. Anne was a staunch, vocal supporter of the American artisan cheese movement before many people took it as seriously as the centuries-old European cheesemaking tradition. And she put her money where her mouth was by stocking only American-made cheeses and other dairy products.

Almost without exception, when I wrote about Vermont farmstead cheesemakers or small-batch makers of butter or buttermilk, they would mention Anne Saxelby. She and her well-trained staff were knowledgeable, articulate and passionate ambassadors for Vermont dairy. Not only consumers, but also chefs, national food writers and other tastemakers came to Anne for advice on the best cheese America had to offer, generating an invaluable multiplier effect.

Whenever I would email or call her for comment, Anne was responsive, eloquent and generous with her time. When I sent her a link to the resulting article, she would always respond with a short note of appreciation and a positive comment. This is fairly uncommon — especially among big-city sources. 

In late September, I emailed Anne for a story I was writing about Laini Fondiller of Lazy Lady Farm in Westfield. The two had known each other since before Anne opened her shop. She was on the road and requested that I send her questions via email. 

Among her detailed answers, Anne recounted the first time she visited Laini. "I stayed in a very odd bed-and-breakfast in Westfield, and drove to the farm — in the snow, in March, in a rental car that wasn't very well equipped for the snow (very city girl of me!!) around 9 am. She was making cheese and invited me to sit in the cheese house and ask questions. She wasn't unfriendly, but you could tell immediately that she was a VERY focused, direct, driven person who didn't want to waste any time. I'd ask her a question, she'd answer, and then say 'next!' or 'what else?' I love that about her." 

None of that anecdote made it into the final story, but it helped me better understand the pioneering Vermont cheesemaker I was writing about — as observations from the best sources do. 

After I sent Anne my thanks for her responses, she wrote back, "Thank you for reaching out and for profiling Laini! She's one of my heroes!!" On Wednesday, October 6, I sent her a link to the article, and on Friday morning she replied with a nice note. The following day, I learned that Anne had died unexpectedly from a heart condition.

She was just 40 and left behind three young children and a husband, among other family members and close colleagues. Anne also left an extended family of cheesemakers, chefs and others who took to social media to share what she meant to them and to the vibrant American artisan cheese community that owes so much to her unwavering support. My loss is but a drop in the milk bucket, but I will miss her, too.