We like to think eating artisanal cheese is in itself a philanthropic act — supporting family dairy farmers, sustaining real food traditions, etc. — but this weekend comes another chance to eat cheese for a cause: “Cheese for Charity” at The Melting Pot. In honor of National Cheese Fondue Day, this Sunday, April 11, Melting Pot restaurants will donate $10 per every cheese fondue order to local charities. Here in the DC area, proceeds will benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (Arlington and Reston), Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (Gaithersburg), and Food & Friends (DC). Visit their website to find participating locations near you and make a reservation.

Advertisements

Spring means new lambs, calves and kids, cherry blossoms, and most importantly, the start of the annual Cheese Festival circuit. Festivals have already taken place in California and Oregon. Mark your calendars now for the mother of all cheese fests, the American Cheese Society‘s Annual Conference and Competitionthis year’s “Cheese-a-Topia” will be held August 25-28 in Seattle, Washington.

Author Michael Pollan (of Food Rules, The Omnivore’s Dilemna, In Defense of Food, etc.) will be the keynote speaker, and the conference also features tours, workshops and seminars for ACS members. Cheese enthusiasts can join the ACS to support our domestic artisanal cheesemakers for $150 — but non-members are welcome to attend the “Cheese Oscars” Award Ceremony and the Festival of Cheese. Registration opens May 21.

We’re working on updating our cheese fest and local DC/MN event calendars, so if you’re organizing an event please email us at dccheese@gmail.com or mncheese@gmail.com to be included. Thanks!

The reason for our Vermont Cheese Tour, an afternoon spent at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, organized by the Vermont Cheese Council and Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. and hosted at Shelburne Farms. Read on for my most notable picks.

the barn at Shelburne

the barn at Shelburne (photo (c) Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival)

The Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, as mentioned previously, took place on the stunningly beautiful lakefront estate of Shelburne Farms. The event organizers sold out all 1,000 available tickets several days before the event, and from reports of those who arrived earlier than I, nearly all 1,000 hungry cheese hounds tried to pack themselves into the barn during the opening hour. By the time we arrived in mid-afternoon (road-tripping with a toddler, I’ve discovered, involves exponentially more time than you would otherwise presume), the crowds had thinned somewhat and while the cheesemakers and vendors seemed exhausted, there were plenty of samples remaining. Some people reported sampling other types of food, but with limited time remaining before closing, I had to focus on the matter at hand: tasting every last morsel of cheese. It was a treat to meet some of the cheesemakers whose handiwork I have recently become acquainted with, like Crawford Family Farms (Vermont Ayr) and Thistle Farm (Tarantaise).  I even coaxed Steve Getz of Dancing Cow into being the first victim participant in our newest occasional feature here at Cheese + Champagne, “Cheesemaker Chats.” (Stay tuned.)

With the exception of those cheeses I’ve already noted, the cheeses that were most memorable (I could hardly name a favorite) were those on the two ends of the spectrum, beefy washed rinds or creamy, fresh cheeses. If I hadn’t already believed that terroir plays a key role in the flavor development of farmstead cheese, I would be even more convinced now after tasting cheeses that were redolent with complex, grassy, sweet and sometimes floral flavors that reflected the mountain meadows we drove through on our way to Shelburne.

Dorset by Consider Bardwell

Dorset by Consider Bardwell

Washed rinds I loved included Dorset by Consider Bardwell, Willoughby by Ploughgate Creamery (washed in local mead), the alluring Sarabande by Dancing Cow, and of course, Oma from  von Trapp Farmstead/Cellars at Jasper Hill. Oh Oma, that lusty, barnyardy, silky smooth wonder.

coastal ricotta from Rhode Island

And on the fresh side, Vermont Shepherd ricotta lama, creamy chevre from Fat Toad Farm, and the incredible Narragansett Creamery ricotta (despite being an interloper from Rhode Island) are also worth seeking out. A Murray’s staff member and I chatted over the ricotta, where he wondered aloud whether the ricotta stood out on its own merits alone or because it was such a palate refresher after tasting more than a hundred rich cheeses. Either way, it was divine. The boy enjoyed the berry-topped samples and we savored it again back in New York, drizzled with honey. Delish.

One non-cheese item I did take time to taste was the summer sausage from VT Smoke and Cure — my beagle later enjoyed it too, sniffing it out in my cooler bag when we arrived back home and devouring the entire stick. (So much for my husband’s souvenir.)

There were seminars and book signings, as well as food vendors outside the barn. I missed my cheddar and beer pairing seminar, but Boston foodie Kelly of The Pink Apron gives a review of the cheese pairing seminar by Murray’s VP Liz Thorpe. I did sample North Branch Vineyards wines, on the advice of Steve from Dancing Cow. The boy enjoyed the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream truck, naturally, and my final sampling was of a delightful horchata from one of the food vendors.

Vermont is studded with small family dairy farms, and the festival felt like a big, happy family reunion. I hope to continue visiting for years to come and watching the state’s farmstead cheese revolution continue to grow.

P.S. See the Whrrl slideshow for a few more pictures, though unfortunately due to an improperly charged camera battery (doh!) I was left relying on my iphone for pics.

Just a teaser. More to come when (if) I get back from Vermont. (Click for slideshow.)

This spring, a new cheese shop opened on the main street of Old Town Alexandria, Va. That makes two cheese-dedicated shops each precisely 1.1 miles from my home, plus several cheese-stocking gourmet shops, which makes this cheesewriter one happy clam. Or curd, I guess you could say. Despite its French name and inspiration —  co-owner Sebastien Tavel is a native of the Rhone region — La Fromagerie specializes in high quality, local and domestic artisanal cheeses. A blackboard behind the sales counter proudly proclaims their support for several cheesemakers in the Chesapeake Bay region, including Everona Dairy (VA), Firefly Farms (MD) and Keswick Creamery (PA).

While they have a handful of your old European mainstays, Roquefort and the like, this is not the place to go with narrow-minded intentions of obtaining a specific Alpine cheese or brand of Robiola. Rather, this is the perfect shop to spend some time letting Sebastien and his wife Mary fill you in on their latest find. They offer domestic prosciutto and charcuterie from La Quercia (Iowa) and Salumeria Biellese (NYC), fresh, local glass-jarred milk, butter and yogurt (from Trickling Springs and Blue Ridge Dairies) and a carefully chosen wine and beer selection.  They’re also planning to host classes in the near future.  And with drier summer days finally in sight (perhaps?), call in an order for a local cheese and Virginia country ham picnic basket and stroll down to the waterfront for a romantic cheese lovers’ tryst.

This Saturday, June 6, La Fromagerie will host Firefly Farms’ cheesemakers for a special meet-the-cheesemaker tasting from 4 to 7 pm, and they are having a sale on burger-ready bleu cheeses through the weekend. Visit the website for more details, or stop by the upper King Street shop en route to the water taxi if you’re headed to the National Harbor Food & Wine Festival.

La Fromagerie
1222 King Street
Alexandria, VA
703.879.2467
http://www.lafromagerieonline.com
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30am – 8:00pm
Sunday 11:30am – 7:00pm
Closed on Mondays