Last week, the Martha Stewart show aired an episode focused entirely on cheese — cheese from Vermont, to be precise. Emeril has been to Vermont recently as well. We’re tickled to see the celebrities discover what we discovered ages ago (you know, way back in August) … namely, that Vermont makes some damn good cheese. So much so that I wore myself out recapping my Vermont road trip and never got around to posting the final installment of my travelogue, our visit to Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield.

I discovered Fat Toad at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival; their rich and creamy goats-milk caramel sauces, made in the tradition of Mexican cajeta, provided one of the sweeter complements to the many samples of cheese on display. Their fresh chevre was refreshingly pure and tangy. As I chatted with Fat Toad’s Josey Hastings, she mentioned that they were located not far off of I-89, our planned route back south to New York. Because of our rush to get to the festival on Sunday (after driving from Virginia to Albany, via Queens, on Saturday) we hadn’t built in much time to visit any farms but hoped to at least stop by one before leaving the state.

Judith Irving and her goat greeters

The next day, we decided to spend some time enjoying Lake Champlain and got a later start back on the road than anticipated. I called the farm and was cautioned that they were beginning evening chores, but would try to give us a quick tour. As we navigated the country roads to the farm, we passed rolling hillside meadows full of dairy cows, including those of Neighborly Farms. It was the sunniest day yet of our road trip and a perfect day to take in the Vermont countryside. When we arrived, Josey had extracted herself from putting up zucchini and graciously gave us the full tour. The quaint farm didn’t take long to navigate, as they are a small, family-run operation with about 40 Alpine and Saanen dairy goats. It was milking time, so we missed out on seeing the goats frolicking in the meadows but got to visit with them as they awaited their turn in the milking chamber.

kissing goats @ Fat Toad Farm

Josey and her family produce most of their own food on their property, including a few pigs (who are fed excess whey, naturally) and fresh produce. The maple for their maple chevre comes from a neighbor. They’ve been making cheese commercially for only about two years, and have clearly developed a winning formula for high quality fresh chevre. The mild cheese can be used as a dip or spread (try on bagels in place of cream cheese), or in recipes like their Fat Toaders’ Caramel Goat Cheese Swirl Brownies.

The caramel sauces come in several flavors, coffee bean, cinnamon, vanilla bean, and original — and if you’re like me and can’t pick just one, you can order a gift box of all four. I bought several for holiday gifts and already gave one away to our hosts in New York; the jury is still out on whether the others will actually be gifted or remain tucked away in my pantry. (Perhaps I’d better order another set to be safe.)

the self-serve farm store

Incidentally, my new secret to the best BLT sandwich you will ever have? A generous schmear of Fat Toad Farm maple chevre in place of mayonnaise.  Pure bliss.

Thank you to Josey and family for allowing us to poke around the farm. We hope to make it back again soon!

Fat Toad Farm
787 Kibbee Rd
Brookfield, VT
802.279.0098 — call now for holiday orders
www.fattoadfarm.com

Save the Date: The 2010 Vermont Cheesemakers Festival will be held in July, Sunday the 25th, back at Shelburne Farms.

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Recently in the cheese world …

American Goat Cheese Awards: The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) annual cheese competition was held last month in New York. Congratulations to Bonnie Blue Farm (TN) for the Best in Show award for Tanasi Tomme, and to Split Creek Farm (SC) for Reserve Best in Show for Farm Feta in Olive Oil. Familiar names on the winners list include Maryland’s Firefly Farms (four awards) and Spriggs Delight Farm; Oregon’s Rivers Edge Chevre (1st in flavored hard cheeses for Astraea); California’s Redwood Hill Farm (cleaning up the yogurt & kefir categories) and Fat Toad Farm in Vermont for their goats milk caramel sauce. View the complete results here.

MSLivingNov09Craft Cheese in Mainstream Media: Martha Stewart Living’s November issue features Vermont’s artisan cheesemakers, and the cheese episode airs this Thursday, Nov. 5, featuring Liz Thorpe. Emeril Lagasse is also on the bandwagon, recently visiting Jasper Hill Farm and Bellwether Farms in California for the Emeril Green show. The Bellwether episode (“Pass the Cheese, Please”) first aired last night, Nov. 2, but check the listings for a re-run if you missed it.

Tillamook Mac ‘n Cheese Competition: Last month was the 5th annual Tillamook Macaroni and Cheese competition in Portland, OR. The winner? Ann Jones from Littleton, CO, with her “Rustic Fried Sage and Chicken Apple Sausage Mac ‘n Cheese with Autumn Chutney.” She took both grand prize and people’s choice (and, I presume, longest recipe name!). Congrats!

Free Cheese! Bellwether Farms is giving away a $100 gift certificate to one lucky winner. To enter, create an original recipe using Bellwether’s creme fraiche and submit the recipe and a photo by December 1st. View complete details here.

On the Cheese Blogs: Madame Fromage selected Meadow Creek‘s Grayson as her Halloween cheese (great pick!) … The Cheeselover Fiona Beckett is served a unique cheese course … View pictures from the 2009 PDX Wedge Festival … Check out this recipe for Savory Onion and Gouda Dutch Baby from Herbivoracious (perfect for any bits of L’Amuse or Roomano you may have around).

American Cheese on Twitter: Now that Twitter has launched their lists feature, we’ve set about to create the ultimate list of American cheesemakers/sellers/enthusiasts. If you’re interested in America’s craft cheese movement, these are our must-follows. And if you make, sell, or promote cheese in America and we somehow aren’t yet following you on Twitter, drop us a note in the comments or @100cheeses.

Cheese of the Month: The most viewed cheese review we posted for the month of October was… Coach Farm’s goat medallion (third from left, above).

Remember to check our DC and MN Cheese Event listings for classes, tastings and more … we’ll be updating as holiday events are announced. And if you have cheese events or news to share, drop us a note at dccheese@gmail.com or mncheese@gmail.com.



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.