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.

The Cheese + Champagne Vermont Cheese Week Tour continues with another Vermont cheddar on the Wine Spectator list.

The third of the Wine Spectator 100 cheeses* I was able to sample in Vermont was Grafton Village’s clothbound cheddar. I’ve sampled their younger cheddars previously, but had been unable to find their clothbound version locally. (In fact, when I called one cheese shop to inquire they thought I must be referring to the Cabot/Jasper Hill clothbound and encouraged me to try that instead.)

photo courtesty of Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival 

photo courtesty of Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

Clothbound cheddars are common in the U.K., but a fairly new phenomenon here in the States. We’ve written before about the Cabot/Jasper Hill joint venture, and the Grafton Village clothbound is a team project as well. As we learned at the June Fancy Food Show, Grafton is now sending their wheels of clothbound cheddar to be aged in the sandstone caves of Faribault Dairy in Minnesota.

Grafton clothbound begins with hormone-free raw milk from their Jersey cows, produced by their co-op of Vermont dairy farmers, and is aged up to 10 months to develop a smooth, creamy yet earthy flavor and the familiar crumbly texture of good cheddar.

My taste buds were too taxed to try a Grafton/Cabot head-to-head taste off after making my rounds at the festival, but if you have the opportunity to try both at the same time I encourage you to do so and report back. And if you can’t find it at your local cheese shop, Grafton offers it for sale online.

* editor’s note/musings: At the time of the Wine Spectator selection, Grafton’s clothbound was also aged at Jasper Hill. Since we were unable to taste it until now, we have no idea how the taste might have changed with the move to a new aging facility. But wouldn’t that be a fun tasting experiment to taste identical cheeses aged in caves more than 1,000 miles apart?

 

As someone who attempts to eat mostly locally, particularly during the summer months, I generally look the other way when purchasing cheeses shipped by plane, train and auto across the Atlantic or from the West Coast. Sure, I have plenty of fine, local cheeses to incorporate into my weekly all-local meals, outside of the scope of our “100 Great Cheeses” list. But as the French national holiday Bastille Day approached, I began to wonder, is there anything France can do that we haven’t tried in the US? Would an all-American cheese and sparkling wine tasting leave us wanting something more?

With the grudging assistance of my cheesemonger, aghast at my proposal of “ignoring 2,000 years of French cheesemaking history,” I assembled four all-American cheeses made according to French recipes:

  • Jasper Hill Farm‘s Constant Bliss (Vermont), made in the raw-milk tradition of chaource but with only the uncooled evening milk of their Ayrshire cows, this rich, buttery cheese seems like a double- or triple-creme, and pairs perfectly with a sparkling wine.
  • Roth Kase‘s Grand Cru Gruyére Reserve (Wisonsin), another raw milk pick, is as smooth as any French gruyére, with fruity, nutty notes. I loved this with the chocolate and both the bubbly and beer.
  • Sartori Raspberry BellaVitano (Wisconsin) is a cheddar-textured cheese soaked in New Glarus Raspberry Tart Ale for a decidedly American flavor. As smooth as a comté, the added berry tang makes this a nice match for sparkling wine.
  • Salemville Amish Blue (Wisconsin) is a very mild, sweet buttery blue that would not be my first choice among American blues. It was actually almost too sweet for the ale, but was mild enough not to overpower the sparkling wine.

I paired the cheeses with homemade pickled sour cherries (following a French recipe), Taza Mexican-style chocolate from Massachusetts, Thibaut-Janisson sparkling wine from Virginia, and Southampton Abbot 12, a Belgian-style ale from New York. Not exactly a 100-mile cheese board by any means, but still entirely sourced from the Eastern half of the United States.

The Constant Bliss and Thibaut-Janisson were just as sweetly matched as chaource and champagne, while the more sweet than tangy American blue was more appreciated by the blue cheese-adverse than those of us with a weakness for Roquefort. All in all it was a solid showing by the Americans. And what did we eat following the tasting? All-American buffalo dogs on the grill and a cherry pie for dessert. Vive la Revolución Américain!


We could recommend some of our favorite hoity-toity American cheeses to mark our nation’s 233rd birthday, but let’s be honest — the only cheese most Americans will be chowing down on on Saturday are those slathered over a juicy slab of beef* (or turkey or tofu). The New York Times today offered advice on creating the perfect burger, but in our not-so-humble opinion, the real ingredient to watch is the cheese. You might enjoy a healthy dollop of Roquefort or an Irish cheddar on your every day burgers, but needless to say the 4th of July calls for more patriotic selections. Fortunately, American cheesemakers are a force to be reckoned with (and they were a large contingent of the cheese crew that made up the largest single food category at this week’s Fancy Food Show).

If you prefer a classic burger, try a cheddar from Vermont’s Grafton Village, and you can’t go wrong with Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen or Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue.

For a Greek-American burger, dress it up with Hidden Hills Dairy Bolton Feta (from Pennsylvania) or goats’ milk feta from Mozzarella Company of Texas. 

Stink it up with Meadow Creek’s Grayson, an American tallegio (the 2009 batch has just been released), or go for total sensory overload with a dollop of Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor.

If you really just have to have individually-wrapped slices of pre-cut cheese — well, you probably aren’t reading this blog. But just in case, let me point you toward Tillamook’s cheddar cheese singles so you can still enjoy the convenience without compromising on a “cheese food product.”

If you need additional incentive to seek out artisanal American cheeses for your July 4th celebration, see the “Cheese as an Act of Patriotism” post at The Saxelby Almanac. And tell us, what’s the best cheese and beef pairing you’ve ever had??

(*I’m going to assume you’re using local, grassfed and e.coli-free ground beef, but here’s some advice if you need help finding a local beef provider – and check out the craft beer finder to find a good patriotic beer to wash it down.)