The 2nd annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival takes place Sunday, July 25, back at the gorgeous lakeside grounds of Shelburne Farms near Burlington. (Read our recap of last year’s festival for a preview of the deliciousness involved.) Tickets sold out in advance last year, and are well on the way to doing so again, so order yours today if you plan to go.

The Vermont Cheese Council has a handy map you can consult to plan your own tour of Vermont’s 40+ dairy farms and cheesemakers over the weekend. Or, if you’re coming from New York or Boston, you can join a bus trip to travel in style.

From New York, the Murray’s coach will leave Saturday morning, tour Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery and then check you in to a three-star hotel overnight to rest up before the big day. (Last year, Murray’s led a red-eye bus trip that was reportedly quite the adventure, as there were heavy thunderstorms during the night — we experienced the same on our drive, and it was a rather harrowing trip through upstate New York.)

Formaggio Kitchen will conduct a day-trip from Boston, serving breakfast on the bus and hosting a private barbecue with their own grillmaster at Shelburne following the conclusion of the festival.

And if you’re looking for a more budget-conscious way to enjoy the festival, it’s not too late to sign up as a volunteer. Contact Hilary at VBC — HSchwoegler@vermontcreamery.com — for info or to sign up.

So tell us, have you bought your tickets yet? And if so, please report back — we’ll both be homebound with newborns and missing out on this year’s festivities.

Before we get any further into fall (it’s October already?!) I need to fill you in on one last fresh goat cheese, the Coach Farm Medallion. I didn’t think this cheese would be hard to find when I first saw it on the list, as my local cheese shop carries several Coach products, but they never seemed to have the Medallion, a small 4-ounce knob of creamy chevre. Coach Farm‘s goat cheeses were one of the first artisanal cheeses I can recall tasting, years ago on my first pilgrimage to the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan. My travel companion and I were smitten and brought back a jar of marinated goat buttons which I ate as slowly as possible to stretch out the supply.

Coach Farm is located in New York’s Hudson Valley, about two hours north of the city. Their French Alpine dairy goats graze on fresh alfalfa hay grown on the farm, plus a daily supplement of soybeans, oats and corn. Coach uses vegetable rennet, making their cheeses vegetarian-friendly. The milking parlor connects directly to the creamery, where they ladle the curds by hand, turning out consistently rich, smooth cheeses. This particular medallion was crisp, creamy and fresh tasting, silky in texture and flavor. (Is silky a flavor? It is now.)

Yes, if you’re wondering, the Coach is that Coach, of handbag fame. The founders, Miles and Lillian Cahn, retired from the fashion business and moved upstate to enjoy a quiet country life with 1,000 goats. Their hobby quickly took off and their goat cheeses have been featured in some of New York’s top restaurants — including those of Mario Batali, who is married to the Cahn’s daughter. Today, you can also find Coach’s fresh and aged goats-milk cheeses, and their delicious drinkable “Yo-Goat,” at fine cheese shops across the country. I picked up the Medallion at Marlow & Daughters, an adorable little gourmet market in Brooklyn, on our last visit to New York. We enjoyed it with a few other regional cheeses and Brooklyn-made goodies from the Bedford Cheese Shop …. more on that soon!

(Can you guess the other two cheeses on the plate? Hint: they’re from states on the I-91 corridor.)

It’s National Goat Cheese Month and we’re determined to celebrate it to the fullest here at Cheese+Champagne. We’ve already sampled most of the American goat cheeses on our list, though, so this week I found a French cheese from the list, the Jacquin Aged Crottin. For comparison’s sake — and because I suspect National Goat Cheese Month was designed to promote American cheeses — I also picked up Vermont Butter & Cheese‘s fresh crottin.

Fromagerie Jacquin‘s Aged Crottin is a product of the Loire Valley, where the traditional young goat’s milk cheese recipes (Crottin, Selles sur Cher, Valencay) must be adapted to use pasteurized milk in order to meet the FDA’s import requirements. There’s an interesting tidbit at Artisanal about their work transporting and finishing the cheeses to maintain raw-milk characteristics in these deceptively complex cheeses. The aged crottin is a dense little dimpled ball of goats-milk that loses its goaty tang to mellow with age; firm and a little bit gamey, it has a buttery rich flavor.

The Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. crottin is younger, and I ironically got it for free at my cheese shop as they had too many on hand and find them hard to sell when they begin to age and look “like a real crottin.” It is softer, creamier, a little floral in flavor and still retains more of that tangy goat flavor you would expect from a young goat cheese. The company also make an aged version called Bijou that may be more similar to the Jacquin; I will be sure to keep an eye out for it and give it a try. (If you’re not familiar with Vermont Butter & Cheese, they were some of the pioneers of the Vermont cheese industry, launching a French-inspired goat cheese business in 1984 that now supports more than 20 family dairy farms around the state. They just won awards at ACS for their fresh goat cheese, fromage blanc and butters.)

These cute little doorknob-sized cheeses are perfect for summer entertaining. I made a late afternoon cheese board of the two, a bright citrusy Salumi Agrumi, and a fig-olive tapenade whose sweet-salty tango was perfect with the mildly tangy crottins. Fromagerie Jacquin suggests a Sancerre or “rouge corsé” with the aged crottin; I enjoyed it with a Virginia Petit Verdot from North Gate.

P.S. I found the Jacquin aged crottin at the Italian Store in Arlington, Va.

The first sign of summer’s field-ripened tomatoes calls for fresh mozzarella, and there’s no finer specimen than the original buffalo mozzarella of Italy, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana.  From the milk of water buffalo (not to be confused with American bison) comes this fresh, spongey cheese with a milky, slightly sour flavor that distinguishes from the readily-available cows’ milk mozzarellas. It is also a more tender cheese than American variations, the curds breaking down until it becomes a puddle of mush. (At which point it’s definitely past its prime — fresh bufala mozzarella should be eaten quickly after purchase.) It is produced in the Campania region, around Naples, and DOC-protected.

There are various legends to explain how water buffalo found their way to Italy, but history is clear that they have produced fresh cheese from said buffalo since at least the 12th century. Mozzarella is often overlooked by serious cheese lovers, but few cheeses are as perfectly refreshing on a hot summer’s day. And the mild flavor makes pairing a breeze, as it would be hard to find a wine or beer that wouldn’t work.  Of course you can eat it as is, or sliced and layered with heirloom tomatoes, basil, and drizzled with olive oil. Tonight we had an impromptu picnic at the playground, where a salami, Mediterranean salad and crackers rounded out the meal.

Read more about Italy’s most popular cheese in this travelogue from LA Times writer Susan Spano, who describes pulling her car to the side of the road to tear into a bag: “With the cheese slithering in my hands, I took a bite, breaking through the thin, shiny rind into dissolving layers of musky-tasting paradise, juice streaming down my chin.”

P.S. The crackers? One of my favorite finds at the recent National Harbor Food & Wine Festival in DC. Locally made right here in Maryland, Little Ragghi’s crisp flatbread are seasoned with olive oil and parmesan cheese for a perfectly satisfying crunch. Their tagline is “quite possibly the world’s most addicting crackers,” and I have to say, they may be right!

(You can find both Little Ragghi’s crackers and the pictured mozzarella di bufala at Cheesetique in Va.)