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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The 2010 Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

cheese from Hildene

Yesterday, we attended the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, held at the coach house of Shelburne Farms, on the shores of Lake Champlain.  I can't imagine a more delightful way to spend Sunday, than to meet 50 fascinating cheesemakers, sample countless wonderful cheeses, sip a glass of Vermont wine or microbrew, taste an array of creative local food products, and listen to the remarkable Steve Jenkins lead a panel discussion. Come with me, and I'll show you some of the highlights.

The Venue

I'd never been to the coach house before, because you have to drive all the way through Shelburne Farms, past the massive Farm Barn, past the Victorian manor house, right along the shore of Lake Champlain. 

The coach house, an impressive structure in its own right, was a hive of activity.  The show filled the structure, its courtyard, and spilled out into tents in front.  Cheese excitement was in the air.

Even the cows looked excited:

The Show

The Vermont Cheesemakers’ Festival was organized by Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery in partnership with the Vermont Cheese Council.  These terrific people have done a great service to the cheesemaking community and cheese lovers in general through their efforts, and I am extremely grateful.  I met Rachel Schaal from the Vermont Cheese Council, who explained the process for becoming a member, and showed me the cheese map of Vermont.  Wouldn't that be a perfect vacation?  Drive around Vermont,  visiting cheesemakers and sampling cheese... Wait, I'm already in Vermont, and I was at the cheese show, surrounded by cheese!  Back to it.

We looked at the gorgeous display presented by Provisions International, who distribute many of the cheeses in the show.   

And then commenced the long, leisurely walkaround.  So many great people, all caring tremendously about what they do.   I met the people from Olivia's Croutons, who harvest local wheat (not easy in Vermont!) to make their croutons.  Which were delicious in the salad they had at the table.  I love it when people give me salad, don't you?  The wheat harvest was the next day, and I wished them luck.

Next, a very exotic rind caught my eye.  It was rough, like tree bark, and pink with gray.  This was Tobasi from Cricket Creek Farm, a tomme-style, 3 to 4-month aged cheese, very mellow and buttery:

Cricket Creek Tobasi

I have toured Hildene, the home of Abraham Lincoln's son, over in Manchester, Vermont.  But I didn't know they made cheese!  How could I have missed it?  The cheesemaker explained that they've only been making cheese for about a year.  But oh, it was wonderful!  They are making a delicious Havarti, and a beautiful, silky chevre.  At the table, they served the chevre with a little crystallized ginger on top..... lovely.

Hildene chevre

Jasper Hill Cellars is a 22,000-sq. ft. affinage facility, which partners with several Vermont cheesemakers to finish their cheeses to perfection, each in its own way.  This is where Cabot clothbound picks up its particular character.  They brought along their own Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen Blue and Constant Bliss.  And of course, Cabot Clothbound.

Ploughgate Creamery presented their tender, bloomy-rind Hartwell, which is also aged at Jasper Hill Cellars: 

And then it was time for some chocolate.  Lake Champlain Chocolates insisted that we consume several to-die-for truffles, made with silken, dark chocolate full of dense ganache.... and then the milk chocolate squares with sea salt crystals (my favorite, these are crazy-good).  We complied.

Vermont Shepherd is a perennial favorite; this year, their new Queso del Invierno (cheese of Winter, for the Spanish-challenged) was a star!  These people have a wonderful enthusiasm for their cheese, and the cheese shows it.  I loved the Invierno. 

I also enjoyed sampling Willow Hill Farm's excellent sheep- and cow's-milk cheeses.  I love sheep's milk cheese; recently I read that this is one of the key things to eat if you want to live to 100.  Keep it in mind. 

Vermont Butter and Cheese stepped up and showed everyone how it's done.  Their table was absolutely gorgeous, their cheeses and other products were varied and superb, and their crew was efficient and full of fun.  Well done!  I especially liked the... . let's be honest, I loved it all.   But I especially loved the Coupole aged goat cheese, which was perfection.

And speaking of goat cheese, Lazy Lady Farm's Mixed Emotions absolutely knocked my socks off, and I was wearing Merrells.  This cheese, described as raw milk, 60 days, goat milk and cream, washed curd and natural rind, was a tomme-style wonder.  It was tomme-much!  It was Beyond Thunder Tomme!  I kept going back for little bits.

Consider Bardwell Farm's Angela Miller was spreading cheer and charm, while dispensing her wonderful Dorset and goat's milk cheeses.  I first tried Consider Bardwell chevre almost five years ago, at a Vermont Fresh Network Farmers Dinner.  Her cheesemaker at the time presented the ethereal chevre, describing the care with which the cheeses were turned.  Consider Bardwell has come a long way since then, but the care and quality of their cheesemaking still shines through.

 Jeremy Stephenson's Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise was nutty, Beaufort-style goodness.  Jeremy described to me the multiple pressings and turnings which produce the smooth, subtle cheese.
Spring Brook Farm is also home to Farms for City Kids, a unique educational program combining classroom study with firsthand farming experience to give urban kids an understanding of how vital academics are to everyday life.

I attended the Cheesemakers Town Hall meeting ably hosted by Steve Jenkins of Fairway Market in New York.  I was going to put some descriptive biographical information here about Steve, but he's done so much, it's overwhelming.  Popularized the use of the word "artisanal", for instance.  He's a very active man, which is my excuse for the blurry photograph.  

 However, the panel was very interesting:  cheesemakers ranged from the large (Cabot) to the small (Ploughgate).  Jenkins wanted to know whether the use of raw milk matters in cheesemaking.

Well of course it does (my opinion, because I make raw milk cheese).  However, there are apparently
 workarounds for pasteurized milk which permit Cabot Clothbound Cheddar to have a very good flavor.  
Steve was also asking what was on the minds of Vermont cheesemakers; and how they felt about their state government's support of cheesemakers in general.  

Food for thought.  But I'm definitely going back next year!  See you there.



  1. That's it, I'm going to Vermont for this festival within the next two years. Deadline set. Fantastic write-up, and gorgeous pictures even in the dim-lit event. Thank you.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this event with us. I loved the tour through the festival. Vermont seems like such a wonderful state. I definitely have it on my list of places I must go. That cheese trail would be wonderful.

  3. @itsnotyouitsbrie, thank you! I had a great time. I'd like to do more of this kind of thing.

    @julialikesred, thanks! I agree, there was SO much deliciousness there.

    @M, yes you'd enjoy it. There's a lot going on here, if you know where to look!

  4. My husband and I attended this year after not buying tickets early enough last year! So glad I bought them early this year! This write-up brings only a tiny taste of the whole event. Every cheese lover must attend at least once.

  5. Great write-up of the event. I was lucky enough to go last year and sure hope to be able to go again next year. You captured the spirit and flavor of the event perfectly. If only we could taste through a computer screen. Those cheese photos made me hungry!

  6. Thank you, Anonymous and Laura Werlin! I'll see you there next year! --Sue

  7. This looks UNREAL! Best post about this festival I've seen yet! I truly hope I will see you there next year!


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