Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Day 861 : Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

This weekend was a whirlwind of driving, creamery and brewery visits, an artisanal chocolate shop, festivals, and more stops all culminating in yesterday's fourth annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival. So lets start there and work our way back through the weekend over the next few days.

Each year the Vermont Cheesemaker's Festival is housed in the Coach Barn at the gorgeous and sprawling Shelburne Farms overlooking Lake Champlain. This year's festival boasted over forty Vermont based cheesemakers offering tastes of over two hundred different cheeses. Apart from the creameries -- there were local wineries,  breweries, distilleries, chocolatiers, bakers, breadmakers, and many other small production local speciality food purveyors and producers. With 1750 tickets available to the public and another 250 for media and comps, the event was packed to the gills full of industry and trade, cheese lovers, foodies, and much much more!

My game plan for this year's festival was really to have the opportunity to chat with a bunch of people who I hadn't necessarily had the chance to chat with in depth before, so if I missed out on your cheeses and your table here, I apologize but I hope I give you a nice summary of my experiences. Before we get started, I'd just like to say to a few creameries how much I always love your cheeses even though I won't necessarily be focusing on your cheeses today but that doesn't mean that you won't figure into this week's Vermont recap which many of these creameries will. So here's to the Cellars at Jasper Hill, Cob Hill Cheese, Consider Bardwell, Narragansett Creamery, Spring Brook Farm, Thistle Hill farm, Vermont Butter and Cheese, and Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company -- keep on producing all of the excellent cheeses you guys are making! Stay tuned later in the week for an in depth look at: Spring Brook Farm, Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company, Cob Hill Cheese, and Vermont Butter and Cheese's new creamery renovations!

Let's start with Sage Goat Farm Dairy located in Stowe -- a small production family run goat dairy started by two sisters in 2008. Sage Goat Farm Dairy crafts seven different cheeses -- from a fresh chevre and feta on the younger side to two soft ripened aged goat's milk cheeses; an ash ripened aged goat's milk cheese inspired by the French Loire Valley goat king, Valencay; an aged firm alpine style tomme and a maple liqueur soaked maple leaf wrapped aged goat's milk cheese. Each of their cheeses is clean, fresh, alive and tangy with a raw honesty to them -- you can totally tell that these cheeses were made with lots of love and care. Check out their new chevre  with local lavender, bee pollen, and other aromatics. Young and flavorful -- this cheese screams summertime in the Upper Valley to me -- perfect for a picnic in the grass with a bottle of bubbles.

Although somewhat far from the world of cheese, my next stop was at Caledonia Spirits and Winery from Hardwick, Vermont where I fell in love with their Barr Hill Gin. Disclaimer - I love gin, definitely without a doubt, my favorite spirit. Caledonia has been around for less than a year and on top of their gin, they produce three different meads, a vodka, and an Elderberry Cordial. Each is crafted with raw Vermont honey made by Todd Hardie, the man behind Caledonia. Why raw honey? Well Hardie has over forty years of beekeeping experience under his belt, along with being a naturalist. The gin is crafted with juniper berries and raw honey giving way to an aromatic and smooth mouthfeel -- flavorful yet light, this is fantastic sipping gin!

Next stop was at Westfield Farm based out of Massachusetts whose cheeses I have written up many a time but I needed to take a moment to say how fabulous their White Buck is -- a soft ripened, bloomy rinded goat's milk log modeled on non-ash ripened St Maure. It's mushroomy and fluffy yet tangy, citrusy, bright, and grassy! Great with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc on a hot day. Also interesting to me is that the only place in NYC you can find their cheese is at Eataly. 

Next stop -- Blythedale Farms hailing from Corinth, VT. Known for their Brie and Camembert, Blythedale makes a hugely popular Gruyere and a Grana style cheese. The Grana is utilized for all of the American Flatbread (an awesome farm to table flatbread joint currently in Burlington, Middlebury, and Waitsfield, Vermont). Their Grana was nutty, rustic, and earthy with a farmsteady caramelly bent and of course a nice dose of aged cheese crystallization. 

Next stop was at Mt Mansfield Creamery from Morrisville, Vermont. Mt Mansfield started crafting cheese in 2009 and boy what a long way they have come in a few short years! Already an award winner, their Inspiration cheese  just blew me away yesterday. Why you may ask? Inspiration is modeled on a semi-soft washed rind Corsican cheese except here it has been washed in Lake Champlain Chocolate Stout. Earthy, rustic, and nutty with a smooth, round, melt in your mouth feel and a slight residual sweetness - this cheese definitely finds its home with a nice tall pint of beer. 

Next stop was Plymouth Artisan Cheese Company based in Plymouth, Vermont. Boasting one of the oldest creameries in Vermont, the factory was built in 1890 by Calvin Coolidge's father. Their cheeses are granular curd cheeses inspired by the cheeses crafted by our nation's founding fathers. They just started crafting their first washed rind cheese known as Gracie's Choice -- a British style farmstead cheese with a nice rustic bite, it would go great with a nice Amber Ale on a slightly chilly day. Also of note was their 2 year aged Hunter -- nutty and buttery with a nice sense of roundness and that classic aged crystallized tang! Would be great with a medium bodied red. 

Next stop Boston Post dairy hailing from Enosburg Falls, Vermont. A family owned farm since 1962 now run by the four sisters of the family. Eleven Brothers, yes folks they have eleven brothers totaling fifteen siblings, was a wonderful cheese discovery at their table. An aged goat's milk tomme that was bright, grassy, and citrusy with a nice tangy farmsteady rustic finish -- perfect with a glass of Cotes du Rhone.

Although I seem to not have any photos from Blue Ledge Farm, I'd love to their newish blue cheese that I fell in love with : Middlebury Blue. I've known and loved Blue Ledge's Crottina for a while but their blue is a newer release and it is creamy yet spicy and piquant with a nice well rounded kick. Rustic and earthy yet full bodied and flavorful - this is a blue cheese to savor.

Moving out of the state of Vermont for a moment to Cricket Creek Farm in Williamstown, Mass with their Tobasi. Tobasi is a three to four month aged semi soft washed rinded raw cow's milk cheese that is fabulous. Unctuous and creamy yet rustic, nutty,  farmsteady and barnyardy -- a dynamic cheese that does a flavor dance on your palate. Excellent for the washed rind new comer, it does not overwhelm but certainly delights. Great with a glass of Riesling or Gewurztraminer.

Where have I been that I didn't know Shelburne Farms made a Clothbound Cheddar? It's fantastic! It has a very small distribution but if you can get your hands on some of it, make sure to jump on it. Rustic, farmsteady, and meaty yet with a tangy, nutty, crumbly-ness that just delights!

One more stop minus a photo -- Von Trapp Farmstead who is definitely most well-known for their washed rind Tomme style raw cow's milk cheese, Oma. Apart from Oma, Von Trapp Farmstead makes two other cheeses -- one of which I fell in love with -- Savage. The cheese is named after Samuel S. Savage who was the original settler to the Von Trapp farmstead in Waitsfield, Vermont. A cooked and pressed Alpine style cow's milk cheese that is aged for anywhere between eight and twelve months. Nutty and buttery with a roundness of flavor and a nice grassy, slight sweet finish. 

I didn't even cover some of the wines that I enjoyed but that will be for another blog post.

Overall - an awesome showing of American artisanal cheeses, so many new exciting developments on the horizon! It gives me such pleasure to see the creativity and ingenuity in each and everyone of these cheesemakers and I cannot wait to see what's up next!

Here's to all of you!

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