On a recent Sunday morning, I headed to the Green Mountain state, otherwise known as Vermont, in pursuit of cheese. Knowing that Vermont cheesemakers are considered some of the best in the country – if not the world – had me pushing the “pedal to the metal” as I drove north on Rte. 89 to reach my destination – the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival at Shelburne Farms.
Driving into the entrance of Shelburne Farms, with its’ bucolic setting of meandering fields and magnificent architectural structures, along the shores of Lake Champlain, on a picture perfect day after a week of scorching weather, was the perfect start to what ended up being a top ten foodie experience. I followed a small procession of cars all headed to the Coach Barn, where the array of curds and whey were waiting to be sampled by amateur fans, as well as professional mongers. This cheese festival had it all – cheese, crackers, jams, jellies, cheese, wine, chocolate, cider, jerky, cheese, bread, confections, whiskey, ales, did I mention cheese?
Samples were spilling out and lavishly displayed upon purveyors tables. Where to head first was the challenging decision for one to make. A beautiful round of True Blue cheese from Woodcock Farm caught my attention first and from then on the morning just got better and better. Next in line, I met the dynamic brother duo from Von Trapp Farmstead, who were slicing samples of their tasty Alpine-style Savage. Although I loved tasting the Savage, my heart led me to the purchase of a wedge of Mad River Blue.
Visiting every cheesemaker at this cheese extravaganza was almost impossible, but my goal was to taste every cheese that I encountered. Round the bend from the Von Trapp brothers, I met the engaging team from The Cellars at Jasper Hill, who were happily showcasing their cheese selection. The line was a smidgeon longer at this cheesemaker due to the variety of cheese that they cellar in their popular cave. I was infatuated with both the cheese and the mongers at this table and sampled their Alpha Tolman and Moses Sleeper. More importantly, I learned that one was able to make an immediate purchase of their award winning (and absolutely, staggeringly, give-yourself-a-stomach-ache delicious) Harbison, which they kept a hidden stash of in coolers below their table.
Tables of upon tables offering tasting samples of goat cheese, cow’s milk cheese, sheep milk cheese, blue cheese, cheddar cheese, chevre, tarentaise, bloomy rind cheese, all kinds of cheese: you can bet everyone in attendance was smiling ear to ear. Consider Bardwell Farm had a huge spread of samples to feast upon, the Rupert being a favorite, while Vermont Shepard Verano wheels, decorated with an embossed sheep graphic, had everyone complimenting these lesser known makers.
Now I’m not a jerky girl, but meeting SlantShack Jerky was quite a delight since they were offering their various grass fed beef meat snacks to sample. I couldn’t resist. Tasting the Jerk McGurk’s Wild Rubdown won me over and I purchased my very first bag of jerky EVER!
Before heading to the inner courtyard of the Coach Barn, I sauntered by the Shelburne Farms host table and tasted their magnificent Cloth bound Cheddar. Who doesn’t need a little cheddar in their life? Of course, to compliment cheese you always need bread and O Bakery was happily sharing and selling loaves of their healthy varieties. Their Olive Ciabatta was a loaf I could not pass up and another purchase was made.
Heading into the inner courtyard of the Coach Barn had me all a twitter, for, lo and behold, was Twig Farm with cheesemonger Michael Lee discussing the Twig Farm Fuzzy Wheel, which had everyone curious. Although it looks a bit worse for wear, as though it has collected a bit of dust and mold, the flavor of this cheese was intensely delicious.
Red Hen Baking Company had an artistic display of their baguettes, from poppy seed to plain, along with their Crosset Hill Batard made from local rye and wheat. However, the “piece di resistance” in this tent was the show stopping (for those with a sweet tooth) Big Picture Farm and their indescribable, decadently delicious, farmstead goat milk caramels. Outside of chocolate, this is my second weakness in the confectionery category. I bought a stick of this incredible buttery confection, hoping that it would last longer than it did.
Last but not least, I wandered inside to sample my first tastes of chocolate. Laughing Moon Chocolates had unique dark chocolate bars with Cardamon or Chipotle Cinnamon,and a spicy bite that I couldn’t resist. Daily Chocolate had a Pistachio Green Chili Bark that had everyone talking and purchasing – it seems like spicy chocolate is in vogue! Rounding out my barn adventure, had me munching on Jan’s Farmhouse Crisps, which were light yet delicious, enhanced with the flavor of cranberries, pistachios and pumpkin seeds. Bag bought, bag eaten.
I had already hit the ATM machine once, and I knew it was time to go before I drained my bank account. Plus, my energy was waning quickly from cheese and chocolate overload, so I made the wise decision to depart, but not without walking by the Switchel station.
What is Switchel? Well “Slake your thirst” and try this old fashioned energy concoction. Better and healthier than Gatorade, this thirst quenching original is a Vermont beauty for those who dare to be bold.
Leaving this festival of cheese love was difficult but all good things do have to come to an end, however as I headed to my car, I noticed a late arrival to the scene, a fiery red food truck. Hmm, what other morsel could I sample from this roving mobile cuisine, the Hind Quarter? With my last bit of pocket change, I ordered the Fried Green Tomato Sandwich with thinly sliced marinated red onions, fresh arugula and burrata cheese and buttermilk dressing. Never regretting that final decision, my advice is simple: spare none and try all at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival next year!