HOW LOCAL CHEESEMAKERS MADE VERMONT THE NAPA VALLEY OF CHEESE MAKING

Cheese makers from the Von Trapp Farmstead in Waitsfield, Vermont offer samples of some of their award-winning creations. Oma was our favorite, a distinctive washed-rind/Tomme style organic unpasturized cows cheese.

Ooo – cheese! We’ve been cheese fans for a long time so when we were offered a chance to attend this years’ sold out 7th Annual Vermont Cheemakers Festival by our good friends Tom and Bennett, we couldn’t resist. This past weekend Joe and I boarded the dogs and drove up to the lush Green Mountains of Vermont for a bit a rest, relaxation and cheese. On the way up we stopped by Tom and Bennetts farm, Tom happens to not only be the event’s organizer but also is the executive director of the Vermont Cheese Council. The two of them just adopted one of our dogs (Lydias last litter) so little Maeva was happy to see us, if only for an hour. After all, they are practically in-laws now.

Jasper Hill Farm (Greensboro, VT) is one of the cheese makers who has helped change how the world and cheese enthusiasts think about Vermont cheese. Their caves ( cellars) – an underground cheese-aging facility which they share with select cheese makers and local farms, offers the perfect temperature and humidity for aging specific cheeses (such as blues). It is encouraging to hear about their collaborative efforts and about their many successes.
The event naturally focused on cheese, but many stalls featured other artisional items from Vermont and New England ranging from bourbon and other distilled spirits, to craft beer, wine, jams and jellies and even salumi.
Cheese becomes art at Cricket Creek Farm as demonstrated by the decorative pattern on these Maggies Round wheels.

Tom is also the head of the Vermont Cheese Council, and spends much of his time organizing this event which has become one of America’s 10 best US Food festivals according to Foders. This was the 7th Annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival and if you haven’t been, mark it on your calendar for next year – that is, if you love cheese, wine, craft beer, chocolate, honey, and just about anything that comes from the ground or a kitchen in Vermont. The surprise for me was were this even was held -the spectacular grounds of Shelburne Farms in Shelburne Vermont.

The landscape at Shelburne Farms doesn’t look like this by accident – we have Frederick Law Olmsted to thank. Really!

Before I go any further – I have to share with you the location of this event, for that alone is worth a post.

Oh, just a little barn where they keep some sheep. The Coach Barn at Shelburn Farms may just be one of the most beautiful barns I’ve ever seen – Heck, it definitely is. Thank you 19th C. architect Robert Robertson – (by the way, nice name alliteration! And I can say that since I am Matt Mattus.).

The location couldn’t be more stunning, the event is held at Shelburne Farms, – a non profit education organization set of a camp that is 1,400 acre working farm, first and National Historic Landmark. Shelburne Farms is dedicated to cultivate a conservation ethic for a sustainable future. Located on the shores of Lake Champlain on a farm and estate built in 1886 with spectacular views created but he landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Sr who created the conceptual designs for the grand landscape.

Italy? Nope. Vermont. The gardens behind the grand home at Shelburne Farms situated on Lake Champlain take me back to…Lago de Garda.
By itself, without the lakeside and the vista, this could be located in England and not northern Vermont.

The architecture perhaps even outlines the landscape vistas with buildings sand barns designed by the prominent architect Robert H. Robertson who designed the Farm Barn a Breeding Bard and a spectacular Coach Barn as well as the Shelburne house itself. This grand family residence and working farm once the home of Dr. William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb (yeah, those Vandebilt’s) was renown even then for its innovative practices. The site is such as treasure, and worth visiting or dining at if you are ever in northern Vermont.

Robert Robertsons craftsmanship in design. Incredibly detailed shingle and wood craftsmanship – for a barn.
The colors inspired me – those who know me know that I have a passion for shades of green on a house – even the Tyvek sheeting looks great on nicely designed houses until they cover it with beige clapboards. Bring back the green!
I can imagine the main house ( which is about a half mile from this coach house) calling down for three coaches – “Quick. Three coaches to take us to Starbucks in Burlington – pronto!”
Relaxing with a view.
Again, Italianate vision of Vermont (and New York State on the other side).
Papaver somniferous just finishing their season and developing their distinctive seed pods.
Down on the shore of Lake Champlain, a carriage path the leads on to the coach house and cheese making facilities.
BACK TO THE CHEESEMAKERS FECTIVAL

This cheese festival started when Allison Hooper and Bob Reese of Vermont Creamery threw a party at Shelburne Farms, inviting their fellow cheese makers to celebrate their collective success in putting Vermont of the map as the “Napa Valley of Cheese.” Today, Vermont has more cheese makers per capita than any other state, and more than 40 of them came together at this years’ festival at Shelburne Farms.

Bread, croissants and pastry balanced out the diet.
Aged cheeses and unpasturised cheese is making an heroic comeback here in Vermont.

With more than 200 cheeses that we could taste as well as purchase, as well as tons of artisan foods, local wines and Vermont-made beer and spirits, we spent many hours – I did find some favorites however. Barr Hill vodka (produced by Caledonia Spirits right on Barr Hill, in Hardwick, Vermont ) which Joe and I ‘tested’ in rather obscene volumes the night before,was just one that I enjoyed. This Vodka – well, listen – I’m one of those guys who just buys fancy Vodka believing that cheep Vodka burns ones throat? – I’m not sure if any vodka tastes any different from rubbing alcohol, but I want to “believe” that some of it does. Barr Hill Vodka was so smooth, that I first mentioned it to Joe before I knew that he spent a pretty penny on that first martini (and the second, and the third). Considering that now 8 hours later at 10 in the morning and I am sipping it once again ( hey, I was “testing” it – that’s all. And– I was on a 2 day vacation, OK?), I found that I had to buy a bottle. Thankfully, I didn’t have to – Joe already did.

Hotel Vermont (the Tonic which I didn’t know was a hotel too) (actually the syrup) in the reddish bottle, was another favorite of mine – a table spoon in soda water and instant elixir. It’s in my refrigerator right now. Muddle in some lime and pea tendril as they did, and serve with a wedge of watermelon. Next time, maybe I will stay there?
Sidehill Farm jams and jellies ruled this part of one of the brand. Yum.
The American Honey Tasting Society table was very popular – maybe all those folks thought that those were cocktail glasses?
I make so many jams and jellies, but this was the only one that I bought here. Marsh Hollow makes this Triple berry with tart lemon and lemon zest. Can’t wait to open the jar this Saturday (Saturday, because I have certain rules about jelly). The beer jelly was tempting however – I ‘tested’ a few spoonfuls. OK. I admit it, but it was the Vodka, really.
Nuts! not local but prepared with love, locally with local ingredients! Besides, with a name like Squirrel Stash Nuts, I could not resist. Nice design, as well which gets kudos from me.
Besides the tents, many of the out buildings had vendors in them too.
I didn’t know what to expect when I say smoked maple syrup, but yum came out of my mouth. Sugar Bob’s Finest from Landgrove, VT is indeed, the finest in my book. Bacon anyone?
Shakesbury Cider had great design, but it was too crowded to get a taste.

By noon, the event was pretty crowded and with the heat, we were starting to feel like melted cheese ourselves.
A walk up to the sweeping lawn near the estate house provided cool breezes and a spectacular view of the lake and event tents.
Overall, I voted for a brand which was already a favorite in our kitchen, the cultured butter with sea salt (like Paris) by Vermont Creamery. They had a new one with maple sugar stirred into it.

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