In Part 2 of the continuing series Artisanal Cheeses in the U.S., I bring you The Cheeses of Vermont. In Part 1, we explored the great state of Wisconsin, long known for it's dairy farms and cheese-making history. Cheese lovers have long known of Cabot Creamery, probably the most widely recognized cheese producer from this lush green state, but many would be surprised at the sheer number of small artisan cheese-makers, some making as little as one or two specialty cheeses, that dot the hillsides of the Green Mountains. Vermont is a wondrous state with many attractions, such as the Von Trapp Lodge run by the famed Sound of Music family who settled here.
Cheese-makers in Vermont have a commitment to a lifestyle by cheese makers that result in award-winning artisan and farmstead cheeses based upon tradition, dedication and a sense of place. Many are moving toward organic, if they have not already done so, and the wholesome living abounds throughout the state.
In the 1800s, Vermont farms all had many dairy cows that supplied their own families. In many cases, each brought to market their own butter and cheeses. Milk and cheese was brought to a central location, or co-op, much like in Cheddar, England and the farmers who produce the cheese there. These co-ops did all the processing for the farmers allowing them to be one unified, streamlined organization, not only allowing farmers to preserve milk from spoiling, but also allowing the small farms to extend their seasons. Of the co-ops started 2 centuries ago, only three of the most well known are still producing fine quality Vermont cheeses and keeping up the traditions started by their fore-fathers; Crowley Cheese (1824), Grafton Cheese Company (1892) and Cabot Creamery (1893). The artisanal small farm cheese trade has once again begun to boom in Vermont. The selections below are a perfect example of this.
Excerpts taken from The Vermont Cheese Book, Ellen Ecker Ogden,WW Norton Publisher
Artisanal Cheese-makers of Vermont
Willow Hill Farm
Willow Smart creates some of the best cheeses you'll find anywhere. She has set the standard for what American artisan cheeses can be. Certified organic, Willow's cheeses are hand-crafted from sheep milk (East Friesians raised on the farm) and matured in an underground cave. Recommended styles: Alderbrook, Autumn Oak, Fernwood, Summertomme, Vermont Brebis.
Consider Bardwell Farm
Straddling the rolling hills of Vermont's Champlain Valley and easternmost Washington County, New York, 300-acre Consider Bardwell Farm was the first cheese making co-op in Vermont, founded in 1864 by Consider Stebbins Bardwell. A century later, Angela Miller and Russell Glover, along with cheese-makers Peter Dixon and Chris Gray, are revitalizing the tradition with goats' milk from their herd of Oberhasli goats who enjoy rotational grazing on pesticide-free and fertilizer-free pastures.
Grafton Village Cheese
Grafton Village Cheese makes cheddar. Really, really good cheddar. Aged from 1 to 6 years, Grafton cheddars are full of flavor and much more complex than typical store varieties. Aged 4 to 6 years have a drier, slightly crumbly texture with strong flavors. If you've never tried real artisan cheddars, Grafton is a place to start.
Created in 1886, Shelburne Farms is nearly 400 acres of sustainably managed woodlands on the shores of Lake Champlain. Now a national historic landmark and education center, Shelburne Farms raises a herd of 125 purebred Brown Swiss cows that produce the milk for some of the best farmhouse cheddar in America. Available in ages from 6 months to 3 years, longer aged cheeses will be more robust and drier.
One of the few American cheese-makers that attempt to make French-style soft cheeses like brie and Camembert. Tom and Becky Loftus have succeeded in crafting cheeses that are simply amazing. You will be hard pressed to find a better example of Camembert outside of France. Varieties include: Vermont Brie, Camembert Vermont, Green Mountain Gruyere, Cookeville Grana, Jersey Blue.
Vermont Butter and Cheese Company
Using milk from over 20 family farms, Vermont Butter and Cheese makes both goat and cow dairy products. Varieties include: Chevre, Feta, Creme Fraiche, Mascarpone, Quark, and yes, butter. To my mind, their goat cheese (chevre) is some of the best around (American or French). Creamy, yet firm with a great earthy, slightly sharp flavor, not at all goaty.
Green Mountain Blue Cheese
The Boucher Family has lived in the New World for nearly 400 years. Today, some of them are making cheese for a living. Their French ancestors would be proud. The Vermont Blue Cheese is truly exceptional with smooth, creamy texture and great depth of flavor.
Vermont Cheese Council's website.
Blythedale Vermont Camembert
For over 100 years, the barn at Blythedale Farm has been a focal point of the village of Cookeville, Vermont. A much newer barn houses the 30 or so Jersey cows in Becky and Tom Loftus' herd. These cows supply all of the milk for Blythedale Farm's Vermont Camembert. Becky and Tom make all of their cheeses by hand, using only whole milk. Their Vermont Camembert is the only farmstead cheese of this type made in New England. It requires a great deal of hands-on care and is considered one of the most difficult of cheeses to make. Free from added animal enzymes, be assured that the cows who live at Blythedale Farm have a good home. They are cared for with love and respect and live in a clean, comfortable stable with year-round outdoor access. Their stress-free lives create a milk with delicious flavor. Blythedale's Vermont Camembert is much different than today's stabilized French Camembert in that it ages gracefully. When fresh, it is mild and creamy with a pale yellow color and a bloomy, white mold rind. When aged, it develops a lot more character, turning yellow-orange and losing most of its fluffy white coating. The texture turns from creamy to almost crumbly and the flavor explodes with a complex earthiness. This is truly one of New England's greatest cheeses.
During the past ten years, Cabot has been honored with virtually every major award for taste - both national and international - for its outstanding Vermont cheddar. In fact, its cheddar was named "Best Cheddar in the World" at the 22nd Biennial World Championship Cheese Contest in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Aged for approximately eight months, this cheddar is sharper than most, but not to the extent that it stings the roof of your mouth. It has a rich, tangy flavor and a wonderfully silky texture.
Cabot Vintage Choice Cheddar
As it was early last century, Cabot is still a sleepy little farm town tucked into the rocky soil of Northern Vermont's rolling hills. Cabot's best cheddar is called "Vintage Choice." Each block of Vintage Choice is hand-selected by Cabot's president. Aged undisturbed for 18 to 24 months, limited edition Vintage Choice is complex, opulent and full of nuances. After this long aging period, it takes on a full-bodied, rich, extra-sharp flavor. Cabot's finest cheddar has a texture that is more compact and a bit drier than authentic English Cheddar, different, not better or worse. Cabot Vintage Choice is set apart from other Cabot cheddars by its deep purple wax.
Classic Chevre by Vermont Butter & Cheese Company
The Vermont Butter and Cheese Company story begins with this mild goat's milk cheese. It was on a farm in Brittany where young Allison Hooper, working for room and board, learned the time-honored traditions of European artisanal cheese-making. Working as a dairy lab technician in Vermont a few years later, she produced a Chèvre for a banquet organized by Bob Reese, then marketing director of the state agriculture department. Chèvre was still largely unavailable in Vermont at the time - but not for much longer. Inspired by the response to her Chèvre, Allison teamed up with Bob to found Vermont Butter & Cheese Company.
Since then, Vermont Chèvre has earned an honored place among chefs and consumers alike. Distinguished by a simple, mild, fresh goat's milk flavor, the cheese is highly versatile and an excellent ingredient in many dishes as well as on its own. While Chèvre continues to grow in popularity, Vermont Chèvre maintains its reputation for quality through superlative taste, freshness, and lower salt.
Creme Fraiche by Vermont Butter and Cheese
Creme Fraiche is a thickened cream with a slightly tangy, nutty flavor and velvety, rich texture. This French specialty is traditionally made with unpasteurized cream. However, this version is pasteurized and made in Vermont. It is a rich treat that is perfect for thickening sauces and soups because it can be boiled without curdling. It is also delicious spooned over fresh fruit desserts. Its creamy tang is the perfect complement to a tender, smoky bite of salmon. Crème Fraîche is the traditional accompaniment to caviar, and it smooths out the saltiness of the eggs. Vermont Crème Fraîche is exquisitely rich, with a cultured, nutty flavor and creamy texture. Enjoy this staple of French cuisine, served by many of the world's finest restaurants.
Fromage Blanc is a French-style fresh cheese that is similar to fromage frais or Crème Fraîche. This extremely soft, fresh cream cheese has the consistency of sour cream and a similar tang. The fat content, however, is significantly lower. Fromage Blanc is often eaten with fruit and sugar as a dessert, but it can also be used in cooking without separating.
Grafton Classic Reserve Cheddar
Grafton, Vermont is a likely setting for a world-class cheddar. Cheese-making traditions in this historic village date from the nineteenth century when dairy farmers gathered together in a cooperative to make their surplus milk into cheese. In the days before refrigeration, there were many such cooperatives in the rural agricultural communities and an abundance of fresh, creamy milk was turned into a food that could be stored for a longer period of time. Grafton 2 Year Classic Cheddar is an outstanding mature cheddar cheese selected for its pronounced flavor and smooth finish. This two year aged cheese is excellent when accompanied with dried fruits and nuts, crusty breads, and big wines.
Aged for a year and sealed with red wax, Grafton's One-Year Premium Cheddar is made with unpasteurized Jersey cow milk for maximum flavor and richness. It takes ten pounds of this milk to make a pound of cheese. Grafton's Premium delivers the full flavor of old-fashioned farmhouse cheddar.
Grafton Village Maple Smoked Cheddar
Maple Smoked Cheddar is just one of the Grafton Village Cheese Company's excellent cheeses. It is bathed in the cool smoke from smoldering hard maple wood for four to six hours at the end of the aging period. When one thinks Vermont, maple is a staple. The smoke is used to season, not to preserve. It adds a delicious nuance reminiscent of bacon, and is an excellent part of any breakfast menu and on cocktail trays.
This delicious Jalapeno Cheddar is spicy enough to satisfy the heat-seekers, but still allows the quality of the cheddar taste to shine through. The great news for weight-watchers is that this tasty treat has only 50% of the fat of other cheddars. Terrific on burgers, grilled cheese, quesadillas, this cheddar will liven up lunch sandwiches and salads too.
Mascarpone by Vermont Butter & Cheese Co.
It was only a matter of time before Allison Hooper and Bob Reese, co-founders of Vermont Butter & Cheese Company, were asked to create mascarpone locally. Since then, Vermont Mascarpone has garnered accolades for its fresh, rich cream flavor and smooth, thick texture - perfect for spreading or swirling.
The Cheddar Master keeps a careful eye on the aging process, taking core samples along the way. When he gives the nod, they know the cheese has reached perfection. There's an old school of thought among cheddar scholars - the older, the better. They are proud to offer a rare, limited edition classic, Old School Cheddar - simply Cabot's oldest cheddar ever. Old School has been left to age undisturbed in their library of select cheddars for over five years. Old School is exactly what this cheese is - textbook cheddar crafted the old-fashioned way.
Quark is a German word that simply means "curds". This cow's milk cheese, produced all over Central Europe, is virtually identical to Fromage Blanc, but is whipped before packaging and has a slightly higher fat content. Quark can be eaten like yogurt, blended with fruit or jam. It is also a common ingredient used in filled pastries, savory and sweet sauces, spreads, soufflés, cheesecakes and mousses. Quark is so popular in Germany that it accounts for almost half of that country's total cheese production. The average German eats about 10 lbs. of Quark a year! This product is KOF-K certified Kosher.
Shelburne Farms is a membership-supported, nonprofit environmental education center and National Historic Landmark on the shores of Lake Champlain in Shelburne, Vermont. It is a grass-based dairy, relying heavily on pastures to support their herd of Brown Swiss Cows. Their cows graze small sections of pasture for 12 to 24 hours and then are rotated to a new section the following day. The grazed area is given time to regrow before it is used again, keeping the pastures healthy. This grass-based method of dairying is friendlier to the environment because it eliminates the use of crop-based herbicides and pesticides, uses less machinery and fuel, uses manure as a natural fertilizer, and controls water pollution by maintaining thick pasture growth. Shelburne Farms has 197 registered Brown Swiss cows. This type of cow was selected for its hardiness, foraging ability, quality of milk, longevity and gentle temperament. A Brown Swiss cow on pasture at Shelburne Farms will produce an average of 50 pounds of milk per day. The level of milk production is highest for the 60 to 90 days after the cow gives birth, and then slowly decreases over the next ten months. At ten months, the cow is dried off and milking stops for two months. She then gives birth to a new calf (about 12 months from the birth of the last one). Most of their milk is used right there on the farm to produce Shelburne Farm's Farmhouse Cheddar cheese. Shelburne's cheese is only made from the fresh, raw milk of purebred Brown Swiss cows raised on the farm. This spectacular cheese, aged for approximately two full years, is noted for its sophisticated, rich flavor that leaves hints of maple and apple. It has consistently won awards from the American Cheese Society, including "Best Farmhouse Cheese" and "Best Cheddar Cheese."
The gastronome Curnonsky was offered a lifetime of revenue to say margarine could one day replace butter. He responded, "Nothing will replace butter." Vermont Butter & Cheese Cultured Butter is made the old-fashioned way with an imported French culture to "ripen" the best fresh Vermont cream before it is churned into butter. This butter is made with only .33% salt (one-sixth the salt of standard salted butter). The result is a sweeter, more complex and more pleasing taste. Referred to in French as demi-sel, Vermont Cultured Butter is an all-purpose, full-flavored butter, ideal for every type of cooking and baking.
The Sea Salt Butter: After fermentation, the cream is churned into butter and the Atlantic sea salt crystals are added. This salt, harvested from tidal pools off the coast of Haiti, enhances the flavor of the butter and gives it an artisanal, marbled appearance. Finally, the butter is cut, wrapped in parchment paper and packed by hand in a small, handmade wooden basket. This butter is the "Grand Cru" of all Vermont Butters. Crunchy pieces of flavorful salt combined with incredibly creamy and delicate butter creates a perfect harmony as the butter melts in your mouth and the grains of salt crunch between your teeth. Serve a dollop atop grilled meats, melt it over shrimp or lobster, or try it in cookie recipes.
That ends our look at Vermont and some of the best cheese being produce here in the United States. In part three of the Artisanal Cheese-making in the U.S., in our next stop, we'll be California dreaming. I hope you are enjoying this cheese series as much as I am bringing it to you.
Sources: All cheese pics are courtesy of the cheese-makers