A 24-Hour Excursion to the First Annual Vermont Cheesemaker's Festival in Burlington
"I've never tasted so many American cheeses in such a concentrated amount of time."
Murray's Cheese successfully packed a group of 55 die-hard cheese fanatics from New York on a bus to Shelburne Farms outside of Burlington, Vermont, to the first-ever Vermont Cheesemaker's Festival this past Sunday. As one of the lucky passengers of this 24-hour fiesta, I have nothing but praise for the organizers of the trip, my fellow bus-riders, our bus driver John, and over fifty cheesemakers and artisan food producers at the festival. Though I've never considered myself a cheesehead, I've been known to attend a cheese tasting and class or two and am usually the one at the table to pick our cheese plate selections.
I've never tasted so many American cheeses in such a concentrated amount of time—from big spoonfuls of fresh ricotta, to slabs of triple cream brie to chunks of clothbound cheddar. Like most of the attendees who didn't know how to pace themselves, an hour after the doors opened at 10 a.m., I ended up with a cheese coma, passed out on the shore of Lake Champlain, hoping to regain strength and stomach space for the next round of tastings.
Vermont maple syrup, pumpkin cheesecake ice cream from Ben and Jerry's, cheesy tamales, and slices of wood-fired pizza were all outside the Coach Barn, acting as the perfect stomach liners to the hundreds of dairy products available.
Most of the producers at the festival milk their own cows, goats, and the occasional sheep, lovingly formulate cheese in small batches, and age some of the cheeses either on their own or with partners like the Cellars at Jasper Hill. Being in the presence of so many farmers with so much care for their animals and the final product—and knowing it was made less than a couple hours away—made the entire festival worth the endless hours of sleeplessness on the bus worth it.
The Best Tastes of the Festival
Champlain Valley Creamery's Cream Cheese: An organic cream cheese made with local milk with more flavor than you ever thought possible in cream cheese. Rumor has it Russ & Daughters in New York turned down the sale of the cheese because they thought New Yorkers wouldn't be able to handle the flavor.
Dancing Cow Farm's Menuet: A raw cows' milk hard cheese aged at Cellars at Jasper Hill. We ate this in a frittata on the way to the festival at the Farmers Diner in Middlebury, Vermont, mixed with fresh organic eggs and locally made sausages.
Chocolate Covered Cheeses at Laughing Moon Chocolates: Dark chocolate covered Jasper Hill Constant Bliss.
Fat Toad Farm's Coffee Bean Caramel: Whole coffee beans steeped in goat's milk straight from the farm to make caramel.
Fresh ricotta: Fresh ricotta from numerous producers was silky, creamy, and mixed with cinnamon, maple syrup, and jam.
Farmers Diner in Middlebury: They weren't at the festival, but we suppered here during the pre-festival activities.
Eighty percent of what they serve at the diner comes from within 30 miles. How cool is that?