Serious Cheese: Spring Brook Tarentaise and the Vermont Cheesemakers' Festival
There are plenty of things for a cheesemonger to do on her day off that don't involve cheese (hello, laundry?), but it's that love of all things dairy that makes us mongers in the first place. The physical work we do is easy enough—cut, taste, wrap, sell—but it's the passion for cheese and the industry that makes it an inextricable part of this life we've chosen.
So where did I find myself (and 1,500 other cheese fans) on a recent weekend on a rare and coveted day away from the store? The Vermont Cheesemakers' Festival, of course.
In its second year, the Vermont Cheese Festival is a chance for consumers and industry folk to meet their producers and taste some great cheese in a barn full of food and beer. Making cheese is hard work; it takes long hours and between production and affinage there is an endless set of tasks at hand at all times. This means that most cheesemakers rarely meet the folks who eat their cheese, unless they're die-hard enough to show up at a farmers' market on a hot Saturday. The chance to meet dozens of cheesemakers under one roof, not to mention eat great food and learn about some awesome local agriculture—well, that's not something a cheesemonger can pass up. (If Vermont's a little outside of your foodshed, there are similar festivals active in California, Wisconsin, and Oregon, to name a few.)
I got a late start on the Sunday the festival was held (cheesemongers need to sleep in, too), but at the festival I was lucky enough to chat with cheesemaker Jeremy Stephenson of Spring Brook Farm in Reading, Vermont, which produces a luscious, golden alpine-style cheese called Spring Brook Tarentaise. As a cheese, Spring Brook Tarentaise has just about everything I love. It's a firm cheese, aged at least nine months and particularly tasty around 11 months.
Made with raw, pasture-fed Jersey cows' milk, the color is bright golden yellow, and the aroma is of grass, butter, and toasted nuts. The texture is dense, even and toothsome, turning creamy and buttery on the tongue. SBT starts off with a mellow flavor that ranges from sweet to savory as it opens on the palate, finishing with a spicy zing. It melts, it slices, it squidges between your fingers. In sum: It's cheese, and it's good.
This is lucky for Spring Brook Farm, because their cheese is the means to support a bigger project: the Farms for City Kids Foundation. The farm doubles as an educational center where urban kids get hands-on experience doing everything there is to be done, and learning teamwork and responsibility all the while.
The profits from Spring Brook Tarentaise sales go to the foundation and toward bringing more kids up to milk cows and the like. With the increasing distance between urban life and the agrarians who help sustain it, this is a great reminder that there's a world outside of the city—and that that world is totally fun!
Cheesemongers love a good story. Not only does it make selling a given cheese more fun, but if the story is particularly good, we get an extra sense of satisfaction when we sell through a wheel. Spring Brook Tarentaise tastes so good it doesn't need much help—but the story behind it doesn't hurt.
About the author: Katrina Vahedi has had a decade-long professional love affair with cheese and all things dairy. She is currently a curd pusher at New York's Saxelby Cheesemongers, after nine years of mongering in California.