Thursday, July 29, 2010

Weekend in Vermont: And Now the Cheese...

I was intending to post earlier this week but that funny thing called work intervened, but now I'm back.

We spent an inordinate amount on food during our trip. Beyond just the dinners out (Hen of the Woods in Waterbury and Green Cup in Waitsfield), we hit the Waitsfield farmer's market on Saturday morning and came away with 2 steaks and a lot of produce that we stashed in the fridge in our rental to take back with us to Boston, plus we ate our way around the market (1 Danish pastry, 1 crepe with chocolate and raspberry, 2 freshly grilled lamb burgers and 1 freshly filled cannoli). The market had such a great small town feel to it - a lot of people catching up with each other and it seemed like almost everyone had their dog with them. It bums me out that there are so many vendors at this rural market offering a wide variety of great products - it makes the markets in the greater Boston area seem sad and pitiful in comparison.

Sunday morning we did the ~45 min drive up to the Burlington area to Shelburne Farm. We had no idea that the farm was really an estate - 1400 beautifully maintained acres on the shores of Lake Champlain. Below is a fairly crappy picture that I took when we stepped outside of the festival - it was heavily overcast but it was nice we didn't get rained on.

This ended up being the only picture that the husband took of inside the festival itself. Ironically enough, we didn't buy any cheese from this vendor but we thought their logo was cute. Anyhow, you can sort of see in the background just how packed the sold-out event was - I don't know for sure what the attendee numbers were but if last year's event was any indication, there were well over a 1000 people on the grounds. Most of the vendors were set up in a barn (a clean, vacant one) but it was hot and sweaty and with cheese everywhere, it didn't make for the most pleasant mix as the day wore on.

We arrived just as the festival opened at 10:30 and made a beeline for Vermont Brownie Company as soon as we went inside. A couple of months ago we watched a Throwdown with Bobby Flay episode featuring the Vermont Brownie Company, and what got the husband intrigued right away was their use of goat cheese in their dark chocolate brownie, topped with salt. We hadn't even finished watching the episode and I'd already ordered their sampler box of 6 brownies, which arrived via regular mail within a couple of days. Man they are as good as they looked on TV. Luckily they freeze beautifully and taste even better when warmed slightly, so stashing the bounty in the freezer allowed us to prolong our indulgence. Buying another box of brownies was our number one priority of the day and only once that was accomplished could we move on to the cheese.

And cheese there was, a dizzying array of options. The beauty of the regional focus was that we were introduced to a multitude of new cheesemakers - I think there were close to 50 cheese vendors, most of them from Vermont with the occasional Massachusetts farm thrown in the mix. Since we didn't know most of the producers, we started sampling and we ate, and ate, and ate... and in-between we sampled Vermont wines and beers until I hit a cheese wall about an hour and a half in. I wasn't the only one in that state - by 1pm the lawn outside the festival was littered with people lying in the grass in what looked like cheese comas.

Thankfully we could leave whenever we wanted since we drove. We met two women in the Ben and Jerry's line (not my fave, but hey free ice cream) who were also from Boston but had come on the Formaggio Kitchen cheese bus trip. The giant coach bus left Cambridge at 6am, and wouldn't be returning until 11pm because the shop brought a separate van full of meat to hold a BBQ on the grounds for the customers who were on the cheese bus. These women were lamenting that they were stuck at the festival because of the trip schedule, but they were looking forward to having a lot of meat at the end of the day to balance out their cheese intake. The husband commented that he wouldn't want to be on that bus after a day of eating.

We also ran into the lovely owners of Central Bottle, the relatively new wine and cheese shop in Central Square. They were on a mission to scope out new suppliers, and we hope a number of new Vermont cheeses will become available in their store. That was the one downfall of sampling regional artisanal cheeses - most of the cheesemakers are small producers who generally sell their products in their local area only, which makes it hard for us non-locals to track down cheeses that we fall in love with.

So what did we end up buying? We restrained ourselves, since we had a limited amount of room in our cooler, but we came away with the following:
  • A raw milk Tarentaise from Spring Brook Farms (a hard, mild cow's milk cheese)
  • Fresh Chevre from Boston Post Dairy, a mild and not tangy goat's milk soft cheese that made for an excellent spread on crackers
  • Madonna from Sage Farm Goat Dairy, another mild goat's milk cheese
It doesn't seem like much, but that's a lot of cheese for two people to eat before it spoils, particularly if one person is trying to watch their cholesterol intake. Goat cheese is supposed to better than cow, so that's my justification. But our best find of the day had to be this:

Cheese Curds!
So why on earth are we so excited about cheese curds, also known as cheddar bites from Maplebrook Farms? Because they are a critical component in making authentic poutine and no one in Boston was carrying curds after Trader Joe's discontinued them back in February of this year (we called everywhere). They are now safely stored in our freezer, waiting for cooler weather since the last thing I want to eat right now is a mass of fries, gravy and melted cheese curds but the time will come...


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