Monday, November 16, 2009

There you are, Vermont!

After 12 days of having a cheese partner in crime, it was time for Oliver to head back to San Francisco. I would miss my co-cheeser dearly in the next few weeks, but there was still some serious curds to gather. After a night in the mountains chatting cheese with Molly, a friend of a friend who so graciously offered me a place to stay for the night, I was still determined to have a killer Vermont cheese experience. Slowly but surely, things fell into place. I scored 2 visits & was sure that more would follow.

My first proper Vermont farm & creamery visit was with Dancing Cow Farmstead Cheese run by husband & wife duo, Steve & Karen. In 2003 they moved to Vermont from eastern Pennsylvania to raise their family & invest in their passion for delicious food by starting a diary farm. The first batch of cheese was born in 2005 & began selling in 2006, and production has been ramping up ever since. They are working to find a sustainable dairy farm model that is healthy for the earth & their family life as well as economically viable. A model that is still a work in progress, but they have made some serious strides. Their herd of roughly 30 is one of the most beautiful I have seen & are treated with a tremendous amount of love & care. Each has a name (Mango, I believe, is the one in the picture), a personality, & a story. It is no wonder that they make delicious milk! They are milked once a day (most milk twice) in the morning & then they spend the rest of the day out on the pasture. The milk goes directly from the parlor to the cheese vat for Karen to work her magic. Karen makes cheese everyday, until she needs a break...and it is delightful. Each cheese is named after a dance, the Sarabande being my absolute favorite. It is a cow's milk washed rind in a non-traditional pyramid shape, and it is buttery, nutty, & beyond delicious. Their Bourree, shown above, is a slightly more approachable yet still very tasty cheese & they are working on adding a blue to the dancing family (exciting!), likely to be named Lindy Hop.

After my lovely visit with Steve & Karen, I was headed to Crawford Family Farm to meet with Sherry, their cheesemaker. I arrived at the farm to another serendipitous GATC moment which may require some back story/explanation.

Similar to Lazy Lady Farms, Jasper Hill has been at the top of my Vermont list. I been told on several accounts, including Tom Calvers of Westcombe Dairy in England, that it is a place that I just must see. Not only do they make delicious farmstead cheese, they have recently invested in a 22,000 square feet of cheese aging heaven. I had been in contact with Jasper Hill, but had been unable to land a time for a visit. Leading up to the holidays they were insanely busy & most of their operation would be traveling for the time I was in the Northeast Kingdom, so I was slowly losing hope. Until...I arrive at the Crawford Family Farm to find Shelly packing up boxes of cheese with Zoe, who works for Jasper Hill, to take back to the Cellars (a.k.a. cheese aging heaven). After a short conversation with Zoe, she graciously offered to show me around Jasper Hill that evening, after working hours. She & Mateo, one of the founding brothers & cheesemaker, were traveling the following day, so time was of the essence. With a warm, fuzzy, Vermont-lovin' feeling, I told her I would be there that evening & continued my visit with Sherry.

Sherry, one of 3 siblings running the 4th generation dairy farm, leads the cheese charge making Vermont Ayr. It is an alpine style cheese made from the raw milk of the family farm Aryshire cows. As you can see in the picture (left), their vat is pretty small, which can mean that Sherry makes cheese twice in one day to keep up with demand. Insane. However, they are looking to get a larger vat, which is a wonderful thing for the lovers of curd, because the Vermont Ayr is quite enjoyable. It's creamy earthy flavor highlights the beautiful terrior of the Champlain Valley, making it yet another Vermont cheese treasure.

After my visit, which included a trip with Sherry in her Prius to a nearby town to drop off some cheese for a local CSA (love it!), I was headed back to the Northeast Kingdom for my after hours tour of Jasper Hill.

Vermont, thanks for finally coming to the party!

Thanks to Molly for putting me up & reinvigorating my excitement about Vermont cheese & to Stephen, Karen, & Sherry for taking time out of your busy schedules to chat cheese. These curds are for you!

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