Vermont beckons in the summer. The lakes, Green Mountains, rolling hills, fresh everything, and of course CHEESE, call to me. So, I was very happy to be included in the trip for Cheesemonger Invitational finalists (Thank you, CMI!!!) that took place in this beautiful state. On Saturday, I gunned it up to Greensboro in the Northeast Kingdom for Jasper Hill Cellars’ first ever science fair. There, we heard presentations about herd management (Ruminating on Rumination), the microbiology of Jasper Hill cheeses, what is crunch in cheese, and more. As a person who wishes she could be paid to go to school just for fun, I was in heaven. One of the coolest things I learned was about ikaite, a watery form of calcium carbonate that scientists had previously found at the bottom of the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans. When they took ikaite out of the water, it disappeared into a chalky substance. If the water around ikaite warmed up, ikaite became unstable. Both of the factors made it very difficult to study. Until cheese science researcher Dr. Paul Kindstedt, his student Pat Polowsky, and others, found it on washed rind cheeses (those soft, often stinky, orange rinded cheeses)! Ikaite is one of the minerals that creates the gritty, crunchy texture on a washed rind cheese. How crazy is that?? A rare mineral is found in two environments: in the coldest of the cold, wet places, and on the cheese we eat every day!
That night, we celebrated Jasper Hill’s 15th birthday with hundreds of people from across the cheese industry, as well as much of the town and the owners’ families. There was a massive bonfire, live music, a pig, beef, and lamb roast, a taco truck, a huge cheese cake (of course), and a crazy fireworks display. Cheese people know how to party! It’s been a good year for these guys, reaching their 15th birthday, winning best in show for Harbison at the American Cheese Society conference, and remaining a strong industry leader. It was a joyful celebration that lasted into the wee hours of the morning.
When everyone finally struggled out of bed on Sunday, we headed over to the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont. Shelburne Farms sits on the shore of Lake Champlain, and it includes an inn, a museum, barns for the animals, and a cheesemaking facility. The Farm Barn, their main barn, looks like Winterfell/Hogwarts/a small castle and I wish I could live there. Under the tents of the Cheesemakers Fest, producers of cheese, beer, wine, crackers, bread, preserves, and more talked to the festivalgoers about their wares and fed everyone generously.
We spent our last day in the tiny town of Barre (pronounced Barry, just FYI so you can sound like a Vermonter, too) at Vermont Creamery. Paul and Joey, two very knowledgeable and very entertaining cheesemakers, gave us a tour of the Vermont Creamery facility. Vermont Creamery cheese is in cheese shops and grocery stores across the country, so they have to produce some serious volume. However, their facility is not much larger than others we’ve visited. They fill each container of crumbled goat cheese by hand because they haven’t found a machine that can do it any better. Two women packed each log of goat cheese into its plastic one at a time. Every Cremont, Bonne Buche, Cupole, Bijou, and St. Albans is carefully handled for the perfect shape. The care they put into every single product that leaves their facility is amazing.
As usual, I left this trip totally inspired by all the cheesemakers we visited, but also by the positive community of the cheese industry. At Jasper Hill’s 15th birthday party, people from across the cheese industry came to congratulate the Jasper Hill crew, but also to celebrate how far we’ve all come together! And that absolutely includes you, our wonderful customers, who support places like Jasper Hill, Vermont Creamery, and all the other artisanal producers at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival. Here’s to many more years fun and tasty cheese!
For the love of cheese and cheese travel,