Vermont Shepherd is an easy cheesemaker to love. Just looking at the website, I want to jump in with the grinning family members who herd and care for the sheep, help with the lambing, and make the cheese. I understand that they are probably not smiling all the time, like when it is driving freezing rain and they have to get up at 4am to milk the sheep. But let me live in pretty website land with their family, thank you very much. The Major and Ielpi produced their first cheese, Verano, in 1993, making them one of the oldest farmstead sheep’s milk cheesemakers in Vermont. The first years were difficult because the resurgence of small-scale cheesemaking was just starting to take hold in the US and there were few cheesemakers or experts to turn to for guidance. Thus, it was time to find help and inspiration elsewhere.
David Major, one of the founders, took a trip to the Pyrénées where many wonderful cheeses are made – right now in the case we have Chebris, Napoleón, Bethmale Chèvre, Le Moulis, Bleu des Basques, and Mendia all hailing from these mountains. He decided he wanted to make cheeses like those he tried in France and Spain, but with his own sheep herd in Vermont.
So, he and his family created Verano! Verano is one of two cheeses produced by Vermont Shepherd, and is named for summer, the season in which it is made. Sheep give much less milk than cows only 5-6 months a year, which for Vermont Shepherd, means milking the herd between April and August. Just think of how crazy their summer must be! Lambing, milking, cheesemaking, all happening constantly until the sheep stop giving milk in August! And then there’s the rest of the year because work for a farmer/cheesemaker never actually ends… We deeply appreciate your work, Vermont Shepherd crew!
We’ve carried Invierno Reserve, Vermont Shepherd’s aged “winter” cheese made from cow and sheep’s milk, but this is the first time we’ve had Verano. It has a smooth texture like the cheeses from the Pyrènèes, making it easy to slice, cube, melt, grate, break, or whatever else you might want to do with it to get it to your mouth ASAP. It smells like a biscuit or English muffin, depending on which of us cheesemongers you ask, and it tastes like a savory, salty shortbread cookie, with a touch of acidity and tang. Although our favorite way to eat this cheese is by itself, Chris made our mouths water with descriptions of a spring pea risotto topped with a fluffy mountain of Verano. Pops of sweet from the peas, creaminess from the risotto, all jazzed up with the bright acidity of the cheese, oooweee, I need that NOW. Are we in pea season yet? I know we’re in Verano season, y’all! Let’s get eating!
For the love of cheese and the Major and Ielpi family,