The Boston Globe profiles Vermont Farmstead, a farm and cheesemaker that was started to save the land from development, and is now producing award-winning cheeses (You can see my review of their Lille Cheese, pictured above, here).
SOUTH WOODSTOCK, Vt. — Perched on a hill overlooking a valley, Farmstead Cheese Co. began as a neighborly plan to preserve a dairy farm.
The bucolic 18-acre site was a former water buffalo farm and creamery that produced mozzarella and yogurt. When its owners moved to Canada and put the land up for sale, locals worried about the loss of jobs and the disappearance of another bit of the Green Mountain State’s rich heritage. They feared that the pastoral landscape might be grabbed by a developer.
So 14 neighbors banded together to buy the farm and decided cheese making might safeguard its future. Within the year, they rebuilt the creamery, brought in a mixed breed herd — Holstein, Jersey, Ayrshire, and Swiss Brown — to blend milks and make farmstead cheese. They started the first community-owned dairy farm in the state. In two years, the company has won dozens of awards for its cheddar, a harvarti-style tilsit, Edam, and English and French-style cheeses.
The new owners are not novices. They include seasoned farmers and food industry executives who hired experienced staff. The top cheese maker, Rick Woods, 46, has been plying his craft for 19 years. “We’re a new company, but it’s not the first time around the block for these people,” says Sharon Huntley, who is in charge of marketing.
Read the full story.
A fun day at VIAC: Sensory Evaluation. The white vials contain a ricotta paste used to “Calibrate” your taste buds to certain levels of the listed qualities (eg Bitter, Sweet etc); the green vials contain blind smell samples which we had to sniff and identify (everything from caramel to cauliflower to cloves to hardboiled egg).
We were then given lessons in the evaluation of a cheese according 9 parameters: External Appearance, External Aroma, Aroma (Paste Odor), Visual Evaluation, Hand Evaluation, Flavor, Texture, Taste, Trigeminal Stimulations (Pungent, Astringent) and Aftertaste.
Finally, the day ended with a sample judging of cheeses according to the American Cheese Society methodology, in which two judges pair up, one taking on the Technical Judge role and the other the Aesthetic Judge role. It’s kind of a good cop/bad cop relationship actually, with the Technical Judge given jurisdiction over evaluating the negative traits of the cheeses (Off Aromas, Flavors, Defects in Texture, Body and Rind), while the Aesthetic Judge is in charge of the positive evaluations (the same categories, but whereas a Technical Judge might find an “unpleasantly earthy aroma”, the Aesthetic would judge it “pleasantly fruity”. The scores are then added together (after the Technical Judge has subtracted points for defects), and then compared against the other cheeses within the category to determine the winner.
That’s the short version anyways! I’ll be posting more in detail in the coming week about my experiences at VIAC, once I get home!
Tickets for the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival — an annual celebration of Vermont’s cheese heritage — have just gone on sale! Get in there early as they tend to sell out fast.
Vermont is the premium artisanal cheese state with the highest number of cheesemakers per capita: over 40 of them! We invite you to experience our passion for making fine cheeses, taste local and fresh foods and wines, and meet the artisans who make them. Spend a high summer day along the shores of Lake Champlain at the historic Shelburne Farms Coach Barn sampling, buying, learning, and networking. Come and celebrate the season.
- Over 40 Cheesemakers
- 20 Wineries and Breweries
- 20 Artisan Food Producers
- 2 Tasting Seminars
- 1 Cooking Show
- 1 Cheesemaking Demo
- Over 200 cheeses to sample and purchase
Being up in Burlington, Vermont at the moment (taking VIAC classes in order to complete my certification), I thought this story, of a Vermont farmer and his dreams of delivering produce to NYC via boat, was apropos. Via Inhabitat:
Vermont farmer Erik Andrus wants to bring an entirely new approach to the growing farm-to-table food trend by sailing his produce down the Hudson River to NYC. Andrus recently launched a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of funding a $15,000 project to build a sailboat named Ceres – the Roman goddess of grain and agriculture – to get his idea off the ground and into the water. If successful, the model could be a new way for consumers and restaurants to purchase fresh food directly from independent farmers and growers.
Check out the Kickstarter Campaign to learn more about this “sail-powered food-trading adventure connecting the farms and forests of Lake Champlain with the Lower Hudson Valley”.
VIAC Chemistry Class, day 1, including samples of Jasper Hill cheeses courtesy of Matteo Kehler and the rest of the JH team who are attending the sessions.
Some welcome news for anyone who enjoys some cured meats on their cheese board:
After artisanal cheese, Vermont explores charcuterie
WAITSFIELD — Nearly 30 years ago, a handful of enterprising Vermonters realized they could do more with milk than just sell it. And with a little help from the state, they became pioneers in what quickly blossomed into the now behemoth artisanal cheese movement.
Now Vermont officials are exploring a new round of value added agriculture. Because why just raise livestock when instead you could be tapping into the burgeoning world of charcuterie?
“You can buy a pig for $3 a pound. You turn it into cuts and you’ll get $4, $5, $6 a pound. Turn it into bacon and you’re getting $8, maybe $9 a pound. Turn it into cured products, the world’s your oyster,” said Robin Morris, founder of the Mad River Food Hub, an incubator for new food businesses that is adding rooms to help producers dry cure meats such as salamis, prosciuttos and sopressatas.
It’s actually a pretty simple equation. Produce an agricultural commodity and sell it as a commodity and you get paid commodity prices. It’s a formula that requires high volume to be successful, by definition difficult for the sorts of small farmers that populate Vermont. But turn those commodities into sought-after artisanal food products and the game changes.
Read the full article here.
Seven Days, a website dedicated to all things Vermont, has a story about the Vermont Farmstead Cheese Co., maker of the Coulommiers style cheese Lille (reviewed in June, photo above) and many other great cheeses:
Wrapped in waxy, white paper, a round of Lillé Coulommiers from Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company sort of resembles a doorstop. Peel back the paper and slice into the tangy rind, though, and it’s clear why the stuff comes in such large wheels. Supple, rich and nutty, it’s instantly habit forming — and it comes even more alive when paired with a local sparkling cider such as Woodchuck Hard Cider.
Besides being delicious together, both products are poster children for the rise of the Vermont food brand, which made giant strides this year. The appeal of Vermont-made products shows no sign of peaking — especially as it grows to encompass spirits, meat and even wine.
“It’s had this strong and solid momentum for many years, but now, more than ever, it’s incredibly compelling and ‘sticky,’” says Kathy Murphy, the state’s chief marketing officer, of the Vermont brand. “The working landscape is the rooted theme for all of these products, and as that is leveraged forward, that truth is resonating.”
What Murphy calls the “clean, honest, humble and natural” attributes of the state’s food brand are embodied in the precipitous growth of the 2-year-old Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company, which produces Lillé — a soft-ripened cheese that has picked up a handful of awards already. The milk that goes into Lillé doesn’t travel far; much of it comes directly from the herd of Jersey, Holstein and Ayrshire cows that graze on the company’s 18-acre hillside in South Woodstock, repose on temperature-controlled water beds and yield nearly 2400 pounds of milk each day.
Like many successful Vermont brands, VFCC cheeses have a great story behind them. It begins with the banding together of a few neighbors in 2009 to save an 18-acre water-buffalo farm and prevent it from becoming a slaughterhouse.
“This had been a farm for a long time,” says Sharon Huntley, VFCC’s director of marketing, explaining why 14 locals hustled to form an LLC and raise more than a million dollars to buy the property from its previous owner. Once they did, a “now what?” discussion led to the decision to veer away from fluid milk and toward a value-added product, cheese.
The Washed Rind Wheel from Twig Farm is a “sometimes” mixed-milk cheese, according to the cheesemakers Michael and Emily Lee. Michael earned his cheese stripes working at Formaggio Kitchen and apprenticing at Peaked Mountain Farm before he and his wife found land for their own farm. Twig Farm, based in Cornwall, VT, near Middlebury, has a small herd of 30 or so goats — mostly Alpine, with a few Nubians and Saanens thrown in for good measure — and the raw goat’s milk from their herd always goes into the Washed Wheel. Sometimes, though, raw cow’s milk from neighboring Joe Severy’s organic dairy goes into the vat as well, so depending on which version you get and what the mix is, it may fall somewhere different on the cow-goat spectrum. The cheese is then aged for 80+ days and washed with a whey brine.
The wheel has a reddish/orange, sticky rind, lightly speckled with gray-green spots. The paste is semi-soft and custardy, with a scattering of eyes, softening and drooping on the board as it warms. The aroma is earthy and a little bit barnyardy, with a full, meaty flavor, a little bit tangy and floral, tending towards the mild, sweet side, without the assertiveness or bite you’d expect from a full-goat washed rind, which leads me to assume this was a mixed-milk wheel (I forgot to ask the cheesemonger). This would be an excellent cheese to pair with beer.
Humble Pie, a washed-rind with anything but humble flavor, from Woodcock Farm in Weston, VT. A mixed-milk cheese, combining the milk of East Friesian sheep and cow’s milk, lightly washed with brine and aged to peak ripeness. I previously reviewed Woodcock’s West Wheel, their natural-rinded sheep’s milk hard cheese.
With a golden-pink, textured rind, lightly sticky and soft, cracking open over an ivory-yellow paste, lightly eyed, oozing and buttery. The aroma of this cheese is mildly pungent and barnyardy, opening up to a richly buttery, tangy, meaty flavor with grassy, vegetal notes.
Sidenote: I learned from Anne Saxelby’s Almanac that the common American phrase, “Humble Pie”, actually evolved from “Umble Pie”, the name for a pastry made with whatever assorted organ meats were on hand. That in turn evolved from “Numble”, from the French “nomble”, which referred to deer innards, and despite the eventual connotations of the phrase “eating humble pie”, it was not actually considered a poor-mans food (indeed, organ meats were often highly prized).