Chris H. Jul 30, 2010 Event Beat 3 comments
Good cheese is true love.
I'm wading in a sea of cheesemakers, winemakers, brewers and fine food producers. In my right hand I'm holding my love, Sarah; in my left hand I'm holding Sarabande, another (not-so-secret) love of mine. Leave it to the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival to complicate the romantic lives of cheese-lovers, if just for a day.
The second annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival on July 25th at Shelburne Farms welcomed 50 artisan cheesemakers from Vermont and western Massachusetts to the shores of Lake Champlain. Twenty Vermont wineries and breweries and 15 artisan food producers balanced the ticket. Tasting seminars and a cooking demonstration by Sean Buchanan, renowned chef turned salesman, inspired new ways of enjoying cheese. (See Sean's simple-to-prepare recipe below.) In other words, I spent a day overwhelming my senses with creations from Vermont’s Dionysian artisans.
Seeing the wide array of cheesemakers at the festival led me to wonder, how did Vermont become this hub of cheese?
Not to insult Dionysus, but I’d contend that the origins of Vermont cheese are far more terrestrial: where Vermont’s soil is too rocky or full of clay for vegetables, it’s great for growing grass, and grazing animals, and making milk, and turning that milk into cheese. With the price of fluid milk ($11.30 per hundredweight in 2009) well below the cost to produce it ($18 per hundredweight) and a seemingly endless demand for Vermont artisan cheese, many of Vermont’s dairies have been adding or transitioning to cheese production to keep the family farm viable.
Unfortunately, good cheese can’t be made from just any milk. When a dairy transitions from fluid milk production to cheesemaking, it must shift from a volume-oriented model to a quality-oriented model so it is producing a flavorful, clean milk with a high concentration of fat and protein. Sometimes this means acquiring a different breed of animal, and it certainly requires different herd management and grazing methods. In addition, a bare-bones cheesemaking facility costs upwards of $30,000. Then it’s on to the fun part: marketing and microbiology . . .
Lucky for cheese, Vermonters have a strong do-it yourself spirit and the desire to try new things—not to mention an uncanny ability to excel in adverse circumstances.
Perhaps it is this broad skill set that makes Vermont’s cheesemakers so interesting, and their cheeses so complex. It’s unusual that so many elements of production are under the same (barn) roof—managing pasture, raising animals, milking, making cheese, aging cheese and marketing the finished product—but when Vermont cheesemakers bring everything together, the results are truly fit for the gods.
Thanks to the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, you don’t have to travel to the heavens to rub elbows and eat cheese with the state’s most talented herdsmen-businesspeople-microbiologists (cheesemakers). A short walk is all it takes to fall in love over and over again. Until next year!
Vermont Farm Tours offers cheese tours and workshops the Saturday before the festival each year. Buy your tickets early (before July 2011)—this year’s Cheesemakers Festival sold out weeks before the event!
Brie Crostini with Raspberry Horseradish Jam
from Sean Buchanan
1 French baguette, sliced ¼-inch thick (try Red Hen Baking Co.)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
One 7-ounce wheel Blythedale Farms Brie, cut into ½-inch by 1-inch strips
1 cup raspberry jam (try Side Hill Farm or Sunshine Valley Berry Farm)
¼ cup freshly grated horseradish
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Set the baguette slices on a baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil on top and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Toast until golden brown, about 6 minutes.
Top each crostini with a slice of Brie then return to the oven. Bake until the cheese starts to melt, about 3 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let cool.
In a small bowl, mix together the jam, horseradish and salt. Top each crostini with a dollop of the jam mixture and serve.
Serves 8 to 12
See more great images of the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival on our flickr page!