Thanksgiving Cheese 2014

Our top Thanksgiving cheese picks for 2014: Shelburne 2 Year Cheddar, Verano, Bayley Hazen Blue, and Sage Farm’s fresh goat cheese

One of our favorite ways to celebrate Thanksgiving is with a round up of some of New England’s best cheeses. While we love the fruits of Europe’s great cheese-making traditions, Thanksgiving is the perfect time of year to reflect on and celebrate American cheese makers, and our country’s own tradition of beautiful cheeses of all milk types and textures. This year, our Cambridge store’s domestic cheese buyer Tripp, along with the rest of the cheese team, have brought together four of our favorite Vermont cheeses for a perfect addition to the holiday table!

Shelburne Farms 2 Year Cheddar

Founded in 1886 as a model agricultural estate, Shelburne Farms sits on the edge of Lake Champlain in Shelburne Vermont, just fifteen minutes south of Burlington. In addition to their successful dairy, vegetable, and sustainable forestry programs, Shelburne Farms also runs an nonprofit dedicated to conservation education, and in 2001 it was named a National Historic Landmark. Their Vermont farmhouse cheddar is made solely with raw milk from their herd of grass-fed Brown Swiss cows, and comes in a variety of ages. Our favorite is this two-year old cheddar, which has a delightful crumbly texture and turns creamy on the palate.


One of the the original New England artisan cheesemakers, David Major raises sheep with his wife and family in Westminster Vermont. They model their sheep’s milk cheeses after aged mountain cheeses of the Pyrénées, and Verano in particular has caught the attention of cheese lovers on both sides of the Atlantic. Verano, which means “summer” in Spanish, is made with their herd’s summer milk. The sheep’s summer diet of wild herbs and grasses gives their milk, and resulting cheese, extra herbaceous notes in it’s earthy sweetness. This cheese is wonderful with classic pairings, like the cherry jam from staff-favorite Boutique Arraya. It also pairs wonderfully with more seasonal tart treats like Wood’s Cider Jelly!

Bayley Hazen Blue

Recently crowned the “best unpasteurized cheese in the world” at the 2014 World Cheese Awards in England, Bayley Hazen Blue regularly features as another Formaggio Kitchen staff favorite. The creamy, crumbly texture of Bayley Hazen Blue is an immediate stand-out among blue-veined cheeses, with flavors of sweet grass and peppery spice. The Ayrshire cow’s milk provides a nutty, pleasantly farmy foundation for this complex cheese. Jasper Hill Farm in far north Greensboro Vermont makes phenomenal cheeses using milk from their small herd of Ayrshire cows. They also run an expansive, top-notch aging facility used by many of the state’s other producers including the much-loved Cabot Clothbound Cheddar.

Sage Farm

Molly and Katie Pindell have been making cheese in Stowe Vermont since 2008. Together with their small herd of registered Alpine goats, they produce some of our favorite fresh goat cheeses made in Vermont. Styled after the French classic Valencay, Sterling is dusted with ash and aged for just two weeks, and it’s smooth texture yields a rich, tart flavor. Madonna is denser, but still creamy, with a brighter, lemony flavor that pairs beautifully with New England honey.


All four cheeses are available together online as part of our Thanksgiving Cheese Bundle, paired with Vermont’s own Castleton Crackers and Wood’s Cider Jelly.

For more Thanksgiving cheese ideas, check out our 2012 Thanksgiving Cheese Board, and our 2011 picks for celebrating America-the-melting-pot with international cheeses!

The Vallana Winery

The Vallana Winery

The rolling Alpine foothills of the Alto-Piemonte (or Upper Piemonte) are not as well known or as frequently visited by wine-lovers as the Barolo and Barbaresco wine regions just to the south, but fascinating and delicious Nebbiolo-based wines are made here, too!

In the Alto-Piemonte they use the local name Spanna for their Nebbiolo grapes, and their soils are red with iron and porphyrite rock. The top wine designations here are Spanna Colline Novaresi (DOC), Boca (DOC) and Gattinara (DOCG).

These days you’ll find three wonderful Alto-Piemontese wines from the venerable old Vallana estate on our shelves.

The Vallana winery is a fascinating juxtaposition of new and old. The winery was founded by Antonio Vallana in 1937 and is run today by his energetic young great-grandchildren Francis, Marina and Miriam. The grand children have a British father, so their names (and accents) seem a bit unusual for a Piemontese family. Their father, sadly, passed away at a young age, before the children were old enough to take over winemaking operations. It was at that point that their mother, Giuseppina Vallana, took control and kept the winery alive.

Today the winery stands as a monument to its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Vallana wines were at their peak of production and popularity. Today winemaker Francis uses just just a fraction of the huge cement tanks and solid, rambling underground storage caves built by his grandfather. A visit to the Vallana winery is like stepping back in time to the 1960s. We were there on a cold January day, and we peered into lavishly decorated but unheated and unused rooms where one could just imagine MadMen-era-attired people drifting in and out with big hair and glasses of Gattinara.

The Vallana Winery's Tasting Room

The Vallana Winery’s Tasting Room

In the (equally chilly) bottling room and unused offices, yellow and orange colors dominated and plastic curtains rustled when we passed by. The one room that was cozy and heated with another office with big windows, massive metal desks and an in-use rotary-dial phone with a cord! Here we tasted the wine line-up and snacked on local cheeses and little salami sandwiches. Francis, an enologist with a Ph.D in viticulture, spoke eloquently and in great detail about the farming of his grapes and the making of each wine. His friendly sister Marina chimed in with facts about the family and the winery’s history. In the corner sat their mother, Giuseppina Vallana, mostly silent, smiling and listening until she presented us with a fluffy panettone when we were leaving. (“She pretends she doesn’t speak English.” said Francis) 

Overall the Vallana wines exhibit an elegance and charm that makes us want to hoard them. We keep their Gattinara and Campi Raudii on the shelves at the South End location at all times. The Campi Raudii is Vallana’s entry-level wine, made mostly of Spanna with two years of aging. It’s fresh and fruity with a smooth, lingering finish of classic Nebbiolo cherry fruit and iron-y earthiness. Francis believes in long bottle aging, and he releases his wines later than most. Thus, the current vintage of Gattinara that we have on the shelf is 2005. The grapes for the Gattinara are original clones that pre-date the formation of the Gattinara DOCG. They are hand-picked early in October, and are fermented and barrel aged in large barrels for at least two years. A long bottle aging develops the wine further. Our current 2005 vintage Gattinara is aromatic, smooth and high-toned with pretty cherry fruit and a lovely, elegant lightness. Decant or open the bottle at least an hour before drinking if you can.

Vallana's fermentation tanks

These thick-walled cement tanks keep temperatures cool naturally as the wines ferment and age.

Either of these two wines would certainly merit a place on this year’s Thanksgiving table, though for my family of drinkers I’m sticking to the Campi Raudii!

This fall we’ve also received one coveted case of Vallana’s 1997 vintage Gattinara, available only in New York and Boston. In this aged beauty you’ll find the same Gattinara structure with more evolved leather and truffle notes. Softer fruit and more savory. Please let us know if you’d like a bottle of this special wine set aside for you (we think it’s a steal at $50.95!).

For more information follow this link to the Vallana website.

The Vallana wines are available at Formaggio Kitchen South End in Boston. If you would like to pick up any of these wines at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge we will be happy to send them over with one day’s notice.

Julie Cappellano is the General Manager and Wine Buyer at Formaggio Kitchen South End, Boston.

Some of our favorite cideries right now: (left to right) Bantam, Far From The Tree, and Shacksbury

Some of our favorite cideries right now: (left to right) Bantam, Far From The Tree, and Shacksbury

While I’ll never turn down a good glass of beer or wine, as the leaves start to fall I find myself reaching for cider more and more often. Thankfully, the days of just Woodchuck are over, as more and more craft cideries enter the field.

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After visiting Fromageries Marcel Petite in the fall of 2013, Team Formaggio traveled on to Switzerland. Ihsan and Valerie, owners of the Formaggio Kitchen family of shops, fellow cheesemongers Tripp and David (Tripp from Cambridge and David from Formaggio Kitchen South End), and myself journeyed to Raclette country in search of the best representations of this classic cheese - and we found it in Raclette de Verbier. Here are a few photos from our short but delicious stay! (please click on one of the photos to open the slideshow)

Meredith Rottersmann is the General Manager and Classroom Coordinator at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

Domaine de Vaccelli Cuvée Roger 2009 with Meadowood Farm Lamb Chops and Red Fire Farm Brussels Sprouts.

Domaine de Vaccelli Cuvée Roger 2009
with Meadowood Farm Lamb Chops and Red Fire Farm Brussels Sprouts.

France’s Île de Beauté (Island of Beauty) lies one hundred miles south of France’s Côte-d’Azur and just over fifty miles west of Tuscany. This wildly majestic island enjoys some of the hottest, driest conditions in all of France (it holds the record for the most annual sunshine), and is where the Greeks first cultivated vines back in the 6th Century BCE. Despite this long history of production, it was not until the 1960s, when a horde of skilled wine-makers fled Algeria (the so-called French pieds noirs) for Corsica, that it became known for wines of quality of distinction.

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Dark Milk Bar

Patric’s Dark Milk Bar – an example of craft chocolate’s dark side!

This post is part three of three of my interview with Carla D. Martin, “Professor of Chocolate” and Lecturer in the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Part one discussed the meaning of “craft chocolate” in North America, and part two questioned the idea of terroir and craft chocolate’s cost. Today’s post looks at North American craft chocolate’s dark side — so much of it is dark chocolate! What’s a milk chocolate lover to do?

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Milking the goats at Big Picture Farm

Milking the goats at Big Picture Farm

Big Picture Farm has caught the attention of many a candy-eater, gift-giver, artisanal-food junkie and Tumblr user, and the farm’s award-winning goat’s milk caramels are fully deserving of hype and high praise. We proudly stock their precious packages in the bakery window, and hold onto their idyllic postcards behind the bakery to cheer us up. Behind their stunning pictures and doodles of goats, dogs, and garden harvests, however, is a working farm and growing business driven by passionate people.

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