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Dizzy feasts on buttercups

Dizzy feasts on buttercups

A cow named Dizzy munches on buttercups, a goat named Isabelle ruminates under the shade of an old oak tree; in Vermont, the rolling green pastures are shadowed only by the cheeses that its distinct flora promotes.

With all the marvelous European cheeses we carry, tasting through terroirs of France, Italy, Switzerland or Portugal can sometimes make it hard to remember that, here in New England, a slice of the Old World exists right on our doorstep. While Europeans are upholding some of the most important cheese traditions, Vermont’s cheese makers and affineurs (cheese agers) are bursting with creativity, blending European and American traditions with some truly extraordinary results.

Earlier this summer I awoke in a strange bed; the rattling in my head reminding me that I might have had one too many pints of beer the night before. I was at Consider Bardwell Farm, the first of several stops on a trip visiting the people and animals behind some of our favorite Vermont cheeses. My coworkers and I had been welcomed at the farm the previous evening with a feast spread by our gracious hosts and farmer friends. Now I scrambled to get dressed and greet the sun, which was just breaking through the clouds over the pasture.

Happy Goat at Consider Bardwell

Happy goat at Consider Bardwell Farm

The dairy was already bustling with activity before I crossed the fields to the milking room. The goats nudged each other trying to be first in line. The heifers ran to the stalls where suction would relieve their mammaries. Everyone was awake and brimming with energy. The farmers washed the equipment and prepared the udders for milking. The goats smiled, and seemed to laugh as they noshed on coveted treats, and gave their milk.

The milk traveled through sterile tubing into large vats in the dairy. The rennet was added and the process began. Each cheese has its own recipe, its own distinct needs to present itself best to our palates. While in the dairy, time, pH, and tactile impression shape the cheese before its curds are cut. Although most of the flavor in our favorite cheeses materializes in the caves, the structure of the final product depends upon the precision of the cheese maker.

Getting a Feel for the Dorset

Getting a feel for the Dorset

After a tour of Consider Bardwell’s controlled aging rooms, we drove to nearby Twig Farm to meet Michael Lee and his goats. The area was more wooded, and the land appeared to be mainly untouched. Michael greeted us at the end of the driveway and promptly gave a tour of the grounds. He introduced us to many of the 64 goats he cared for. Michael had names for each, distinguished by the goat’s markings and the color of its collar.

As we toured his land, and moved the fences to expand the pasturing area, Michael astounded us with his knowledge of the flora and the goats’ affinity for particular plants. He explained the nuances that particulars in diet bring to the flavor and structure of his famed tommes. In his cave he enjoyed watching the milk evolve. He embraced the micro cultures, molds, and yeasts that spawn delicious cheese. Twig Farm is small, Michael does the farming, cheese making and cave management himself with only an occasional helper. His devotion to the craft is recognized in each of his products.

Twig Farm Fuzzy Wheel

Twig Farm Fuzzy Wheel

From Twig Farm we traveled to Blue Ledge Farm, renowned for their Lake’s Edge and fresh chèvre. It was late in the afternoon when we arrived, and we had already missed the cheese maker. A young dog ran up to greet us near the barn. Hannah was right behind him. She took us down into their cave. There curds for chèvre drained in baskets along steel tables dripping with whey. In the next room, Lake’s edge rested covered in ash.

Next on my itinerary was Jasper Hill Farm, and the Cellars at Jasper Hill. In the pastures, on the way to the Cellars, we met Dizzy. She was munching on grass and wildflowers in a field just down the road from the barn. Jasper Hill’s cows spend much of the day ruminating in the gorgeous pastures on along the hills.

We passed the barn and dairy and continued up the road to the caves. This massive underground facility was unimposing, just a door into the hillside. Matteo opened the door and welcomed us into the cellars. Vince, our guide, and former Formaggio Kitchen monger, acquainted us with the many arms of the facility. One was devoted to raw milk bloomy rind cheeses, one to alpine style washed rinds, the largest arm was reserved for Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. The affineurs care for cheeses from a variety of neighboring dairies. Regular turning, washing, and tasting wheel after wheel is required by the cave managers to provide the best product possible.

Affineur washing Alpha Tolman

Affineur washing Alpha Tolman

After a fascinating visit at the Cellars at Jasper Hill we made our way to Cobb Hill. Cobb Hill is co-housing community who’s residents manage a vegetable farm and dairy, and create delightful cheese as well as frozen yogurt. We were given snacks of Ascutney Mountain, Cobb Hill’s signature alpine cheese and maple frozen yogurt; it was perfect on a hot summer afternoon.

I had one final stop. I was running out of time but needed still to visit Spring Brook Farm: Farms for City Kids. Here they are dedicated to educating children and impressing upon them the need for sustainability. With 100% Jersey cow’s milk the farmers create award winning cheeses like the Spring Brook Tarentaise. I was introduced to the copper kettle envied by many, and after visiting their cheese caves I took some time to wander the beautiful landscape, and pat a calf or two.

It was an incredible journey through the Vermont countryside; reflective of life ruled by the sun, the seasons, and a sincere commitment of neighbors to the highest standards of quality, community, and sustainability.

Future producer of Tarentaise

Future producer of Tarentaise

Nicole Roach is a keen kitchen experimenter and a member of the produce, register, and operations teams at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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Consider Bardwell Farm

Consider Bardwell Farm

Four years ago, when I first moved from New York to the Boston-area, I can only describe it as a collision of worlds. Although the change of pace is less noticeable for some, it took me extra time to adjust to the relatively gentle mobility of Beantown as compared to that of the Big Apple.

After finding work at Formaggio Kitchen, and as I established a comfort zone with my newly adopted environment, I was given the opportunity through the shop to visit a series of farms in western Vermont. I had never traveled that far north in the United States before, so I jumped at the opportunity.

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Farmers Jane Field Blend WhiteIn celebration of Independence Day weekend, we’re featuring one delicious American wine. The Farmers Jane project is run by friends and wine lovers Angela and Faith in southern California. This tasty white is made from grapes purchased from a Santa Ynez valley vineyard belonging to the Native American Chamush tribe. In this vineyard Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussane grow together, and the grapes are harvested, pressed and fermented all together at the same time, old-school style. (more…)

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Citrus - lemons, limes, tangerines, oranges and kumquats

As those of you have been by our South End store during the past few weeks may have noticed, despite the slow drag as spring gradually gains ground in the battle to wrest our weather from winter’s claws, we have been fortunate to have a bit of sunshine gracing our shelves. This sunshine comes in the form of produce from the small, organic farms we work with in California. (more…)

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Apple Caramel Pawlet Cheese Pie

The heat of summer is finally over! While that does mean the end of berries, lemonade and cobblers, the season of pumpkins, mulled cider and, of course, apple pie is now in full swing. To celebrate the season, I wanted to bake a non-traditional apple pie using only New England products (and, sneaking in one sweet addition from Brooklyn). The end result was an apple pie with a caramel lavender sauce and cheese crust. And to drink? Mystic Brewery’s Mystic Descendant, a dry stout just bitter enough to offset the sweetness of the pie, with notes of caramel and toffee to complement. (more…)

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Vermont Cheesemakers Festival - 2013

It was the perfect day yesterday at Shelburne Farms for the 5th annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival. Forty plus cheesemakers from around the state of Vermont, as well as a few from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, gathered for an afternoon of tasting and talking – and, happily, we did a lot of both! (more…)

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Consider Bardwell Sign

Consider Bardwell cheeses constitute a stronghold in the domestic section of our cheese counter. We have been carrying cheeses from this outstanding dairy for some years now – day in, day out, they maintain a standard of excellence and consistency that, if you are familiar with cheesemaking, know is a real challenge and, when executed, is a true achievement. (more…)

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