If you’ve gotten to know Cheese+Provisions, you know that we are passionate about American artisan and farmstead cheeses. In September, we were lucky enough to spend a week in Vermont, the epi-center of America’s farmstead cheeses, touring farms and creameries to meet cheesemakers and source cheese for the store.
Our first stop was Von Trapp Farmstead Cheese. They actually are descendants of the family portrayed in The Sound of Music. True to their Austrian Alpine heritage, they raise cows and make several wonderful cheeses, including Oma and Savage, which they send over to Jasper Hill to age.
Next stop was Consider Bardwell Farm and its beautiful old barns, situated on a site that has been making cheese since the 18th century. General Manager Jeff DiMeo spent several hours with us touring their farm and creamery (a treat since they don’t normally let visitors in that). We met their goats up front, met their 25-year old phenom and award-winning cheesemaker and watched the piglets eat their weight in whey. The highlight was tasting Slyboro, a cheese only available in Vermont and NYC that is washed with cider from the nearby Slyboro cidery.
We followed that with a few hours at Spring Brook Farm to try their award-winning alpine-style cheeses. After a wonderful tour where we saw their beautiful Jersey cows, their happy chickens, their content pigs, and their cute-as-a-button little jersey calves who tried valiantly to get milk from my thumb but were ultimately unsuccessful, what stuck with me the most was their program for bringing urban children to the farm.
Groups of 25 inner-city children are brought to the farm, where for one week they are exposed to nature in all its beauty. They feed the animals, clean the stalls, and learn about cheesemaking, all the while learning concepts that will help them become successful adults once they are back home.
The highlight of the trip was probably the day we spent with Rachel Fritz Schaal and her sister Alex Shaal a Parish Hill Creamery. We got invited to the inner sanctum to watch Alex make Humble, a beautiful cider-washed tomme while Rachel, the bubbly dynamo behind Parish Hill generously showed us the ins and outs of a tiny, old-world, craftsman operation where everything is done by hand.
Behind Parish Hill is Peter Dixon, the godfather of Vermont cheese, having worked at many of Vermont’s most celebrated creameries, and developed the recipes for the cheeses that made those creameries famous. They jokingly say that they find the hardest way to do things and then do it that way. But they are right. Like Peter clears the weeds with a scythe, not a weedeater. This family is serious about artisan and handmade and it shows in their cheeses.
It’s not by accident that they were our first-ever wholesale cheese purchase – 30 pounds of Suffolk Punch and Reverie. Oh yeah – the cheese freakin’ rocks too! Rachel – we love you! Thanks for an amazing day!
The next day was a homecoming of sorts. We visited Vermont Shepherd and its owner David Major. David makes world-class sheep’s milk cheese from his herd of Dorset/Friesian crosses. It was Vermont Shepherd we first visited for advice back in 2005 when we were setting up our own sheep dairy operation, True Ewe.
David won Best in Show for his sheep’s-milk tomme at the ACS annual meeting, which is equivalent to winning an Oscar for your movie. Nutty and silky, his cheeses Verano and Invierno are spot-on classic renditions of Pyrenees-style sheep’s-milk tommes.
We set off post-Vermont Shepherd for Woodcock farms, another sheep dairy that we visited in our sheep ranchin’ days. Mark Fischer has come a long way in the 10 years since we last visited. He’s expanded both the number of cheeses he’s making and the milks he’s using having added some cow’s milk from a nearby farm.
We spent a couple hours sharing sheep stories and tasting his cheeses. Our favorites, a lovely sheep’s-milk Pyrenees-style cheese called Weston Wheel, and an unctuous sheep’s milk camembert called Summer Snow. Look for both in the Cheese+Provisions cheese case.
But the day wasn’t over yet – next we made our way to Taylor Farm to sample its farmstead Gouda, winner of numerous awards. There was Gouda, maple Gouda, smoked Gouda, maple smoked Gouda, nettle Gouda – in short, Goudas for everyone! And pigs. Who tried to bite me.
In all, it was nine days (three spent at Jasper Hill’s Cheese Camp) of driving, getting lost, touring farms and eating cheese, all in the service of bringing our guests at Cheese+Provisions a little something special that they can’t find elsewhere. It’s a tough job, but one we’ve dedicated our lives to!
Want a peek at the trip? Take a look at our video below.