Among the many reasons to visit Vermont, is for the cheese. The “slow food” movement is sweeping the globe. Foods, made slowly, by hand and in small batches, like we prepare them at the October Country Inn, have captured the attention of consumers world-wide. These products are in demand, and Vermont is at the forefront.
Today, Vermont supports more farmstead cheesemakers per capita than any other U.S. state and is cited as the emerging epicenter of smaller American artisanal cheese producers. Vermont is poised to become to cheese what Napa Valley is to wine.
A farmstead cheesmaker is one who makes cheese from the milk of animals (cows, sheep, goats, buffalo, etc.) on the same farm. Dairy farming is a traditional source of income for Vermont. There were 35,000 farms in Vermont by the end of the 19thCentury. By the end of World War II that number had dropped to 11,000. Now, due to the rising cost of production and rise in land prices, there are only about 1,000 farms left. Today’s average dairy farm is 200 acres with 130 cows, and it’s increasingly difficult to rely on milk sales alone and make ends meet. However, making cheese from milk is far more profitable than the fluid milk itself. A hundred pounds of milk, yielding a farmer $15 to $20, can easily yield $60 to $100 worth of cheese. Also, small farms are capable of producing cheese. One cow can produce enough milk to make 1,000 lbs of farmstead cheese. A farmer doesn’t have to have 200 acres and 130 cows to make a living. By making cheese, a farmer with a small herd of 15 to 30 cows, and correspondingly less land, can make a living.
Local farmstead cheese makers offer a variety of cheeses. The Thistle Hill Farm, (802) 457-9349, in North Pomfret, makes a cows milk Tarentaise. The Jericho Hill Farm, (802) 295-5333, in Hartford, makes cows milk jack and colby cheeses. The Cobb Hill Farm, (802) 436-4360, in Hartland, makes cows milk Gruyere and cheddar cheeses. The Spring Brook Farm, (802) 484-1236, in Reading, makes cows milk Tarentaise and Raclette cheeses. The Woodcock Farm, (802) 824-6135 in Weston makes sheeps milk cheeses. All these farms invite visitors to tour their farms by previous arrangement.
Many of these and other Vermont farmstead cheeses are available in local retail markets. The Woodstock Farmer’s Market carries many different local farmstead cheeses. Local cheesemakers also sell their cheeses at local outdoor Farmer’s Markets. There’s a Farmer’s Market on the green in Woodstock on Wednesdays, in Ludlow on Fridays, in Mt. Tom (Woodstock) and Norwich on Saturdays, and in Hartland, and Quechee on Sundays.
Whether or not you come to Vermont for the cheese, be sure and sample it while you’re here.