After you pass the entrance gate at Shelburne Farms, a certain suspension of disbelief becomes utterly necessary. As the road winds along, alternating between pavement, dirt, & gravel, the sheer wealth of the color green hits you hard while pristine yet ancient mansion barnhouses appear around each bend. Just as you’re trying to snap a photo of a row of cows in shady stalls that you swear are smiling, the dense rows of jade green summer foliage give way to a shimmering body of water that starts just feet from the road, with a simple row of pebbles where a beach would be. That body of water is the Shelburne Bay off of Lake Champlain, and despite sensory evidence to the contrary, this place is very real.
What brought me to this Green Mountain state paradise? The 5th Annual Cheesemakers’ Festival—though it now seems more pertinent to ask why it took me so long to visit Shelburne, birthplace of our fast-selling 2-year aged cheddar. This event, started in 1996 when Vermont Butter & Creamery was heralded by the U.S. Small Business Administration as Small Business of the Year, is intended to celebrate Vermont as our nation’s state with the highest number of cheesemakers per capita—and of course, to celebrate the 40+ curd nerds who made it out this past Sunday to sample their cheesy wares at Shelburne Farms’ Coach Barn.
There were a lot of familiar faces at the fest, a lot of new faces, and a lot of fun new products from both. We visited with Larry from Springbrook Farm, makers of shop faves Tarentaise & Raclette, and the folks from the Von Trapp Farmstead who bring us our beloved Oma. We mingled with the makers of Tres Bonne goat gouda, Cremont & Bonne Bouche, It’s Arthur’s Fault sauces, Big Picture Farm goat caramels, and all of our amazing aged goat cheeses from Twig Farm. We even got to say hello to the Mt. Mansfield Creamery people that give us Inspiration (both figuratively and literally).
But what’s more exciting than me bragging about how much cheese I ate at this stunning farm? All the new products you have to look forward to as a result of it! We got to sample Weston Wheel, a hard aged sheep’s milk cheese from the guys at Woodcock Farm who make our bloomy rind Summer Snow (it knocked us out of the barn). Consider Bardwell was sampling Danby, a hard extra aged goat cheese akin to asiago that I’m lobbying our cheese buyer to bring in now. And the makers of our adored triple creme Champlain Valley are scheming up a new bloomy rind/ash rind hybrid cheese that will be a triple creme with a twist, aptly named Pyramid Scheme.
The most pleasant surprise came at the Vermont Shepherd table, where a team that focuses on seasonality in their cheese was sampling one of this year’s first wheels of Verano, their summer sheep’s milk cheese that at least half of the American Provisions staff dreams about in the off-season. They wait until the sheep are fed fat on a diet of spring herbs & grasses before milking them, and the result is a bright, refreshing wheel abundant with the flavor of wild flowers.
It wasn’t all cheese, though—I wouldn’t have had the energy to survive all this farm life without the agrarian heritage in a bottle that is Switchel, an all-natural energy drink crafted in Glover, VT by a 7th-generation farming family. Switchel, or haymakers’ punch, is the title given to a concoction enjoyed for over a century by field workers who slaked their thirst with what limited means were on hand—typically, cider vinegar, maple syrup, ginger, lemon, or molasses. Switchel has all five, and though they aren’t in any Boston stores yet, we hope to have them in the coming weeks.
We also had a local double IPA from Shelburne’s own Fiddlehead Brewing to quench the thirst brought on by cheeses, crackers, and of course the grass-fed beef from Slant Shack Jerky. We were thrilled to try their Maple Glaze & Garlic Powder flavor, and thrilled to hear there’s a Notch Pale Ale jerky on its way. Look for a full-flavored full stock of jerky at AP in the next few weeks!
My heart sunk a little as the festival wound down. I didn’t want to leave this place where neither cheese lovers nor cheese makers were above scraping out the last of the Winnimere before the Provisions International booth officially closed up shop. Fortunately the grown-up Disneyland that is Shelburne’s estate remains open to the public for hiking, swimming, roaming, or even just cow-gazing should any of us need a vacation. But if this recap left you hungry for something more tangible than a trip up north, stay tuned—we’ve got lots in store for you.