Ah, Cheese – how I love thee!

I don’t know about you, but I love cheese. I consider it a staple and it’s always at my dinner table. My friends make fun of me but oh, how they enjoy the bounty when I take it out to share with the perfect loaf of bread and a bottle of wine.

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Needless to say, a couple weeks back when I saw an ad in the Metro for the Vermont Cheese Festival I jumped at the chance to go. I didn’t know who was going to go with me, I just knew I was going and I would find a partner in crime in no time. Who could resist a weekend of cheese tasting in one of the most beautiful and scenic areas of New England? I decided to go with my mom and make a mother-daughter road trip out of it. I filled the gas tank, the coffee mugs, set the Greek tunes blaring and off we went.

Three and a half hours later we made it from Boston to Vermont and it was worth every mile. As we neared the venue, I noticed a “sold out” sign on the post. I was so excited. You’d think I was one of the lucky few getting to see the Rolling Stones before they croak, but no, I was there to taste cheese! My mother looked at me and said, “So all these people are just as crazy as we are?” Yes! I responded proudly.

The venue was gorgeous. After making our way through the entrance, the road winded through beautiful green pastures dotted with grazing cows. Following the road to the very end, we finally made it to venue – a glorious barn structure right next to the water. After taking in the view we proceeded inside for our Cheesemaking 101 Seminar.

Cheesemaking 101 was taught by Max McCalman, author and Maltre Fromager at the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center in New York and Marc Druart, Master Cheesemaker at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese at UVM. The class was informative and entertaining. Marc Druart showed how to make a goat cheese and explained how curdling is like “Facebook”. Pieces come together or curdle and are attracted by things that are similar leaving behind the whey.

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As he explained the process and talked about the different cheeses, we each had a plate to sample. All of the cheeses were delicious. It was explained that the best way to each of the cheeses is to start with the milder ones to understand the nuances of each of the flavors that come from the cheese. Going from mild to stronger cheeses allows the palette to taste everything before it moves into a heavier cheese like a pungent Blue. It was further explained that the length of time a cheese ages determines its taste and its texture. In addition, the source animal has lots to do with the kind of cheese that is created. For instance, goat’s milk can create some milder cheeses and is easier for digestion.

When I initially signed up for the class, I thought, “How much could we possibly learn about cheese in a one-hour interval?” However, I found the class educational and fun – which has a lot to do with the instructors. It was well worth my money and it left me with wanting more.

So, after the class my mom and I started strolling the barn and filling our bellies with all the gloriously fresh, local cheese and bread that surrounded us. There were vendors everywhere and I left there with more than my share of cheese and freshly baked, local bread. After we had our fill, we meandered over to the water, sat ourselves down to enjoy our newly acquired goodies and take in the view. This, I decided, was a road trip I would definitely take again.

For more information, check out the site, here: http://www.vtcheesefest.com.

Cheeses we sampled during the seminar:
Bijou: Vermont Butter and Cheese, Websterville, VT
Paniolo: Willow Farm, Milton, Vermont
Farmhouse Cheddar: Shelburne Farms, Shelburne, VT
Tarentaise: Spring Brook Farm – Reading VT
Goz-Dawn-Zola: Green Mountain Blue Cheese Farm, Highgate, VT