It’s likely that the Vermont Cheese Festival—the third annual is Sunday, July 24th—could be held in a motel conference room off the interstate, and crowds of artisan cheese lovers would still arrive by the busload.
but for those that like a bit of beauty in between samples of Twig Farm’s rustic raw milk goat tomme, crumbly bricks of aged Grafton Village Vermont cheddar and the smooth rounds of raw sheep’s milk from Valley Shepherd, the festival has scored one of the extraordinarily beautiful state’s more extraordinarily beautiful locations.
That’s Shelburne Farms, a 1,400-acre environmental education center, working farm and National Historic Landmark smack on the shores of Lake Champlain. The palatial estate, built in 1886 by the Vanderbilt family when their railroad fortune put them at the pinnacle of Ameri- can high society, was converted into a nonprofit in 1972. it is now home to miles of walking paths, agriculturally minded tours and a barn full of kid-friendly farm activities, as well as a working dairy. The property looks, upon arrival, like some kind of fairy-tale manor, the 19th-century stone buildings rising up from acres of lush grass, the rocky curve of that pristine great lake and some stunningly green woods. (in fact 400 acres of them are “Green Certified” from the American Tree Farm System). The festival, sponsored in part by the Vermont Cheese Council, is held in Shelburne’s soaring-ceilinged old carriage barn, but even it’s not big enough to hold the many stands—Vermont has the most cheesemakers per capita in the country—so they spill out into a giant tent.
More than 40 cheesemakers represent, and alongside them you’ll find Vermont brewers, bakers and winemakers, proffering pepperoni and thick-cut bacon, craggy hearth-cooked artisan loaves, maple syrup candies, raw honey, goat’s milk caramels, fruit jams, flavored vinegars and those bodacious local blueberries. (in between all the tasting tables, a stage hosts curd-nerd panels and DiY dairy demos.)
In addition to free sampling, these delectable specialties are available for sale—bring an insulated bag so you can bring home the bacon, not to mention all the milk-made marvels seldom seen in Manhattan. For those who hunger for carbohydrates and greens, there are also vendors making wood-fired pizzas and salads. (And of course scooping ice cream, courtesy of ben & Jerry’s, fellow Vermont dairy dudes and event sponsors.)
During the festival there are hayrides around the property, which take you from the tasting tent along a circuitous route past the seven-acre vegetable garden to the sprawling farm barn that serves as the heart of Shelburne’s agricultural educational center, widely regarded as one of the best anywhere.
Shelburne Farms produces its own fine farmhouse cheddar, thanks to 125 purebred, registered brown Swiss cows that graze on the property. Visitors can watch their sweet Vermont-grass- made milk slowly morph into cheese, from milking to curdling to aging. You can of course taste the results, if you’ve any room left after nibbling the addictive nutty tang of Thistle Hill Farm’s organic Tarentaise or trying the buttery rounds of Cremont, made with a mix of cow’s milk, goat’s milk and cream from the state’s powerhouse cheesemaker, Vermont butter & Cheese.
We recommend taking a few favorites to the thick, soft grass outside the coach barn with a glass of craft ale from tiny Hill Farmstead brewery in Greenwood bend, or a Whimsey Meadow rosé from Shelburne Vineyard just down the road. Eat cheese, take in the high summer breeze just off Lake Champlain and vow to move to Vermont, if only for a day.
Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, July 25, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.; vtcheesefest.com
Two Trips to the Vermont Cheese Festival:
In partnership with the new gastro getaway outfit Taking root, Essex Street Market’s Saxelby Cheesemongers is hosting a special weekend-long “A Day A-Whey” trip to Vermont the weekend of the festival. The trip agenda includes lunch at Shel- burne Farms and a cheddar cheesemaking class on Saturday, a group dinner at the Farm Table in burlington that night, a stay in a local b&b and transportation to the festival on Sunday. Visit takingrootus.com for more details and pricing.
Murray’s Cheese is also planning a two-day trip, which includes a bus ride from Manhattan on Saturday morning, a night at a local hotel and stops at local cheesemakers, dinners and more. For more details visit our events page.