Cheese, Beer + BBQ: A Memorable Day at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

The call time was 6 a.m., but our first guests — just as excited as we were — were standing outside our door at 5:40.

Gradually, the rest of our sleepy customers arrived, picked up their coffee and croissants, and by 6:30, all 32 of us were on the road, headed for high adventure in the Green Mountain State. Our destination was the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, a gathering of about 50 local cheesemakers, 30 breweries and wineries, and a host of other food artisans making everything from mustard to nougat. The event, in its second year, was held last Sunday at the breathtakingly lovely Shelburne Farms estate outside of Burlington, and this year we organized a bus to bring our customers to the festival — a first-of-its-kind trip for Formaggio Kitchen.

The Shelburne Farms estate sits on Lake Champlain.

The Shelburne Farms estate sits on Lake Champlain.

We personally knew many of the cheesemakers at the festival and were excited not only to see them, but also to introduce them to our customers. Once we got into the festival, one of our first stops was the Cellars at Jasper Hill. Based in Greensboro, the Cellars work with small cheesemakers across Vermont, aging, selling and distributing their cheeses from a network of seven large subterranean caves. Some of our favorite cheeses from the Cellars include Oma, a gooey washed-rind cow’s milk cheese from von Trapp Farmstead, Landaff, a cow’s milk cheese based on a Caerphilly recipe, and the inimitable Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. Jasper Hill also makes its own cheeses, including Bayley Hazen Blue and the Camembert-like Moses Sleeper.

Younger and older wheels of Spring Brook Tarentaise.

Younger and older wheels of Spring Brook Tarentaise.

We also checked in with Jeremy Stephenson of Spring Brook Farms, who makes Tarentaise, a hearty cow’s milk cheese based on the French Abondance. Jeremy was offering tastes of a younger Tarentaise, which was smooth and nutty with a mild fruitiness, and an older, spicier wheel that left the insides of your mouth tingling. Aside from making great cheese, Spring Brook Farms also runs programs that bring city-dwelling kids to the country to learn more about farming and agriculture.

Once we had made the rounds at the festival, our next stop was the Farm Barn for a special barbecue put on by our very own Eric, he of our wildly popular Saturday sidewalk barbecues.

Eric brought a huge spread of pulled meats and veggie kabobs to serve our guests.

Eric brought a huge spread of pulled meats and veggie kabobs to serve our guests.

The weather was warm but breezy, and most of our customers chose to make the 20-minute walk from the Coach Barn, where the festival was held, to the Farm Barn, a gorgeous 19th-century building that serves as the estate’s administrative hub. The Farm Barn also houses many programs for visitors, including a children’s petting zoo.

Chickens, sheep and goats roam the grounds of the Farm Barn.

Chickens, sheep and goats roam the grounds of the Farm Barn.

Joining our customers at the barbecue were several cheesemaker friends, including Mateo Kehler from Jasper Hill, Michael Lee from Twig Farm, and Angela Miller and Russell Glover from Consider Bardwell Farm. Eric brought with him an irresistible spread of pulled pork, beef brisket, roasted chickens, hot dogs, veggie kabobs and several side dishes and, just like on Saturdays in Cambridge, the line of hungry people quickly grew. While they waited, our guests sipped beer from Hill Farmstead Brewery, an up-and-coming outfit located in Greensboro, just down the road from Jasper Hill Farm. (We’re all about keeping it local, you know.) Zoe, our friend from Jasper Hill also made us some wonderful pies, one of which incorporated cheese into the crust in lieu of butter!

Formaggio Kitchen's Eric and Tim man the grill while Mateo Kehler looks on (photo by Howard Young)

Formaggio Kitchen’s Eric (center) and Tim (right) man the grill while Mateo Kehler looks on (photo by Howard Young)

We would have loved to have stayed and relaxed at Shelburne Farms all night, but alas, we still had a four-hour bus ride back to Cambridge ahead of us. We were guided home by an amazing full moon, lulled to sleep with full bellies, and woke up already thinking about our next field trip.

Emily Shartin is the classes and events coordinator at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.