14 Amazing Vermont Cheeses
I’m compelled to take the back roads home these days, despite the five to ten minutes added to my drive. The land brighter on the eyes, the air brighter on the nose—fragrance from new foliage and mellowing manure has me believing, albeit foolishly, that all is well with the world, if only from my vicinity. Spring is a balm on my spirit worn raw after winter.
With windows down, I cruise past pastures dotted with the beasts of this kingdom—cows, goat, sheep—grazing placidly, and I imagine within the walls of the farmsteads to which those beasts belong folks cooking milk, into small batches of cheddar, chèvre or unnamed stinky delicacies to stock their larders.
Pretty pictures on Instagram aside, the rich sensory experience of this landscape isn’t something that can be experienced outside of existing in it. And yet there is cheese, which, if done well, has the potential to take the essence of the working landscape—the symbiotic give-and-take between animal and terrain, the potency and timing of that process—and distill it down to a sensuous morsel. Cheese is a portal to this place, and it’s no wonder why it’s become Vermont’s most successful commodity.
The surge in the number of Vermont cheesemakers in recent decades is a beacon of hope for local dairy culture. While the state’s milk industry has taken a devastating nosedive since the 1950s, pioneering farmers and cheesemakers have set out to run economically viable operations, made possible by the high demand for not just the classic white cheddar but also a host of artisanal cheeses.
When we asked Vermont cheese expert Cherie Cyr of Healthy Living to help us put together a list of 14 amazing Vermont cheeses, her response was, “Boy, I sure do love so many more than 14!” We feel Cherie’s pain. Some of the finest artisan and farmhouse cheeses in the world are coming out of the Green Mountain State. A bite of any of these 14 will transport you to the rolling pastures of Vermont and for a moment you just might have the feeling that all is right in the world… and in the world of Vermont cheese, this is true.
Here is just a taste of Vermont’s amazing cheeses:
1. Orb Weaver Farmhouse Cheese – Back in 1982, Marjorie Susman and Marian Pollack became the first commercial farmstead cheesemakers in Vermont. Back before there were artisanal-cheese-making courses galore, these pioneers took the limited knowledge they’d acquired from one cheese class and set out to learn the art of cheesemaking essentially on their own. Orb Weaver Farmhouse is a two-woman show and the batches are small, handcrafted and consistently exceptional. Their farmhouse cheese—which means a cheese made exclusively from the milk produced on the farm—is pungent and moist with a buttery-smooth texture.
2. Vermont Creamery, Bonne Bouche – Perhaps the most widely known producer of Vermont artisanal cheese worldwide, Vermont Creamery has a range of dairy products from butter and cream to fresh and aged cow and goat cheeses. Bonne Bouche is considered the crown jewel of the Creamery’s coffers—an ash-ripened, aged “geo” goat cheese that is creamy and piquant.
3. Blue Ledge Farm, Lakes Edge – If you’ve ever walked along Lake Champlain and taken note of the shapes of stones on the water’s edge, you’ll understand why Blue Ledge Farm named this beauty Lakes Edge. This bloomy-rind, soft-ripened pasteurized goat cheese, coated in veined-ash, is poetry for the palate as well as the eye. Wine Spectator Magazine voted it one of the best 100 cheeses in the world. Dense center, creamy mid-layer, tangy and luscious. “Our goats live a life of luxury,” says farmer Greg Bernhardt. Eating this cheese certainly feels like a luxury.
4. Shelburne Farms, Smoked Cheddar – Vermont is most widely known for its cheddar cheese and Shelburne Farms has some of the best. From their offerings, the smoked cheddar is our favorite—a sweet, smoky, nuanced cheddar that is positively addicting.
5. Grafton, 2-Year-Aged Cheddar – Here we go with the cheddar, again. Grafton has taken home the blue ribbon for the best 2-year-aged cheddar cheese more than a dozen times over. Vermont’s crowned classic.
This post originally appeared on State 14. Thanks to them for consulting with our cheese manager & expert Cherie Cyr on this post.