These Vermont cheesemakers are breaking out of the cheddar mold with artisanal treats.
Say cheese to a Vermont visitor, and the response is likely to be “cheddar.” Wheel upon wheel—mild, sharp, and extra sharp—cheddar is the Green Mountain State’s iconic cheese.
As American food tastes have grown more sophisticated, however, small producers have sprung up to satisfy those palates. With more than 50 producers, Vermont has more cheese artisans per capita than any U.S. state, according to Jeffrey Roberts, author of Salted and Cured: Savoring the Heritage, Culture, and Flavor of America’s Cured Meat and The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese.
About three-quarters of those artisans make farmstead cheeses from the milk of goats, cows, or sheep they tend. “The animals are their animals, they’re on their pasture, they’re only using their milk exclusively,” Roberts says.
The French have a word for it: terroir. It refers to the character of a place—its soil, climate, and all the geographical particulars that define the things that grow there. The concept is most often associated with fine wines, but it applies equally well to Vermont artisan cheeses.
Some cheesemakers and their farms welcome visitors. “A call ahead is essential,” especially when farmers are making cheese, says Roberts, a consultant to artisan cheese makers across the country.