There is a concentration of cheesemakers in southern Vermont, which is why we made Woodstock our base for most of our visit. We also stayed in Burlington for a few days.
Though we know and like Cabot cheese, we chose not to tour the facility because we wanted to visit small producers. If you are interested, Cabot's visitors' center is open year-round in Montpelier. Shelburne Farms on Lake Champlain, is worth a stop, especially with children, who get to feed chickens or milk cows.
More into cheese than farms? The Vermont Country Store in Rockingham stocks local cheeses and gives free samples. The mother lode of cheeses, Vermont and otherwise, can be found at the Brattleboro Food Co-op. Approximately 500 cheeses are for sale, along with a serious side of dismay about large-scale agriculture and its effects on the land, small farm and the taste of food.
Some notable stops on the cheese trail:
Londonderry, (802) 824-5690 or www.taylorfarmvermont. com. Cheeses: farmstead goudas, including an award-wining maple smoked gouda.
Jonathan Wright's farm straddles Route 11, and if you're there in the afternoon you can see the cows amble through a tunnel under the road to the milking parlor. It's not just the cats and dogs that have names. Among the cows are Nancy, Petunia and Easter.
Wright is from New York and worked on the farm when he was in college, coming back for good in 1989. Now he is a president of the Vermont Cheese Council and welcomes visitors every day of the week. If his crew is making cheese, you can watch; likewise, if the girls are being milked in the barn. A retail shop stocks cheeses, plus homemade pies, other baked goods and Vermont gifts.
Frog City Cheese
Plymouth Notch, (802) 672-3650 or www.frogcitycheese.com. Cheese: heirloom Plymouth.
Before Calvin Coolidge was president, he was a Vermonter. His father was a dairy farmer and cheesemaker in Plymouth Notch. So was the president's son. They called their cheese Plymouth, a mild cross between Cheddar and Colby, and it was made on the homestead, which is now a state historic site, until 1998.
For six years, cheesemaking stopped, much to the dismay of loyal customers around the country. Among them was Julia Child, who missed her favorite cheese.
The production has started again, thanks to husband-and-wife Tom Gilbert and Jackie McCuin, both native Vermonters with deep roots in dairy farming.
Visitors can watch the process through a large viewing window, and a retail store sells various cheeses and other gifts. Stroll through the lovingly maintained historic site. Check out the sitting room of the farmhouse where Coolidge was sworn into office.
Healdville, (802) 259-2340 or www.crowleycheese-vermont.com. Cheese: Colbys.
Not far from Plymouth Notch is the home of another historic cheese producer. Crowley has been producing Colbys in the same building since 1882. Just five people expect to produce, package and ship about 88,000 pounds this year. Last year, they made 44,000 pounds.
The last Crowley died in 1960, but work goes on in the small brown building on the hill. Cheesemaker Ken Hart is happy to share the story, and visitors are welcome to watch whatever is going on. The cheese is waxed by hand.
Samples are plentiful; make sure to try the jalapeno-spiked Colby. Then imagine it on nachos.
Randolph Center, (802) 728-4700 or www.neighborlyfarms.com. Cheese: Organic farmstead Cheddars, feta and Colby.
On the afternoon we stopped at Ron and Linda Dimmick's Neighborly Farms production had stopped for the day, so one of the cheesemakers, Dave Goldsworthy, had time to talk. We watched the cows munching on gorgeous, deep-green fresh hay and kittens cavorting through the barn.
Neighborly produces about 100,000 pounds of organic cheese a year, and the demand is booming. Cheese is made on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Make sure you try the raw milk aged Cheddar and some of the flavored varieties.
LAKE'S END CHEESE
Alburg, (802) 796-3730 or www.lakesendcheeses.com. Cheese: chevre and sheep's and cow's milk blended, aged cheeses.
In the northwest corner of Vermont, kissed by New York and Canada, is the town of Alburg. It's a summertime vacation spot, where fishing and boating are favorite activities. In the winter, well, it's cold. Sub-zero cold.
When we pull into Lake's End, we see a llama peeking over some bushes, a cooler stocked with fresh eggs for sale and a small retail shop. Across the street is Lake Champlain, to the west looms the Adirondacks.
Cheesemaker Joanne James makes not only award-winning cheeses here, but an array of delicious chocolate bonbons. Our favorites are filled with peanut butter.