In this blog series intern Briana finds artisan cheesemakers from six regions around the country that represent our cheese nation. Venture along the ride as she goes coast to coast, discovering what makes the U.S. home to great artisan cheese.
Vermont State of Mind
In Vermont, goats and cows might as well outnumber people. With over 40 artisanal cheesemakers, it’s the state with the highest cheesemakers per capita. The Vermont Cheese Trail is no joke—you could spend a whole week exploring different cheesemakers and dairies. While Vermont may be known as the leading producer of maple syrup, artisanal cheese is having its time in the spotlight.
In my time at culture, cheese tastings have been overwhelming from Vermont. I am amazed by the diversity and quality of cheese produced from this small state. French influences are evident; after all, “Vermont” is French for “green mountain.” Two American Cheese Society (ACS) winners this year came from Vermont’s Cellars at Jasper Hill. The ACS top prize went to their Winnimere, inspired by Vacherin Mont D’Or typical of the Jura region of France.
Despite declining numbers in dairy farms, dairy remains the primary source of agricultural income for Vermont. While Ben and Jerry’s leads the pack as largest dairy producer, artisanal cheese is quickly catching up.
Sandwiched between Vermont’s Champlain Valley and New York’s Washington County is 300-acre Consider Bardwell Farm. Founded in 1864 by entrepreneur Mr. Consider Stebbins Bardwell, it was the first cheesemaking cooperative in the U.S. Angela Miller, who revived the farm with her husband in 2000, tells me that the farm was established during the Civil War years, when women were overburdened with providing food for the troops. Consider Bardwell Farm was an answer to farmers’ prayers. Consider Bardwell helped increase production of butter and cheese tremendously. There was even a railroad running through the farm to transport cheese. When the depression hit in the 1930s, the farm stopped production.
Fast-forward to 2000, when Miller discovered the abandoned farm while house hunting in Vermont. A literary agent in Manhattan, she desired tranquility outside of the city. When she found out about the farm’s cheesemaking history, she knew what she had to do. In 2003, she bought her first Oberhasli goats, a Swiss dairy breed, and began to learn about cheesemaking. As a literary agent for chefs, Miller is constantly surrounded by food.
“My life has always been about eating and studying cheese,” says Miller.
While she had no prior experience in cheesemaking, she grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and knew her way around a farm. But there were a lot of growing pains. “It was an 80 hour week instead of a 40 hour week,” she says. Finding the money to finance the farm was the biggest challenge, but Miller and husband Russell Glover were able to pool together savings to start up the creamery. Luckily, Glover is an architect, and he built the caves now used to age their cheese on sight.
After several years of experimenting with European models of cheese, in 2007 they brought on expert cheesemaker Peter Dixon as cheese consultant. He helped develop their current cheeses, the first one being a fresh chèvre called Mettowee. Then came their aged goat tomme Manchester, for which they developed native cultures. Native cultures are completely unique to a specific cheese, and make Manchester irreproducible. Now with a herd of about 100 goats, Consider Bardwell Farm sources cow milk from its herd of 20 Jerseys at the neighboring Brooks farm and 35 Jerseys at the nearby Larson farm.
Each cheese they make is named after a city or mountain in Vermont, yet tasting Consider Bardwell’s cheese is like going a global cheese tour. Their Dorset, a washed-rind, soft-ripened cheese, brings up notions of brie, while their hard, aged Danby is similar to an Asiago. Miller says Consider Bardwell’s mission was always to make user-friendly cheese.
“They are different cheeses for different people, ” she says.
“A Whale of a Cheese”
Named after one of Vermont’s oldest cities, Rupert is Vermont’s answer to a Comté or Gruyère. A quintessential cold weather cheese, Rupert is made from raw Jersey cow milk and formed in Dutch Gouda molds, then sealed with French cheesecloths. The rind is washed in brine and cultures are added to the wash. Rupert is as big and bold in flavor as it is in size—it is made into 25-pound wheels. Aged a minimum of ten months, the rind is embossed with a whale because of its huge size, hence the nickname “a whale of cheese.” Miller says their creamery members are so creative that they adopt affectionate names for the cheeses.
“One of the cave assistants pats her cheeses and massages them a couple times a week! The cheeses love it,” says Miller.
A stunning golden yellow, Rupert is smooth to touch and has a mosaic-like texture. Flavors are nutty and tropical fruit, and smells of sweet grass. While it may remind some of more famous Alpine cheese, it is proudly made in Vermont. Rupert took second place in the washed rind cheese category at this year’s ACS competition. Terroir is central to Consider Bardwell’s cheese. The farm recently joined the USDA Grassland Reserve Program, which is a voluntary conservation membership that emphasizes biodiversity of local flora and fauna.
Almost 150 years after the creation of the original Consider Bardwell Farm, Miller and her team of young cheesemakers are continuing the tradition of farmstead cheese with a forward mentality. It certainly wasn’t easy for a Manhattanite to make her way into Vermont’s tight-knit community of cheesemakers, but Miller credits the help from fellow Vermont cheesemakers in making Consider Bardwell a successful operation.
“Everybody wants to see Vermont lead the nation in cheesemaking” says Miller. With cheesemakers like Consider Bardwell, Vermont cheese is in good company.