On August 12th, I had the privilege of attending the 10th annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, hosted at Shelburne Farms. With over 120 vendors showcasing cheese, beer, cider, wine, meat, baked goods, spreads, and more, I have to say, I was pleasantly overwhelmed. When I felt like I was drifting into an alcohol-induced cheese coma, I sat on the banks of Lake Champlain to recoup and took in the sailboats bobbing past.
Back in the ring, I did my best to try as many offerings as I could. The Vermont Cheesemakers Festival is clearly a judgment-free zone: At one point, I walked by a man whose glass was filled to the brim with meat. At this festival, you do you.
In case you weren’t able to make it up to the Green Mountain State this year, here’s a sampling of the seven best things I put in my mouth to hold you over until next year.
1. Nettle Meadow Kunik: Warrensburg, NY
While not actually from Vermont, Nettle Meadow’s Kunik was the best cheese I tasted at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival. It’s tang melded beautifully with its buttery texture, and the white rind gave it a nice mushroomy bite. Kunik epitomizes a cheese that is easy to love and impossible to put away. I took home a 4oz mini wheel for later.
2. Tom Knows Salsa: Hardwick, VT
Tom definitely knows his salsa. He makes his flavorful salsas with tomatillos, poblanos, and jalapenos. While I normally opt for medium-heat salsas, Tom’s hot is packed with heat from the addition of habanero peppers, but without overwhelming the palate with unrestrained fire. You can actually taste the peppers, which is not a give-in unless you really know your salsa.
3. Jasper Hill Farms Harbison: Greensboro, VT
I mean, this is the #1 cheese in the Americas according to the 2018 American Cheese Society Competition & Judging for so many reasons. It’s stanky, sour, creamy, and smooth: All you have to do is grab a spoon and go to town.
4. Savor Fine Foods Cookies: Thomastown, CT
The flavor combinations of these shortbread cookies take you to a different time and place. The Naugatuck, which is made with birch, maple, and cranberry, transported me to my childhood—the birch gives it the distinct flavor and wonderfully fizzy texture of root beer. Still, the Dried Shallot was a savory option that spoke to my true sensibilities. Give me anything shallot-y, onion-y, or garlicky and you’ve got yourself a winner. The Doris’s Day cookie was also a top choice because it combined the buttery, crumbly texture of shortbread with the fennel, ginger, and orange flavors of a cheese plate-worthy cracker.
5. Abracadabra Coffee Co. Canned Cold Brew: Cavendish, VT
The homesteading entrepreneurs behind Abracadabra have filled a deep void in the Vermont coffee scene. They roast single-origin bean varieties, which they sell both as whole beans and canned as cold brew. At the festival, I tried the canned cold brew from Ethiopia, which was floral and bright—quintessentially Ethiopian. I also tried the Costa Rican cold brew, which had a much deeper flavor, with strong notes of caramel and chocolate—quintessentially Costa Rican. The fact that I, a coffee lover but by no means a coffee expert, was able to instantly taste the difference between the two varieties was a testament to the respect Abracadabra pays to the beans.
6. Laughing Moon Chocolates: Stowe, VT
Even with all the vendors and endless goodies available for sampling, I circled back to Laughing Moon’s table at least three times. To be honest, I lost count. But, I was one of the lucky ducks that got to their table early enough to try their Raspberry Harbison.
The Raspberry Harbison mixes Jasper Hill’s award-winning Harbison with fresh raspberry puree in a dark chocolate shell. I also munched on the Blueberry Cheesecake Truffle, which contained Cabot cream cheese and Jasper Hill’s Weybridge in a white chocolate ganache and Metcalfe’s Blueberry Liqueur, also in a dark chocolate coating. The makers had considered putting a dried blueberry on top, but decided on fresh for that burst of brightness. A fresh berry on top may reduce the shelf life, but let’s be honest, if I were around to snack on them, none of Chocolate Moon’s creations make it to the shelf in the first place.
7. Halyard Ginger Beer: South Burlington, VT
Halyard Ginger Beer was a rare find at this year’s festival. The True flavor is a classic ginger beer with subtle hops balanced by sweetness and that good ol’ ginger zing. But Nicole’s Extra is hands down the best ginger beer I have ever had. It is called a Caribbean-style ginger beer, which I can only assume means Jack Sparrow would approve. Nothing like your typical ginger beer, Nicole’s packs extra spice, mellows out the sweetness, and leaves you laying on a beach singing pirate songs.
Halyard can only be found in Vermont, Florida, and Maine, but will be coming soon to Rhode Island and Massachusetts. They serve specialty, seasonal, and limited release ginger beers, in addition to ginger beer cocktails, at their tasting room Thursday through Sunday. They’ve also got a canned ginger shandy if you fancy.