The first 100% cow’s milk cheese and the first non-GMO Certified cheese made at Vermont Creamery, St. Albans represents a recent dive into new territory for this well-loved VT dairy.
But founders Bob Reese and Allison Hooper are no strangers to pushing the envelope. Their Websterville-based creamery, founded in 1984, was among the first dairies to introduce French-style goat’s milk cheeses to the U.S. market. Hooper had spent time with a small-scale cheesemaker in Brittany during the 1970s, and was working as a state dairy lab technician when she responded to a request from Bob Reese—at that time, a marketing director for the VT Dept. of Agriculture—to produce some fresh chèvre for a state dinner. After that cheese was a hit, Bob and Allison decided to go into cheese production on a more formal basis, founding Vermont Creamery.
The pair have always focused primarily on goat’s milk cheeses, buying from local farmers and, more recently, setting up the first demonstration goat dairy in the state. But they’ve also worked with the St. Albans Cooperative to source cow’s milk over the years. That milk, produced by a group of over 400 dairy farmers, was used only to make cultured butter, crème fraîche, or the occasional mixed-milk cheese—until now. The creamery worked alongside the St. Albans Co-op to select a single family farm that could transition to using GMO-free feed. They settled on the Paul-Lin Farm, run by a multi-generational family milking a herd of 30 Jersey cows, and the year-long transition began.
Named after the hometown of the Co-op, St. Albans is modeled after a French cheese named after a different saint: Marcellin. Like its French counterpart, the VT Creamery version is soft and bloomy-rinded, sold in a little ceramic crock. The curd formed to make it—which coagulates slowly over a period of 24 hours—is so delicate and moist, it can only drain in cheesecloths overnight before being gently shaped into forms. Over 11 days in the aging room, the small discs develop a wrinkly rind.
This cheese is a delight to the senses on many levels. That wrinkly, brainy rind contrasts beautifully with its dark ceramic crock, while aromas of rising dough, warm asphalt and sour milk are subtle and inviting. Paste is luscious and spreadable, like fresh buttercream frosting, coating the mouth as it mellows from an initial citrus bite into a creamy finish, with notes of salted butter, artichokes, and savory undertones to round it all out.
Pair St. Albans with a Syrah from the the Rhône, a Sauvignon Blanc or a farmhouse ale from VT (we recommend Arthur from Hill Farmstead Brewery, if you can find it). Serve alongside some crisp fruit or fig jam, or warm it slightly in a toaster oven before dipping bread into it, like a mini fondue.