One year at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, I scored Woodcock Farm’s last available wheel of Summer Snow, a pleasingly fatty Camembert-style sheep’s milk cheese that eases slowly out of its bloomy rind as it warms on the plate. The cheesemaker had kept it in a cooler for me while I stood at culture’s event booth—and I couldn’t wait to devour it.
I brought the beauty home to the Berkshires. The next night, my husband and I plunked it on a cheeseboard, opened some wine, and tromped out to the screened-in tent in our flip-flops and shorts. (We live under it all summer; the screens keep us relatively safe from ravenous mosquitos, no-see-ums, and the mayflies that torture our terrier mutt, Iggy, biting his freckled belly as he snoozes in the sun.)
After settling inside the flimsy shelter, we turned our attention to the beautiful July evening. A cool breeze kept the worst of unwanted winged guests at bay, and we admired barn swallows swooping, cedar waxwings feasting on blueberries, and bumblebees motoring from bloom to bloom. Then a few fat drops of rain hit. What the…? The western sky was black, but summer rain is usually a passing thing, and welcome. We scooted closer to the cheese.
Suddenly, a mighty blast of wind drove a sheet of rain into our faces. It shook the tent and whipped the screens aside like wet paper. And then it got cold—really cold—and nighttime-dark. A sound like rattling chains became deafening. Quarter-sized hail bashed our deck, smashed flowers, and covered the grass. We huddled in the center of the tent to protect our naked legs and feet; clutching our wine slushies, we watched our delicious cheese disappear under the onslaught. Frozen pellets collected on the groaning canopy and we fought imminent collapse by repeatedly shoving the roof to shake them off. Iggy shivered and whimpered beneath the table as ice bounced all around us.
We waited for a break in the action to run 50 yards to the house, to safety. It felt like hours, but was probably about five minutes—still, more than enough time to imagine the horrifying, and frankly embarrassing, headlines about a family crushed by a freak hailstorm. Surely, it would top the list of most absurd ways to die.
But just as quickly as the chaos started, it subsided—leaving eight inches of ice in our yard. Even stranger, the storm had been a gentle summer rain less than a quarter-mile away. Perhaps Woodcock Farm should put a warning on its cheese: “Caution! Summer Snow is not just a clever, oxymoronic name; it may cause meteorological mayhem.”