Years ago, when I was living in Princeton, New Jersey and admiring the foliage during the autumn months, a friend told me that if I wanted to see truly amazing foliage, I should visit Vermont during the fall. She said that no place could beat the beauty that Vermont offered during this time of the year. Since then I always wanted to visit this beautiful state, but have never had a chance. That is why I was so excited when I received an email from Vermont Creamery inviting me to their beautiful state for a 3-day Vermont Cheese Camp Event along with six other food bloggers.
I booked my ticket right away and could not wait for that day to come. I had three amazing days, where I not only learned about cheesemaking, but also about goat farming, pottery making, and apple cider production in one of the most picturesque backdrops I could imagine. It wasn’t quite the time for the foliage yet, but my time in Vermont exceeded my expectations in every way, and I came back home with fond memories. Most importantly, I made incredible friendships with fellow bloggers Alana, Kristen, Amanda, Krissy, Carey, and Kate and the talented and generous people behind the Vermont Creamery.
After a 5-hour trip from Atlanta (with a layover in NYC), I was so ready to meet everyone. Sam picked me up from the airport along with my friend Amanda. The trip to the hotel from the Burlington International Airport was an hour, but I almost wished that it was longer. The greenery and the mountain views of Vermont were unlike anywhere I had ever seen before.
It felt magical and peaceful. We made it to Mad River Barn, settled in our rooms, and spent the rest of the day eating, drinking, and getting to know each other. This was an especially exciting time for me because I had been a follower of these bloggers for a long time and getting to know them in person was such a great experience.
Visit to Vermont Creamery Facilities & Hoopers’s House in Brookfield:
Next morning, Kara and Betsy, our lovely hosts/marketing managers, drove us to the Vermont Creamery facilities. They introduced us to Allison, one of the owners/creators/geniuses, behind this start-up company. She shared with us the history of the creamery.
What started as a request from a local chef, who was in need of good quality French-style goat cheese in 1984, turned into a 32-year old company with extremely high cheesemaking standards and a dedication to the community and environmental wellbeing. As I was listening to Allison talk about her company, it was apparent to me that Vermont Creamery was her life’s work. We walked through the facility while she was telling us about some of the challenges and successes they had along the way. At one point, she stopped before a big board filled with numbers and names which represented their Open Book Management philosophy.
As a company, they make it a priority to involve the staff in establishing and maintaining the goals and responsibilities. For them she said, it was not just about making good quality cheese, but working as a team and sharing the responsibilities of the business. They take pride in being part of the dairy farm community and make sure the local farmers received fair compensation for the high quality of milk they provide. I was impressed with the team effort and how everyone is actively involved.
For the second part of the tour, we put on a full-body disposable garment, covered our hair with a cap and followed Joey, the Aged Cheese Supervisor, to the part of the facility where the cheese is made. It was hard to keep all of the details in mind, but what I saw was immaculate facility with a group of hard working people producing some of the highest quality cheeses in America.
We finalized our tour with a tasting of Vermont Creamery’s award winning aged cheeses Bonne Bouche, Cremont, Coupole, Bijou, and their newest, St. Albans along with their European style butter and vanilla crème fraiche. This was a perfect ending to the tour having heard Allison’s stories and seeing the cheesemaking operations. While there, we also met Bob, Allison’s business partner, and the rest of the team and heard more about their humble beginnings and future plans for the company.
We knew that we were going to spend the rest of the day at Allison’s house relaxing. However, none of us had any idea about how welcome her family would make us feel. They told us that we could relax, sit out on the porch or by the pool. But honestly, it was too beautiful to sit around and relax. Instead, we all wanted to explore and take photos of the gorgeous scenery. Luckily, Allison’s husband Don, volunteered to give us a tour of their gorgeous land hidden in between the mountains of Brookfield.
By the time we came back from the tour, the rest of the family had already arrived. Kara and Betsy had prepared us a meal to remember. The menu included grilled salmon, mushroom and tomato galettes, and the most beautiful apple pie I have ever seen in my life. Talk about a true Vermont Creamery experience! We ended the evening by a bonfire in the backyard drinking our cocktails made by Stonecutter Spirits and having a few laughs.
Ayers Brook Goat Dairy Farm:
The next morning, we visited the Ayers Brook Goat Dairy Farm. Farm manager Miles, Allison’s elder son, who we already met during last night’s dinner, welcomed us. To be honest, since I had never been to a goat farm before, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that every one of us were looking forward to playing with the baby goats. But Miles’s explanation, even before we went inside the farm, was a great place to start. Pointing towards the greenery that you see in the photo above, he said the name of the game is turning all that green into the highest possible quality of milk (protein) in the most humanely and environmentally conscious way.
During the next hour, Miles gave us a tour of the farm and explained how they run the farm operations to breed goats with the highest genetic potential that will result in the best quality of goat milk. Needless to say, it was so educational to see the operations of a goat farm and how much work goes into it.
Farmhouse Pottery & NECI on Main
After having a quick lunch in Woodstock, we arrived at our next destination: Farmhouse Pottery. I have been an admiring follower of them on Instagram for almost a year. It was so nice to see their consistent and elegant style “in person”. As one would expect from them, we were welcomed with gift bags with a hand-written and individualized note, and a wine and cheese spread set out in their front yard.
Similar to Vermont Creamery, the owners, Zoe and James, a modern-day power couple, built their business model on supporting local businesses and being a supportive part of the Vermont community. In addition, what made them different and unique, James – the master potter – explained, was the recipe he developed that made their pottery oven, microwave, and dishwasher safe.
Later, James and two other potters in the shop gave us an introduction to pottery making and showed us how they create their signature stoneware. As I was watching potters Mike and Laura create, what looked like a simple process, I naively thought to myself that it was a piece of cake. Though when it was my turn, I quickly realized that it was much more difficult than it looked. With Mike’s guidance, I made my very first – a little crooked – pottery on a wheel with my own two hands. It was so nice to check off an item from my ever-growing bucket list, but after that experience, now I have the up most respect for potters.
We ended that evening with another amazing dinner over at NECI (New England Culinary Institute) on Main along with cocktails and a delicious dinner made by the Executive Chef Jean-Louis Gerin and his students.
We started our final day exploring the largest city of Vermont, Burlington. Unfortunately, it was raining so we couldn’t see much of it. However, during the short time we were there we went to a few local stores to shop.
Next up was the tour of the Citizen Cider followed by a lunch in their Burlington restaurant. Citizen Cider, similar to Vermont Creamery and Farmhouse Pottery, was yet another establishment that followed the same pattern we experienced over and over by sourcing their raw materials, in this case cider apples, from local farmers. We were given a tour of their production facility, literally located behind the restaurant, tasted a variety of no sugar added apple ciders made from 100% locally sourced cider apples. Unfortunately, their ciders are not available here in Georgia, but if you are living in one of the states that they are available, I highly recommend giving Citizen Cider a try.
Our final stop was Shelburne Farms: A working farm and a non-profit organization with a goal of educating young people for a sustainable future. Our hosts Tre, Director of Community Programs, and Rory, Cheese Sales Manager, welcomed us to the farm and gave us an introduction to their education program and farmstead cheese production. We learned that they offer programs to young people in different age groups to teach them how to make informed decisions to build a sustainable society.
During the process, with the help of varies creative programs their students not only learn where their food comes from, but also experience what the land has to offer first hand. In addition, Rory gave us a tour of the facility, where they make artisanal Vermont farmhouse cheddar made with the raw milk of their own grass-based dairy herd of purebred Brown Swiss cows.
What followed was a walk down a long meandering lane to their maple sugaring facility. We enjoyed a taste of their delicious maple syrup while learning how it is produced. From there we went to the market garden, ate some of the freshly picked and grilled produce and walked around to admire the beauty of the farm.
Finally, at the end of the day we found ourselves at the Inn of the Shellburne Farms located on the shores of Lake Champlain. The seasonal inn offered one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. After a few drinks by the lake, we went inside the dining room and had a gourmet meal paired with amazing wines.
I know that this has been a very long post, but even after writing more than 2100 words, I feel like I barely scratched the surface of the great time I had in Vermont. At the end of three days of learning and experiencing everything I mentioned here, my biggest takeaway was that a rising tide lifts all boats. The businesses I mentioned and the people behind them were truly amazing and dedicated to their community. I am so honored to have been invited and feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet them.
On a final note, if you had read this far, I am hoping I was able to spark your interest in the establishments I mentioned in this blog post. If you want to try Vermont Creamery’s cheeses for yourself, they are sold throughout the country in various supermarkets. If you want a starting place, I would highly recommend giving their aged cheeses a try. I know for a fact that the newest addition to their aged cheese collection, St. Albans (released last week) would make a great addition to the cheese platters you will be making for your upcoming holiday parties. Though I assure you any Vermont Creamery product will not disappoint.
Editor’s Note: Although my expenses for this trip were taken care of by Vermont Creamery, this is not a sponsored post. All of the opinions in this blog post are mine.