vermont cheesemakers’ festival

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The Vermont Cheesemakers’ Festival is the culmination of all of my favorite things, so it’s no surprise that I had been looking forward to it for months. As I’ve blabbered on about in the past, I absolutely love Vermont, particularly Burlington and nearby Shelburne Farms. I adore cheese, especially Vermont cheese. And don’t let the name of the festival fool you – with chocolate, beer, wine, spirits, and more, all from Vermont, there was much more than just cheese here. Need I say more?

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I’ve seen fliers for the event over the last couple of years, but we’ve never made the trip up from Boston to go. This year, however, my wonderful husband got tickets more than a month in advance as an anniversary gift. My friends and coworkers have heard of nothing else lately but my trip to Shelburne, Vermont for the festival so that when I got back to work the question on everyone’s lips was, “how was that cheese thing?”

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In a word? Amazing. If I had three words, I would say amazing and sooo crowded. Ok, that’s four, but really, we were sardines in there, shuffling through, trying to maneuver lines to get to the delicious cheeses. I heard several disgruntled comments from people who have attended in previous years that the organizers sold too many tickets this year. This was our first time, so I can’t say if there were more people than in the past, but I will say that it was a little intense for us, especially with the high temperatures and lack of AC. It especially irked me because I was hoping to get some good photos of my favorite finds and getting photos ended up being low on the priority list because getting good food, staying out of the way, and trying to stay cool were high on the list.

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Luckily since the festival was held in the Coach Barn and under a tent at Shelburne Farms, we were right on the banks of beautiful Lake Champlain. When we needed a break from the hordes, all we had to do was step outside to take in the view. It was so hot that I desperately wanted to jump into the lake, but with all the cheese and other goodies to be had, there was simply no time for that.

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After about an hour at the festival, the impossible happened. I wasn’t sure I could put another piece of cheese in my mouth for fear of exploding. Joseph, who felt similarly, identified the problem. We had approached the event much like our cat approaches her dinner: like there is no guarantee that there will ever be another meal ever again and that at any moment someone could swoop in and take away what little there was. In reality, there was nothing little about the supply at this festival. As we soon learned, there was more cheese there than we ever could have sampled in the mere five hours that we were there. It sounds crazy, I know, but really, I expected to try every single cheese at the festival and I doubt I tried much more than half.

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I have to admit, I went to the festival with a bit of a bias already in place. I had fallen in love with a cheese called Winnimere from the Cellars at Jasper Hill a couple of years ago and have been kind of smitten with the creamery ever since. I can’t say I’m much of an expert when it comes to cheese, I just really enjoy eating it. But Jasper Hill makes some of the most amazing, superbly rich and gooey cheeses that you can possibly imagine. Their cheese selection did not disappoint. Other favorites included the earthy goat tomme from Twig Farm, and the 4 year cheddar from Thistle Hill Farm.

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Surprisingly enough, one of my very favorite things from the whole event was not a cheese at all, but a gin. What makes the Barr Hill Gin from Caledonia Spirits & Winery so special is that they add raw honey just before bottling, imparting floral notes which harmonize perfectly with the juniper berry. They make a vodka as well, which may be one of the best sipping vodka’s I’ve ever tried (although, to be fair, vodka really is not my terrain).

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Some of the other non-cheese highlights included Vermont Smoke and Cure (we’ve been huge fans of their pepperoni ever since we discovered it a few years ago), Lake Champlain Chocolates (a longtime favorite both because they make darn good chocolate and because the factory is just two blocks from where my grandparents lived), Eden Ice Cider, and the vanilla and sea salt caramel from Big Picture Farm. Oh, that caramel was heavenly: the perfect marriage of pure vanilla and warm caramel, smooth and sticky, but not enough to pull your teeth out or give your jaw a workout. I would have gladly bought them out of their entire stock, but sadly Joseph isn’t really a fan of caramel on it’s own (one of his few flaws) and I was sure I would eat it all in one sitting if left to my own devices. So in the end, I didn’t end up getting any caramel, a decision that I now regret wholeheartedly.

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All in all, the event was a spectacular showing of the many great artisanal cheeses and other foods and drinks coming out of Vermont. Would I go back? Well, probably. As time goes on, I remember the crush of people and long lines less and the impressive lineup of food more. Still, I would much more willing to attend again if the organizers either increase the amount of space (maybe another tent?) or decrease the number of tickets so that there is nothing standing between me and my all of Vermont goodies.

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