I wined and cheese-dined on all things grass-fed, cultured and pasteurized at the 2014 Vermont Cheese Makers Festival. Along with the endless samplings of wine, cider and beer, the Cheese Festival did anything but disappoint my rookie cheese-loving hopes. Located at the beautiful Shelburne Farms, over 40 different local cheese venders strutted their cow, goat and sheep's milk stuff, showcasing the timeless craft of cheese making. From hard to soft cheese, I was overwhelmed by the different varieties and textures the simple combination of milk and acid could create.
One of my favorite things a few venders did was display samples from one type of hard cheese throughout the stages of aging, from a few months old to three years aged. Aging cheese allows the casein and milk fat to break down and form amino and fatty acids, creating a whole new flavor and texture. The types of inoculated cheese cultures, milk origin, and aging environment also effects the flavor and texture, making a cheese taste so different throughout the stages of aging. As I nibbled on the first sample of cheese, aged for only a few months, the flavors were very mild with hints of sweetness and a firm but flexible texture. After three years of aging, that same cheese developed to be very hard, almost breaking apart with the poke of my toothpick and yielded a sharp, bitter and acidic flavor. The mouthfeel of the two cheeses were drastically different, with the newer cheese melting in my mouth and the aged cheese forming a soft chalk-like texture. I quickly discovered that I am not an aged cheese lover but can appreciate the patience cheese makers have waiting three or more years to see what their cheese ends up tasting like!
So I ate and I ate, drank some wine, and impulsively ate some more. I can honestly say I was 'cheesed-out' by 1pm. Taking a break from the cheese bits, I took a tractor ride to the Shelburne Farms Cheese Factory and enjoyed a fried oyster sandwich from The Hindquarter food truck. The fried cornmeal-crusted oysters were crunchy and flake then topped with fresh lettuce and baby yellow squash, with a smooth horse radish cream spread.
So, which cheese stole my heart? I am bringing home a chunk of Champlain Valley Creamery's Pyramid Scheme Triple-Cream. This particular cheese is ash-ripened, which means the cheese was painted with an ash coating before a mold casing formed, sealing the cheese, then was aged for 10 days. The ash gives the cheese an earthy and rich flavor which was unique from other cheeses, while the triple-cream was soft and velvety. This was the only cheese that I used my toothpick to take a stab at a second sample. In a short description, this cheese knocked my socks off.