Sunday, October 07, 2007

Oh My Gouda!

If you travel west on Route 11 -- just past the town center of Londonderry, Vermont -- a battered green farm truck is tucked into the pasture that creeps up to the southern side of the road. Atop the truck cabin roof is a sign, hand painted in red block letters with an arrow that reads “Vermont Cheeses.”

We turn right and climb the dirt road to Taylor Farm. At the top of a small hill is a rustic, fire-engine red cheese house and shop. On the hill beyond, we can see the shiny apparatus of a working dairy. A woman with a kind smile, wearing layers of flannel, strolls down the hill to greet us and takes us into the shop.

The woman is Mimi Wright, sister to Taylor Farm’s cheese master, Jon Wright. Taylor Farms produces award-winning Gouda cheese from raw cows’ milk, totaling 70,000 pounds annually.

“Why, Gouda cheese?” I ask Mimi as she invites us to sample cubes of traditional Gouda and maple smoked Gouda.

She tells us, “That’s what worked,” and that few dairies in Vermont were producing Gouda cheese, so therein was the opportunity. And, as Taylor Farm keeps a herd of 55 Holstein and Jersey cows, it made good sense, since the Holstein breed originated in the Netherlands where Gouda was perfected.

Using toothpicks, we pierce several cubes from the tall mound of traditional Gouda. It is a sunny golden color and tastes rich, tangy and creamy. The maple smoked Gouda is buttery, smoky and sweet and was awarded 1st Place by the American Cheese Society.

There is a window that separates the cheese house from the retail shop. Mimi points out the brine bath and I can see stacks of traditional Gouda sealed in bright red wax and wedges of maple smoked Gouda sealed in chocolate-brown wax, aging to perfection.

Vermont farmers have produced cheese since the 1800s. Taylor Farm is a member of the Vermont Cheese Council. Three-dozen cheese makers produce more than 100 varieties of small-batch artisinal cheeses. Jon Wright has produced his award-winning Gouda for eight years. Mimi prepares all the baked goods for the shop and we purchase a crusty loaf of her oat bread made with curds and whey from the dairy and sweetened with honey. Mimi also sells brilliant earth-colored yarns made from the wool of sheep on the farm, poetically labeled “Yarns from the Hills.”

We have purchased as much cheese and bread as we can carry when cheese master Jon Wright enters the shop. He is dressed in a well-worn navy blue sweatshirt, jeans and work boots, and there are splashes of mud on his cuffs. He has rugged features, a lined face and a warm smile. I ask him how he got into cheese making.

“I tell people we started out of desperation,” he laughs. “Dairy farmers gone awry.”

While most of the money made from farms in the state of Vermont has typically come from dairy products, that percentage has been decreasing as the price of land becomes more expensive. Farmers sometimes have to take second jobs to make ends meet.

“We were looking for ways to add value to our milk,” Jon explains. They were able to expand the operation for a small capital investment. The dividends have been clear. There are magazine articles mounted on the walls, praising the quality of the cheese from Taylor Farm.

Jon Wright is one of a new generation of food artisans, and the joy he takes from his work is evident. He is physically and emotionally connected to the land, and the agricultural products he produces.

“The cows are my life,” he says. “I love them.”

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Anonymous said...

Someday, I'm going to make a pilgrimage to the dairy farms of Vermont. This sounds heavenly. Piece of cheese, loaf of bread and a nice glass of red wine -simply perfect!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

There are so many wonderful cheese makers in Vermont -- I had the opportunity to make cheese at Jasper Hill Farm (makers of Bayley Hazen Blue and Constant Bliss, among others) with a group of chefs from Providence a couple of years ago. We also visited Major Farm in Putney, which I highly recommend to anyone who loves sheeps' milk cheese. I never realized what hard work it is to make cheese!

Jann said...

What a wonderful spot to stop and photograph! I am afraid if I visited that cheese shop, my car would not be large enough to hold all my purchases. Local cheese made in small towns is music to my ears-How many other shops like this did you visit along the way?What a great meal this was!

Diane said...

That shot of the truck is great...Vermont is such a wonderful place. The cheese, wine and bread all look incredible, but what about the ice cream?

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Veron - it is well worth the trip. I am a cheese fanatic, and I was in heaven!

Lydia - I would love to try those cheeses - there were so many options, that I need to go back. Stay tuned, though - there is another cheese story on the way.

Jann - there are 30 stops on the cheese map, so rent a second car!

Diane - Good point - I'm afraid I didn't do a good job of researching the ice cream angle, which just means I need to go again!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Oh, what fabulous images you captured, T.W.! I feel as if I were there with you. I'd have trouble keeping Jeff IN the car since he adores cheese. We've got to go to Vermont some time when we visit home. Thanks for a most enjoyable post!

Patricia Scarpin said...

T.W., I'm a total sucker for cheese and you've got me craving this Gouda so much! :)
The bread looks scrumptious as well, and with the glass of wine there's no way of going wrong here. :)

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Thanks, Susan - you should absolutely do a Vermont cheese tour the next time you're on the East Coast. There were so many more I wanted to try ... :-)

Hi Patricia! Wine, bread and cheese - it is the perfect meal, don't you think?

Andrea said...

I'm envious of your Vermont trip! I love a good Gouda, and those sound delicious!