An Insider's Guide to the Vermont Cheese Trail
From sharp cheddar to smooth gruyere, Vermont's palate-pleasing array of nearly 150 local cheeses is a treat worth traveling for.
In the hierarchy of foods that bring comfort and joy, cheese ranks near the top for many. In the United States, it can be argued that there's no region more densely populated with cheese makers than the Vermont Cheese Trail, peppered with dozens of cheese producers welcoming the public to tour their dairies and sample the goods. There's no right or wrong way to approach a jaunt through the Vermont Cheese Trail, but for an easy, 240-kilometer northbound journey that winds through a mix of popular and lesser-known stops offering a broad range of flavors, textures and experiences along the way, the following approach leaves travelers satiated — and, often, happily weighed down with a trunk full of delicious souvenirs.
Classic Cheddar in Brattleboro
Vermont is known for its cheddar, so an appropriate first stop on the trail would be Grafton Village Cheese Company in Brattleboro, Vermont. From cloth-bound to smoked chili to two- and three-year-aged varieties, its cheeses are made by hand with raw milk from local dairies — a Grafton tradition dating back to its founding in 1892.
Open daily, the Brattleboro location (separate from the private facility in the town of Grafton itself) welcomes visitors into its production viewing area as well as its wine and gift shop. It's located next door to a petting farm that often hosts open-barn events such as a petting zoo of local animals.
Gouda & Goodies in Londonderry
Gouda is the order of the day at Taylor Farm, found in Londonderry, Vermont. It offers four varieties: Vermont Farmstead, maple-smoked, garlic and chipotle, all of which are creamy, flavor-forward and made from the milk of the cows on its farm.
Aside from gouda, however, it also makes another rare wheel worth trying: Green Mountain Nettle, possibly the only cheese in the country made with nettle leaves. Open year-round, Taylor Farm welcomes visitors to try samples in its shop and even feed the animals onsite.
Historic Charm in Mount Holly
Making smooth, creamy cheeses since 1824, Crowley Cheese Company is the longest continually operating cheese factory in the United States. It's known for its white cheddar-like varieties, and for taking advantage of ingredients like sage, garlic and chive to render pleasant wheels with a little extra something.
The staff at this small facility typically makes its cheese three days a week, so it's preferred to have visitors call ahead before stopping in. Tucked into a quaint piece of land next to a small babbling brook, this off-the-beaten-path spot is one of the more intimate stops on the trail. The cheese-making process is an all-day affair, so you'll see a different part of the operation each time you visit.
Flavor Adventures in Plymouth Notch
Second only to Crowley, Plymouth Artisan Cheese takes the silver in the longevity stakes, having been around since 1890. Its hand-crafted, hand-cut, hand-waxed cheeses and curds have won countless awards through the years.
Open every day, Plymouth allows visitors to take self-guided tours of the space, which includes a shop, a cheese museum and generous glimpses into the cheese-making process through large windows that overlook the production room.
Familiar Flavors in Cabot
One of the more famous food producers on the Vermont Cheese Trail is Cabot, which makes a wide range of edible goods, from cheese and butter to yogurt and specialty dips. On the north leg of this trip, Cabot offers two options for visitors to drop into: The visitors center in the town of Cabot or the annex in Waterbury, just a short drive west.
The Cabot Visitors Center on Route 4 offers guided tours and views of production in progress, while the annex store delights guests with a shop offering Cabot products as well as Vermont microbrews, hard ciders and wines — an ideal way to cap off a day (or several) filled with delectable local cheese.
Sample Something Sweet
Of course, cheese isn't the only staple the Green Mountain State is known for. Its maple syrup and ice cream aren't to be missed, either. Running almost the entire length of the state itself, a tour of the state's finest factories and small creameries is a dream come true for many an intrepid foodie who's willing to get behind the wheel and conquer the trail, one savory or sweet bite at a time.
While some dairies serve up their samples with a bit maple syrup on the side, it's worth taking a detour to go straight to the source. Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in Montpelier, Bragg Farm Sugarhouse in East Montpelier, Sugarbush Farm in Woodstock and the New England Maple Museum in Pittsford are all ideal for experiencing some deep golden goodness while learning firsthand about its production. There are plenty of other suppliers in the region, so before you hit the road, be sure to do your research.
Vermont is home to many ice cream makers as well, but none is more famous than the happy-hippie brand known as Ben & Jerry's, which is located near the Cabot annex in Waterbury. In business since 1978, the co-founders — childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfeld — grew their business on the popularity of whimsical flavors like Chubby Hubby and Cherry Garcia. Factory tours are available seven days a week, and include samples of the famed scoops to leave the trail on a sweet note.
But food isn't the only note-worthy characteristic of Vermont. Marvel in its unending natural beauty, and get the camera ready for these postcard-perfect scenes as you make your way along the cheese trail.