** You like cheese, right? Make sure you see the end of this post for my Vermont cheddar cheese giveaway. It's free and easy to enter, and if you win...you get VERMONT CHEESE! **
One of the great things about taking a vacation all by yourself is that you get to do pretty much whatever you want. And one of the things I wanted to do when I was traveling in Vermont at the end of the summer was learn about cheese. Vermont is known for its cheddar cheese, so I stopped into the Grafton Village Cheese Company in Brattleboro for a tour.
Grafton's marketing guru Alise Sjostrom met me in the large retail store just inside the front door of the barn-like building pictured above. She told me a little of the company's history. The Grafton Cooperative Cheese Company was founded in 1892 in Grafton, a village in southern Vermont, by a group of dairy farmers who needed a way to preserve their excess milk. The original factory burned down in 1912, but in the 1960's, the Windham Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Vermont's rural nature, rebuilt the factory, as well as much of the town of Grafton. The company now makes cheese both in Grafton and in the newer facility in Brattleboro I visited. The cheese company is actually owned by the Windham Foundation, so all the profits from sales of Grafton's cheddar go straight back into rural Vermont.
We looked through huge glass windows at two strapping men "cheddaring" - that is, raking the curds to separate them from the whey so they can be pressed into blocks and aged. They use their rakes to press the curds against the sides of the tank, and the whey flows out through drainage holes.
Next we went to the cutting room. All Grafton's cheddar is cut, weighed and packaged by hand.
Some of the aged cheddar Grafton produces is smoked. Their smoker is about the size of a big refrigerator and sits off in a corner by itself. As you can see from the signs, it gets very HOT.
In the aging warehouse, cheese is packed in plastic and then in cardboard boxes. The boxes are carefully labeled with dates and lot numbers so they know exactly when it was made and how long it's been on the shelves. Let me tell you - there was A LOT of cheese in there.
One of the things I learned walking through the warehouse is that Grafton private-labels its cheddar for gourmet stores like Zingerman's, Dean and Deluca, and Gourmet Garage. When you see a hunk of store-brand Vermont aged cheddar at any of these places, there's a good possibility it came from the Grafton factory.
Back in the shop, I sampled cheddar that had been aged one, two and three years. My favorite was the two-year - it was creamy with a tiny bit of graininess, and the flavor was superb. The three-year cheddar was a little dry for my tastes, and the one-year was delicious but very mild. I also tasted smoked cheddar and a cheddar with paprika and caraway seeds, both interesting.
As I left, Alise gave me a little cooler bag with samples of four Grafton cheeses. I took them with me to the friends I was visiting in the Berkshires. We liked them all, but my favorite was the horseradish cheddar. I'm a sucker for horseradish.
If you're planning a trip in New England, I'd highly recommend finding a few cheese factories to visit. Most of them give tours and are delighted to explain the cheesemaking process. And they almost always have a tasting room...the best part! If you can't get to New England, you can still get a taste of it by ordering Grafton's cheddar through their online cheese shop. They sell a lot of cheese in December, in case you were wondering.
And now the GIVEAWAY! Grafton Village Cheese Company wants YOU to taste their cheese, too! They'll send one lucky reader a wonderful sampler with some of their most popular cheeses, including a 6-ounce wedge of Duet (cheddar and blue cheese); an 8-ounce wheel of Classic Reserve two-year cheddar; an 8-ounce wheel of maple-smoked cheddar; and a 4-ounce block of my favorite, the horseradish cheddar! (The horseradish cheddar isn't in the picture, but trust me, it's part of the package.)
So how do you enter? Just do one or more of the following before 5PM PT on Wednesday September 22:
- Leave a comment below telling me your favorite way to use cheddar cheese.
- Tweet about this giveaway with a link to this post ("Win Vermont cheddar from @GraftonCheese and @erikakerekes [URL]"), then come back and leave a separate comment with a link to your tweet.
- "Like" my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/InErikasKitchen/, leave a message on my Wall or on the Note about this giveaway, then come back and leave a separate comment telling me you've done so.
- Share a link to this post on Facebook telling your friends about the cheese giveaway, then come back and leave a separate comment telling me you've shared it.
- Subscribe to this blog (use the "Subscribe" link at the top of the page) by email or in your reader, then leave a separate comment telling me you've subscribed.
Thanks again to Grafton Village Cheese Company for the tour, the cheese tasting, and the winner's cheese sampler! Ready? Say "cheese"...