Most people think of Vermont as a state with a large number of dairy farms. That’s true. And, as a result, Vermont is also home to the highest number of cheesemakers per capita in the USA! Cheddar cheese, for which Vermont is most famous, was made as early as the 11th century in Cheddar, England. When the English came to the New World, they brought the skill of cheddar making with them. Traditionally, these cheeses were made on local farms by the farmer’s wife from their own cow’s milk. However, in 1851, the Williams family set up the first cheddar “factory” in upstate New York and cheese making began to change. Gordon Edgar, author of Cheddar, in an interview with The Splendid Table, explains, “It turned cheddar from a farm product into a factory product. It really began this road for cheddar being made in more and more efficient ways and with a lot less flavor further down the line.” Cheese making standardized and consolidated over the years. However, in the last four decades, cheese making began a comeback. A cheese making Renaissance is taking place all over, but especially in Vermont where there are still farms and fields and the desire to make a finely crafted product.
The story of beer in America is a similar one. In the 17th and 18th centuries, most beer was brewed at home. The first brewery opened in the USA in 1612 in New Amsterdam (now Manhattan), but the modern era of brewing didn’t take place until the 19th century. In 1873 there were 4,131 breweries in the country. Then came Prohibition. With the end of Prohibition in 1933, breweries once again began making beer. However, the biggest companies used production efficiencies and marketing to succeed over the smaller breweries. By 1983, the total number of breweries had shrunk to 80 run by only 51 companies. In addition, all the product was very similar. British beer writer, Michael Jackson, observed, “They are pale lager beers vaguely of the pilsner style but lighter in body, notably lacking hop character, and generally bland in palate. They do not all taste exactly the same but the differences between them are often of minor consequence.”
Whether it was the influence of California cuisine and the rise in local wineries or an outgrowth from homebrewers looking for beer with more flavor, the growth of microbreweries began to explode in the late ‘90s. Phil Markowski, brewmaster at Southampton Public House, adds, “I have no doubt that America is the best place to be a brewer because we don’t have the burden of having to carry on a long brewing tradition. We have more freedom to be creative and can gather influences from all over.” Vermont is home to over 50 craft breweries with more opening all the time. Most of these breweries don’t distribute nationwide. Some don’t even distribute statewide. So, you have to visit to try their unique products.
So, Vermont cheese and beer – handcrafted, unique, and often only available locally. For these reasons, include a visit to a cheese-making operation or a craft brewery as part of your Vermont itinerary.
For more information:
Vermont Cheese Council
10th Annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival
August 12, 2018
For more information:
Vermont Brewers Association
Vermont Brewers Festival
March 24, 2018
Take a Guided Brewery Tour: