I’ve been remiss in keeping in touch via this blog – I’ve just been so busy! Lots of work, but as the food editor here at Yankee, I’ve found that work means loads of good eating and traveling around New England visiting friends and meeting new people.
I spent much of the end of the summer in Vermont, learning about cheese. I do adore cheese and I have strong feelings about our New England cheeses — they’re extraordinary. The variety and quality are unrivaled, realllllly. I’ve been eating and talking about cheese, especially our local wonders, for a long time. I knew how cheese is made, but aside from ricotta and mozzarella I’d never actually made cheese. So making cheese seemed like a good way to fully understand the process and the magic of turning milk into a block of slicable deliciousness.
Cheddar is the reigning king of New England cheeses — the classic that we always think of — and Vermont seems to the epicenter of cheddar cheesemaking. From the Northeast Kingdom to the Massachusetts border, the Green Mountain State is bubbling with cheddar cheese makers. In Grafton, Grafton Village Cheese graftonvillagecheese.com is a multi-award-winning operation, and the folks there said I could come up and make some cheese – as long as I understood that it’s hard work.
They also own a small inn, The Old Tavern oldtavern.com, and while “cheddaring” was indeed hard work, returning to the inn was fully relaxing: no television, just a lovely room with deep tub and comfy bed. Oh, and great food in the dining room, with a strong emphasis on local ingredients and, well … lots of cheese. Staying at the inn is a nice vacation no matter where you start from. Grafton is a completely charming village that oozes with country beauty. If, like me, you’re beholden to the dairy gods, the inn offers a great getaway for you — a tour package that includes a taste of cheesemaking at Grafton Village Cheese, as well as stops at neighboring cheesemakers.
Next, I headed farther north to Plymouth, Vermon, to meet up with my pal Peggy Rose and to stay at the Hawk Inn & Mountain Resort hawkresort.com. The weekend started with a deep-tissue massage that left me feeling like a rubber band – and after the backbreaking work of making cheddar cheese (you have to lean over a giant metal trough and stack 20-pound “bricks” of wet and slippery cheese to help drain excess moisture), a massage was just what I needed. The ginormous bed (California King?) beckoned, but Peggy arranged dinner with Jack and Brenda Geishecker, who own the inn — and I’m glad I didn’t succumb to an early bedtime, as the Geisheckers are a terrific couple and great dinner companions. Chef Marc Scott served up a great meal for us: a mix of Continental classics, as well as a few Asian twists that worked well. All would have been fine and well had I said goodnight and headed back to my room, but bartender Edita Hartig coaxed us into the tall chairs surrounding her “stage,” and, well … many glasses later, I was very happy that my big bed was just down the hall and up the stairs.
Our plan was to head to the Middlebury Farmers’ Market to catch up with University of Vermont professor Amy Trubek and to taste the cider that she and her husband are making; they own an apple orchard with gobs of heirloom varietals. But, given the downpour and the late night, it took a while to get our day started. We made it to Middlebury midday, stopping along Route 4 to check out antiques shops and to take pictures of the rows and rows of corn growing in the fields, and the rolled sheets of hay.
Farther north we drove, to Stowe, to meet my dear friend Molly Stevens (an award-winning cookbook author) for dinner at Hen of the Wood. Yankee‘s January/February issue will include a small bit about the food there, but suffice it to say that we dined well at this former gristmill. Then Peggy and I headed south again, and I learned that as talented and fabulous as Miss Peggy truly is, highway driving isn’t her forte. She’s one of those hop-in-the-far-left-lane-and-drive-50-in-a-65-mile-per-hour-zone. I won’t hold it against her, as she’s too generous and kind.
Back at the Hawk Inn, the prudent thing would have been to tuck myself into that gorgeous bed, but somehow we ended up at the bar again with Edita. Much red wine was imbibed; many stories were told. And my tummy ached the next morning from all the laughter.
We spent Sunday goofing around. Edita and another great pal, Susan (short-story writer, Skype comedienne, and mixologist), led us on a great hike around the area, followed by a visit to a secret swimming hole. We made our way to Singleton’s, a grocery store/deli/liquor store/clothing store/gun shop/bait-and-tackle source … Yeah, it took a lot to get me outta there with some money still in my wallet.
More adventures await: on to Maine for lobsters and bike riding, then a knitting weekend in Connecticut. Recipes, too.