While summer is the time of year for a lot of things – vacations, open toed sandals, driving with the sunroof open– undoubtedly my favorite is the food festival. Sure they can happen any time of year, but in the summer the warm weather and generally high spirits of attendees make the events more fun. My fellow Chicagoans may tell me this city is all about its food festivals, but my heart still belongs to the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival. As I’ve already mentioned, I sadly will not be attending this year but still feel pretty passionately about this event and could not recommend it more highly to my readers in the area.
To give you a little taste, I interviewed Allison Hooper, co-founder of Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery and one of the festival’s founders, to get to the heart of what makes the festival special and what’s new for this year.
At its essence, the festival, which will take place on July 25 at the gorgeous Shelburne Farms, connects visitors with 50 cheesemakers as well as producers of locally made wine, beer, and artisan foods (including the fabulous Vermont Brownie Company, the inspiration for my Deep Chocolate Brownies with Chevre versions 1.0, 2.0, and 2.1). If you’ve ever stared at a great cheese in the dairy case of the supermarket and wondered about the story behind it, the festival is the ultimate place to find out. There are samples galore so you’ll definitely leave stuffed, but that’s just the beginning. If you need a rest between tastes you can take in a cheesemaking demo and a cooking show. For an additional $45 the festival offers seminars, giving you the opportunity to learn and taste even more. While $45 may seem a bit steep, it’s actually less expensive than the prices for similar classes I’ve seen at cooking schools and restaurants. Wine and Cheese Pairing 101 and Cheesemaking 101 are back again this year along with a new seminar, Town Hall Meeting with Steve Jenkins. The latter makes me especially excited because in addition to sampling cheese and wine, participants will get to ask questions of cheesemakers in a discussion led by world renowned author and cheesemonger, Steve Jenkins. It’s a great opportunity to have even more dialogue with cheesemakers and get your questions asked first hand.
If you want to extend your experience further, Vermont Farm Tours is holding five cheese-themed tours the day before the festival. Led by expert guides, these tours allow you to meet the farmers behind your favorite cheeses in their element. I absolutely LOVE the concept of this and want to see if something similar is offered in my area. Small farms aren’t always equipped to cater to visitors so this is a good way to get a peek behind the scenes. If you want to try your hand at cheese making, they have also organized three cheesemaking workshops taught by the cheesemakers themselves. Try your hand at making some luscious goat milk’s feta or tangy chevre and take some of the fruits of your labor home!
Already convinced that festival attendance is in your future? Allison and I have a few tips for how to get the most of it:
- Arrive early and stay late – With so much to see and do at the festival it’s best to make a day of it. If eating and drinking all day sounds a bit much, don’t worry, the location is on the shores of Shelburne Farm with ample grass to take a break and relax between bites.
- Bring a cooler – Many of the producers sell their wares at the festival, sometimes at a slight discount to encourage new fans, so it’s best to have some refrigeration to take these treats with you. I know you’re all eager to bring some Dark Chocolate Chevre Brownies home.
- Make a vacation out of it – With other fun attractions in the Burlington, Vermont area it’s worthwhile to head up for a few days. Take a Ben & Jerry’s factory tour, visit Shelburne Vineyard, or eat some local, sustainable (and not to mention delicious) food at The Bluebird Tavern or The Farmers Diner.
Want to read more, check out my posts here, here, and here, which cover my visit last year or check out some other recaps floating around on the blogosphere like Cheese and Champagne’s take, and Passionate Foodie’s summary. If you do intend on going though I would recommend you get your tickets soon. Last year’s festival sold out and a similar, if not larger, turnout is expected this year.
What about you? Is there a favorite food festival you attend in the summer?