A few years ago, I came across a cheese map of Quebec which detailed where the fromageries were and what they had to offer. We used this map a lot to find amazing local cheeses, and it became one of our main excuses for our weekend trips across the province. Quebec, like some other parts of North America, has been experiencing a renaissance in artisanal cheesemaking so you can find dozens and dozens of small cheesemakers scattered across the countryside. Thank God! There are so many incredible local cheeses right now in Quebec, such as Riopelle, Athonyte, Le Pizy, Valbert, Victor et Bertholde, and hundreds more, and so many of them are made with raw milk, too. Clearly there's a lot to be excited about, but there's still room for improvement. For reasons that might seem obvious, the cheeses that have emerged as part of this renaissance have tended to be French in style, rather than English, or Italian, or anything else. This is both a blessing and a curse. It means we have some very impressive high cream content cow's and goat's milk cheeses, but it also means that we're short on artisanal versions of the English-style cheeses that were staples here earlier. Another one of our weaknesses is in the area of artisanal butter production. To be rolling in French-style cheeses but to be lacking in French-style, fresh-churned butter is simply absurd.
Meanwhile, just south of the border, a parallel dairy renaissance has been underway. It's not that Vermont produces any more cheeses than Quebec, but step into nearly any general store in Vermont (and nearly every small town has one) and you'll find lovely local cheese, butter, milk and cream readily available. So, for instance, the blue cheese pictured above is something we bought at a little general store in Greensboro. We stopped in there looking for directions to Jasper Hill Farm, which is also in Greensboro and which we'd heard rave reviews of, but we were told that the farm didn't have a retail outlet. And, in any case, the woman at the store wasn't exactly sure where Jasper Hill Farm was located anyway. Lucky for us, they happened to stock Jasper Hill Farm's cheeses, so we picked one up. It's called Bayley Hazen Blue, and it is simply amazing, a perfect cheese. It might well be the best blue I have ever had in my life. We ate it with an apple-quince chutney and were blown away by its flavour.
Jasper Hill Farm makes only five different cheeses, and they are much sought-after by restaurants and boutiques in America. They have the aforementioned blue, Bayley Hazen, Aspenhurst, a Leicester-style cheese which is aged for one year--this year's vintage is sold out already, Constant Bliss, a soft-ripened cheese, washed-rind Winnemere, and another blue called Bartlett.
Our Jasper Hill experience was so good that plans are definitely in the works to make a trip to Vermont to pick up whatever else we can find of theirs, since their cheeses are unavailable in Montreal. * If anyone is interested in going in on a whole wheel of cheese, let me know. I can think of no better Christmas present...
If you want to plan your own Vermont cheese tour check out the Vermont Cheese Council's site. You'll find everything you need to know about Vermont goat's milk, sheep's milk, and cow's milk cheeses, recipes, and your very own spiffy Vermont cheese map.
* For those of our lucky readers in NYC or SF, Murray's ** and The Cheese Board regularly carry Jasper Hill Farm's cheeses.
** Did you know that the Murray's crew have a blog?