Summer in New England is an experience steeped in sensory experiences. From salty whale watching outings and clam bakes along craggy coastlines to lush cool drives through the pastoral countryside of rolling Vermont. At home, right in middle New Hampshire, the cool evening air flows in through our open windows each evening and morning then gives way by mid afternoon to sunny skies that warm the many lush gardens…New England is synonymous with the distinctness and changeability of 4 stunning seasons…of which no one here takes any of them for granted but enjoys and celebrates each one to the fullest.
We are enjoying getting a taste of all parts of New England this summer…our first full summer in New Hampshire (post renovation broo-haha last summer…which didn’t count). We dreamed of relocating our family up here one year ago. Now, our son is in college on the east coast and we’ve just settled our daughter into her first job position in NYC…a train ride away.
Patrick and I are choosing a few events to explore and enjoy during each of these golden summer months. Wood has been ordered for the winter and the fireplaces are quiet for now. Anything wool related has been tucked away for a little while longer as the lazy days of summer beckon everyone to the shores of lakes and oceans.
One event that landed on our radar is the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival at Shelburne Farms. Becoming aware of and now learning about and tasting the hundreds of locally made cheeses in Vermont, as well as New Hampshire, is becoming a new foodie hobby for us. Cheese is everywhere around here…and right behind these cheeses are the wonderful cow, sheep, and goat farms where farmers are passionate about producing deliciously diverse cheeses.
Patrick laughed when I proposed the journey over to Vermont to attend the cheese festival. “Do you remember our first encounter with REAL cheeses?” he chuckled. I didn’t know what he meant until he pinched his nose and wrinkled his face. “Yes!” I remembered now when I saw his crinkled face. Our first cheese experience was years ago in France.
We were in our early twenties…married already…months out of college! With our entry level work salaries, we lived cheap so we could travel. Furniture was a mere future need perhaps…plane tickets came first. I found some cheap tickets to go to France. A few years before we married, I spent some time dancing with a ballet company in France and fell deeply in love with the culture, food, and people. I could not wait for the chance to return.
Actually, truth be told, I fell in love with France when I was about 10 years old and that love grew every year…but in a virtual sense, not in reality. My schooling did a beautiful job of instilling aspects of french culture into our young lives. In the deep south of Louisiana, the people there try hard to keep the bonds of the Acadians, who settled in the south, tied to their french origins.
We were schooled in the french language from 10 years old onwards. Because we were a small school run by french nuns, the teachers had the ability to go well beyond the typical learning experience. I remember when Ms. Simon gathered us together in the cafeteria one day. She bought all of the ingredients to make Boeuf Bourguignon. We spent hours on this classic french dish…pouring the heady red wine, slicing the mushrooms, and sniffing the meat while it roasted in the Dutch oven. I had never tasted anything so deliriously delicious and to this day, I can vividly recall every bite of those wonderful flavors from France.
Many more memories of french culture were impressed upon us over the years at my school. By the time Patrick and I, as newlyweds, roamed over the french countryside, I had so much book knowledge about the country that it seemed that real life scenes were popping right out of the pages of so much built up schooling and now coming to life right before my eyes. The splendor of those first travel experiences can never be repeated.
However, the most vivid of those french experiences, that we were not prepared for…was the classic cheese cart that is pushed around the dining rooms at the conclusion of french meals in France. The carts themselves are little works of art. The cheeses, all moldy and beautiful, are sliced and arranged so artfully. Food as art…for sure.
We were exposed to so many cheeses on that trip. The pungent aromas and strong flavors of french cheese far exceeded anything that existed in the U.S. that we had tasted…which wasn’t much in our limited experience. Some made our noses pinch and others melted so beautifully on a piece of french baguette and tasted creamy and smooth.
To our absolute delight, we can now continue these experiences with artisanal cheese… in Vermont! Deep in the many lush green valleys between the softly rolling mountains in this bucolic state, impossibly quaint cheese farms dot all corners of the state.
A renaissance of cheesemaking has been underway in Vermont… so much so that the state is now known as the national leader of American artisanal cheeses. World class cheeses are being produced there from the milks of cow, goat, and sheep.
Now that our kids are moving into lives of their own, Patrick and I are getting used to taking more trips as a twosome again. There are moments when we are giddy and footloose at the new found freedoms that we are experiencing after parenting for so many years. But, there are moments…many of them…when we comment, “Oh, Madeleine would love seeing this…Or, this would interest Riley…” We sigh a little bit, but realize that the moments when we are all together as a foursome need to be special and appreciated since they are happening fewer.
Shelburne Farms in Vermont is a very special place. They host this annual celebration of everything cheese. The farm is a National Historic Landmark and charitable organization dedicated to educating people about sustainable practices.
Instead of imagining a typical Vermont farm setting, imagine a long windy grassy drive that moves up and over a rolling hillside to eventually reveal a stately stone mansion from the 1800s time period. For a dazzling moment, one is confused as to whether or not this is England instead of Vermont.
The farm was the year round home of estate founders, Lila and William Seward Webb. Today, it is converted into a seasonal 24-room guest house that includes a farm-to-table restaurant and formal gardens. Educational programs are run year round and the visions of Lila and William of educating the public on farming practices is a reality.
Behind the mansion-like inn, the waters of Lake Champlain sparkle in the distance and provide the perfect backdrop for this sprawling and handsome estate. I can only imagine what this must have been like when horse drawn carriages pulled up to what must have been considered such a remote part of the US.
As we roamed through the festival grounds, we sampled more types of cheeses at the festival than we ever have before. Farms with adorable names like Fairy Tale Farm, Lazy Lady Farm, and Midnight Goat Farm were proudly showcasing their crafted cheeses on hand crafted wooden cutting boards… all situated under the pointed white tents that were set up on the grassy lawn alongside the edge of the lake.
Not only was there cheese, but we sipped on spirits and beers like whiskey from Stonecutter Spirits, WhistlePig Rye, and Fiddlehead Brewing.
All sorts of artisan foods and products accompanied the array of cheeses. I particularly like the Bee’s Wrap as an alternative for using plastic wrap. I’ve used this in my kitchen for years and needed a few more sheets. Linen sheets are infused with bees wax. The sheets are pliable and can wrap up anything you want to keep fresh in the refrigerator. After a use, they can be rinsed off, dried, and used again. No waste…and a natural product!
There were chocolates to sample from Laughing Moon and delicious preserves from Blake Hill. Another favorite of mine was the sample I tried of Birch Syrup from Vermont Birch Syrup Company. Somewhere between maple syrup and molasses, this birch syrup had a flavor that I loved and was a type of syrup I had never heard of before.
Many people brought blankets and they spread them out alongside the water’s edge where meats were roasting on an outdoor grill…encircling everyone is this smoky heavenly aroma. After sampling dozens of products, people were sprawled out comfortably…napping in the sun and cooling off in the lake water. Sailboats lazily cruised along the lake’s edge creating a sweet summer backdrop to the day’s festivities.
We noticed an open-air wagon being pulled by horses and people climbing inside for a ride. Shelburne Farms has absolutely magnificent barns that are a wagon ride from the main grounds (picture another estate-like set of stone buildings). We climbed aboard the wagon for a relaxing countryside ride. I sat alongside the most adorable pudgy little 2 year old with cheeks the size of small apples . It was obvious the wagon ride and the huge horses attached to them were going to be the highlight of this little tyke’s day.
The horses pulled us along a birch tree lined country road. Couples, hand in hand, were choosing to walk to the barns instead of taking the wagons. Every few feet, a sweeping view of the mountains in the distance could be seen through the woods. The wagon took us through an enormous stone opening and into the center courtyard of the spacious historic barns of Shelburne Farms.
To the right of us was the bakery wing. It was easy to tell because of the aroma of pastries and breads wafting through the screen doors.
In front of us was the cheese-making section and to the left of us was the farm yard where the animals rested in the shade of their pens. You can guess where the children were hanging out. There were cows, goats, pigs, and chickens there and the children were squealing with delight as they touched each animal.
Each section of the barn yard building was capped with enormous pointed roofs made from sheets of copper that had aged with time creating streaks of warm browns and sage green patinas.
Inspired by this weekend trip to Vermont, I pulled out one of my favorite recipes at home. I made a savory galette pastry filled with garden squash and zucchini all sitting on top of a pillowy layer of cheeses of ricotta & mozzarella…all lightly flavored with fresh honey and thyme. A perfect way to enjoy cheeses baked into a summery dish filled with fresh vegetables.
- 1½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I used half whole wheat flour)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons butter, chilled
- 2 oz cream cheese, chilled
- ¼-1/2 cup of ice water
- 1 medium zucchini
- 1 medium yellow summer squash
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 egg white
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
- ½ cup Parmesan
- ¼ cup mozzarella
- Egg Wash:
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- fresh basil (or whatever fresh herbs you have on hand)
- In a food processor (or a medium bowl) combine flour and salt for crust. Pulse (or cut) in butter. Once butter is mostly into small chunks, pulse (or cut) in cream cheese. Once butter and cream cheese are in pea size pieces, pulse in ¼ cup of water until dough begins to come together (adding a 1 tablespoon of water extra as needed.) Remove from food processor and shape into a disc (without handling the dough too much.) Wrap in plastic and place in refrigerator.
- To make the filling, spread zucchini and squash onto several layers of paper towels, sprinkle with salt, and let drain for 30 minutes. After that time, gently blot the zucchini and squash- set aside. (Snippet’s note: For my second galette, I sliced the veggies hours earlier and then put them in the refrigerator. I didn’t pat them dry again after taking them out of the refrigerator. This is important to get all of the moisture out because it can make the galette crust soggy as it cooks in the oven.)
- For the ricotta mixture, whisk together ricotta, egg white, garlic, honey, thyme, and cheeses- set aside.
- Preheat oven to 400˚.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll the pie dough out to a 12-14″ circle and transfer to a baking sheet covered in parchment paper (you can also do an ungreased baking sheet but it wasn’t easy to remove the final product.) Spread the ricotta filling evenly over the pie crust, leaving a 2″ border around the edge. Next, evenly arrange the zucchini/squash into an overlapping pattern on top of the ricotta filling. Fold over the edges of the crust, pleating as needed to make and even circle.
- Combine the egg yolk/water and brush the outer edge of the crust. Drizzle olive oil on top of the zucchini/squash and place in oven.
- Bake galette until crust is golden brown and the cheese has puffed- somewhere between 35-45 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with basil. Cut into wedges and serve. (this is great hot, room temp, or even straight from the refrigerator as a leftover!)