September and October are great months to visit Vermont, which offers at this time every year some of the most spectacular autumn foliage in the world. While you are enjoying the eye-candy and fresh air of rural Vermont, why not sample another famous Vermont product? For Watch It Made we took three cheese-factory tours in the countryside.
On a hillside in Cabot, about 40 miles east of Burlington in northern Vermont, the white silos of Cabot Creamery each hold 130,000 gallons of milk. They overlook the entrance to the visitors' center and the plant where the company makes its well-known brand of cheddar. Founded in 1893, and owned collectively since 1919 by local dairy farmers, Cabot shows its visitors a typical machine-based cheese factory. In a brief but action-packed tour, you can peer through glass windows into the packaging and processing rooms, where workers fill large cooking vats with heat-treated milk and a starter culture. The curd that forms is cut with knives that help separate the curd from the whey. Once the whey is separated and drained off, workers vigorously mix the curd on huge metal finishing tables to “cheddar” it until the correct pH level is reached. In overhead towers, the curd is pressed into 42-pound blocks or round stainless-steel frames to create cheese wheels. Every 90 seconds another block emerges from a tower and enters an airtight cellophane bag to age.
In Healdville, part of the town Mount Holly in southern Vermont, Crowley Cheese shows visitors a different way to make cheese: by hand. Established in 1882, Crowley is the oldest surviving cheese factory in the US; except for modern sanitation and refrigeration techniques, it still uses cheese-making tools of the 19th century. You can stand near the 1,000-gallon sterile vat, looking like a giant bathtub, as steam flows through the hollow walls to heat the milk inside it. The cheese-maker adds the culture and, later, rennet (a milk-coagulating enzyme). Once the mixture has a yogurt-like texture, it is “cut” into small cubes, which separate from the whey and become the curd. The cheese-maker uses a cheese rake to gently stir the curd, keeping its particles separate and helping it to cook evenly. Once the whey is drained, the curds look like mounds of popcorn. By hand the cheese-maker rinses them with fresh spring water before placing them into cheesecloth-lined metal hoops. Overnight, old crank presses remove excess whey. Then the cheese wheels age: two months for the mild and over a year for the extra sharp.
Not far away in southern Vermont, Grafton Village Cheese has perhaps the prettiest home among Vermont's cheese factories. Tucked in pastoral country, the town of Grafton has preserved much of its 19th-century character. Grafton Village Cheese has won many awards and owes much of its fame to Scott Fletcher, a master cheese-maker who has been with the company for more than 30 years. You can watch the work of him and his colleagues through big glass windows.
There are other cheese-makers in Vermont; indeed, the Vermont Cheese Council publishes a map of the Vermont Cheese Trail. Of course, visitors in Vermont can take other kinds of factory tours, covering products from ice cream to teddy bears. If you are planning a visit, consult a copy of Watch It Made in the U.S.A. to sample other ideas for your trip.
Posted By Karen Axelrod Sep 5, 2007