Ross and I are up at VIAC this week finishing up some cheese chemistry courses. We took a most welcome field trip after class today to the beautiful Shelburne Farms. Let me preface by saying that the farm is located in an exceptionally beautiful area of Vermont along Lake Champlain. The weather also helped to greatly enhance the already-present beauty. Everything is this vibrant, living shade of green. The very wealthy or very lucky (perhaps both) have homes set on the hills, which gently roll into the Lake, framed by a view of the Adarondacks. The cool, bright afternoon was the antidote to a day spent sitting in a cramped, dim classroom looking at slides.
The Farm itself sits on 1,400 acres of Vanderbilt family land. It is committed to farm and education programmes that encourage sustainable agriculture, and according to their website, they aim, "to cultivate a conservation ethic in students, educators and families who come here to learn." Right up my ally. We went to meet their cheesemaker, Nat Bacon, and to see their facility. They milk 125 Brown Swiss ladies who are fed on pasture. They turn their milk into a variety of cheddar cheeses that are really nice. The facility is great: one huge, rectangular vat that can hold 3,000 pounds of milk, a couple of other make rooms, a packing room, and one gigantic aging room, and that's it. It was cool to see cheesemakers using the things we have been talking about at VIAC; the importance of pH and TA measurements, moisture and salt content, records, hygiene, the whole bit. Nat stressed record-keeping and how the chemical properties of the cheese affects how they plan to age the cheese and when they will sell it. It's such an intensive process to get a really good cheese and get it consistent in taste and texture every time that it really is impossible. From this necessary impossibility, Nat taught us an especially amusing and practical lesson in marketing. They make a cheese called "Tractor Cheddar":
The label reads: Strong or unusual flavors that keep engines running! Taste and texture can vary greatly from block to block. The engine this cheese keeps running is the economic engine of the farm! This label demonstrates exactly how you sell your "mistakes" so as not to waste them. Sure, it's not going to win any prizes, but chances are that somebody out there likes your funky cheese, so why not keep the wheels of your operation turning as much when you fail as when you succeed? It's an interesting idea.
We spent the evening enjoying the formal gardens (with some HUGE hostas) around the inn and ate a lovely meal made from local meats, vegetables and cheeses from the farm, and excellent wine; all while we watched the sun set over the lake and disappear behind the mountains. What else is there?