Posts Tagged ‘Vermont dairies’


Making a margherita pizza tonight with many scrumptious local ingredients.  It’s also sort of a Norwich Route 5 pizza, because Killdeer is just down the road from King Arthur Flour, and most of the ingredients were purchased at these favorite spots.  The fresh mozz is sold at Killdeer and made at Maplebrook Farm, in Bennington, VT–another of my old hometowns.  We lived on a straight-uphill narrow dead-end road preposterously, or optimistically, named Crescent Boulevard.

Traditionally, the only toppings on Margherita are sliced tomato and mozzarella, fresh basil, and olive oil.  I may jazz it up a bit, though.  It’s been a long rainy day.

I also want to avoid a scuffle with the carabinieri.  I think it’s illegal to call my pizza “Margherita,” which is a designation protected by the E.U.–like “Champagne” or “Manchego.”

Jazzed-Up Margherita Pizza

for the crust:
1 c. warm water
1 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 tbs. olive oil
3 c. unbleached flour

fresh, local tomatoes
fresh, local basil (or homemade pesto)
fresh, local mozzarella
(And… stepping out of the locavore range by a long shot… kalamata olives or anchovies for kick)

Mix the dough, let rise for an hour.  Flatten and stretch on a semolina-dusted pan.  Pre-heat oven to 425.  Let the crust rise up a bit more, and then strew with the toppings.   Bake until the cheese is golden and sizzling.


Oops… I overloaded it.


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I spent the morning in the Pomfret, Vermont hills among cows and affable, talkative farmers happy to have me help to spread their gospel: eat locally and sustainably, and preserve the traditions of good food and respect for the land.  I’ll save Cloudland Farm for another post, because my visit to Thistle Hill Farm was so involved as to have me elbow deep in the copper vat of warm curds and whey.  This was the warm soup that would become the delicious, nutty Tarentaise.

John and Janine Putnam, the owners, farmers, and cheesemakers, were nice enough to let me watch and trail along and ask questions while they dealt with their uncharacteristically chaotic morning: it was a cheesemaking morning, which involves precise timing; and one of their cows had escaped the night before in search of a private place to birth her calf.  When I arrived with my sister and our two sons, the Putnams were harried.  John was measuring the temperature in the vat and watching the clock, while running in and out of the cheese house, changing his shoes each time, to keep dirt out of the cheese room.  Janine was walking all around the steep hills of the property searching for the new mother and her calf.  “Some are good mothers, some are bad.  The bad ones will just leave the calf, and we have to find it.”  They both disappeared for awhile, and Jack and Jeremiah found the Putnam children’s old tractor toys in the back of the barn, and played happily.  I snooped around the cheese house, where there is a wall covered with awards and accolades for their organic Vermont alpine cheese, named Tarentaise, and made in the style of the alpine cheeses of France and Switzerland.  On the wall a map of this region shows, with red circles, where the Putnams traveled with their four children, almost ten years ago, when they decided to make real cheese.



curds & whey in copper

curds & whey in copper


When we all bustled back into the cheese room with too big boots, Andrew, the Putnams’ 21-year-old son, was there to help his father lift out the heavy curds.  My glasses fogged up.  It was much hotter and more humid in the room, and the air smelled both sweeter and more acidic.  The curds had reached one degree shy of the critical 48 degrees Celsius.  John said he can tell where it is in the process by the smell.  When he was apprenticing, he said, he was told that at a certain point, “just put away the instruments and the thermometer.  Your senses will tell you what you need to know.”

the cheesehouse

the cheesehouse

The American consumer, too, is learning to trust and hone his senses when it comes to cheese (and wine–the two go together).  The kind of business the Putnams run, and the kind of cheese they make, are helping to put Vermont in the vanguard of what some are calling the good food movement.  Consumers–literally–are willing to pay good money for good food.   John and Janine can speak both poetically and pragmatically about their chosen methods.  They love their loyal local customers, but they also love selling their cheese to D.C. restaurants.

Suddenly, John was gone again, and we found him and Janine in the barn with the newborn 45-pound calf and its mother.  They’d been at the top of a woodsy hill, together, and Janine had carried the calf on her shoulders back to the barn.

the newborn

the newborn

John ran away again, this time to the house to change his clothes and shoes.  You can’t go in the barn when you’re making cheese.  They even have the cheesehouse uphill and upwind from the barn, so that its “perfumes” won’t be detectable in the cheese.  The Tarentaise, instead, will carry the aromas of the terroir—the characteristic soil, grasses and forages of the North Pomfret hillsides.

Then, it was time to lift out the curds, with huge pieces of cheesecloth and one foot against the wall—so as not to fall into the vat when leaning down to scoop from the bottom.  John and Andrew worked together wordlessly, in sync, with the familiarity of father and son and habit.  They make cheese every other day.  “Cheesemakers don’t need to go to the gym or to the spa,” said John, in constant movement in the humid room.

curds 1


They first lifted the huge sacks of curds into draining-compressing vats, and then, after about 15 more minutes, when the curds had glommed together in big jiggly discs, John sliced them into quarters with a chef’s knife, and lifted the sections into the round containers where they’d be compressed with the weight of 65 pounds.


Then they cleaned up, which was a time consuming and wet process.  Part of the clean-up is lifting the “pig cheese”—the curds left at the bottom and no good for cheese but good for the local pigs—out of the vat, which John let me do.  (I’m using my teeth as a third hand to hold the corners of the cheesecloth.)


then to the aging room

then to the aging room

The Putnams have an eloquent website which describes their practices and tells their story.  Here are some of their links:
About the farm

And don’t forget to heed Janine’s advice:

Janine's shirt

As for me, I’m already looking forward to the Norwich Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning, when I can buy some more of the delicious, honey-colored Tarentaise.

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cheese sample

Vermont is, of course, known for its dairy farms, along with its maple syrup.    The two events I went to today, the Norwich Farmers’ Market and the Co-op’s annual Dairy Day, are really celebrations of the richness, variety, and history of Vermont’s dairies, which stretches back to the seventeenth century. While stories of small dairies going out of business or being bought out by large conglomerates are common these days, some of the most successful operations now are small.  They have simply shifted their market focus and serve the (expanding) niche markets defined by the desire for food that is of a high quality, is local, and is artisanal in some way.  The desire for these traits goes along with a conservationist ethos that looks both forward and back.  Heirloom seeds and techniques are prized for their history as well as for the continuity and contribution to biodiversity they offer to the future.

Today, I settled on a cheese from Thistle Hill Farm, in North Pomfret, Vermont, a dairy which epitomizes this cultural and environmental ethos in their cheesemaking.

pomfret cheese

They specialize in a semi-hard cheese named Tarentaise, after the Tarentaise Valley in the Savoie region of the French Alps.  The organic milk from their Jersey cows is combined with imported French cultures and their own rennet in a custom-made copper vat like those used in the Savoie.  The Putnams write on their website:

From its humble beginnings as organic raw milk to its natural aging and rind development, Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise is as unadulterated a cheese as you will find. The imported French cultures impart flavor and texture. The traditional rennet provides structure and further complexity to the flavor of the cheese. Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise has no added preservatives, synthetic flavors or additives. No herbs are used to hide its flavor; no waxes or plastics simplify its aging process.

Tarentaise is unique to North Pomfret Vermont’s terrior – its soil, geography, climate and flora – which gives Tarentaise its characteristic smooth, subtle nut flavor and complex finish. http://www.thistlehillfarm.com/default.htm

We sampled little cubes, and then bought a big slab.

Just before lunch, we migrated to the Lebanon Food Co-op’s Dairy Day, where everything from root beer floats to Greek yogurt could make a mid-morning snack.  While Jack and his cousin went for the root beer and balloons, I sampled the Vermont Butter & Cheese Company’s creamy goat cheese dressed with honey and black pepper, and an assortment of other cheeses, including more Tarentaise.

VT B&C goat
But I was also on the hunt for a sweeter evocation of fields, forages, and herbs.  Some of you might recall my daydreams about the ice creams of Strafford Organic Creamery, the small Guernsey dairy in my first hometown (and the town where Peter and I got married in the meeting house).


At last, I found their table, where melting ice cream in plastic buckets was being scooped into a constant stream of drippy cones.  I ordered fresh mint, and could taste the herb garden.  Bridget ordered coconut, and my mom got coffee, with its milk-brewed grounds.  Our favorites? It was a toss-up between fresh mint and coffee.  (Strafford Organic Creamery)

the kind of shot you get from a 4-year-old portraitist

the kind of shot you get from a 4-year-old portraitist

Since it was an event aimed mainly at children and their families, there were the requisite horse-drawn wagon rides around the parking lot.
horsesAnd, of course, Ben and Jerry’s:

B & J's

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