The most unexpected find on last week's cheese and pizza trip to Vermont was without a doubt Jasper Hill's Bayley Hazen Blue, but we'd set out in search of real Vermont cheddar and we'd vowed not to return to Montreal before we'd found some. It's not that you can't find decent cheddar in Quebec--it is, after all, one of the province's traditional cheeses--but the small cheesemakers who have refashioned the cheese industry here over the last 20 years have looked elsewhere for inspiration, but mostly to France. As a result, we've yet to find a truly fantastic Quebec artisanal cheddar. (I have to admit, I'm a little picky when it comes to cheddar. During the two years I lived in London, I spent a great deal of time at Neal's Yard Dairy boning up on my British cheeses.) Head south of the border, though, and cheddar is king and, not surprisingly, artisanal cheesemakers there have sought to develop superior alternatives to the mass-market cheddars that dominate the U.S. market.
In Cabot, VT, we visited Cabot Creamery, a fairly large-scale cheesemaker, but one that functions as a cooperative, representing hundreds of the state's dairy farmers. (If you read Saveur you're probably familiar with their folksy ads featuring a veteran dairy farmer asking readers to, "Please buy [his] cheese.") We sampled a large selection of Cabot's line of cheddars, muensters, jacks, and other cheeses, including a very good select 2-year-old, but, in the words of Jeff Daniels' character in The Squid and the Whale, they weren't "serious." However, we were pleased to see that they had Grafton Village's Four Star Mature Vermont Cheddar. Grafton Village had made Saveur's list of the 50 best cheeses in America (they were #17), and they've been making fine cheeses since 1892, so we were eager to give them a try.
Grafton Village's Four Star Cheddar is exactly the kind of cheddar we've been looking for: extra, extra sharp, crumbly yet creamy, with a candy-like finish. We're well-stocked with cheese accompaniments at the moment, including an excellent Apple-Quince chutney that Michelle made last week, so we've been having that Four Star with crackers and preserves, but mostly we've been savoring it straight-up. It's so good you really just want to have it unadulterated. "Serious."
Note: We're presently in the process of lobbying Yannick to start stocking some of your finer Vermont cheeses. If our bid is successful we'll be sure to let you know.