Friday, January 26, 2007

...Creameries and Model Farms and Co-ops and Pizzas

former Shelburne Creamery fig. a: Shelburne Creamery Building

Shelburne, VT

This was one of the first, uh, sights we came across when we entered Shelburne, VT: the former Shelburne Creamery (you could tell by the enormous letters on the side of the building that spelled "Shelburne Creamery"). We were on the lookout for Shelburne Farms because we wanted to buy some of their cheese, and although it looked a little quiet, a little lonely, a little uncanny--almost like some lost corner of Prague

prague street scene fig. b: street scene, Prague

--we actually thought this might be the very place where Shelburne Farms made their acclaimed line of cheddars. We were wrong. Yes, this odd-looking building had played home to the Shelburne Creamery, but now it was just another one of those office buildings where you often find doctors' suites. Not 200 feet further down the Route 7, however, we found a general store, one that stocked Shelburne Farms' cheese among their selection of fine Vermont cheeses. We asked a question or two, got some directions, and minutes later we were winding our way west towards Lake Champlain. About a mile along the Harbor Road we came across the Shelburne Farms store at the junction of Harbor and Bay, but this wasn't just any cheese store. Sure, they had their own cob-smoked bacon and hams, baked goods, souvenirs, even antiques,

true vermonter fig. c: True Vermonter sugaring bucket

along with a selection of their fine cheeses. More importantly, though, the store is housed inside the gatehouse of a sprawling estate, a 1,400-acre parcel of land that was designed, landscaped, and built according to the vision of architect Robert H. Robertson and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted for Dr. William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb back in the late 19th century, and that once encompassed 3,800 acres. The idea was to create a model agricultural estate, one that raised dairy cows, sheeps, and Hackney horses, as well as pigs, poultry, and gaming pheasants, one that was clearly meant to simulate an English country estate. The estate has been run as a non-profit organization since 1972, and in addition to its creamery, Shelburne Farms includes an inn (in the former Seward/Webb mansion),

The Inn at Shelburne Farms fig. d: The Inn at Shelburne Farms, off-season

a working farm (which called to mind one of the farms featured in Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale),

Shelburne Farms model farm fig. e: the Farm Barn, Shelburne Farms

and lush grounds and stunning views (both formal and not)

Lake Champlain from the Inn at Shelburne Farms fig. f: the view from the inn, off-season

that are very much open to the public.

It didn't take much convincing to go for a walk, especially given Shelburne Farms almost English sense of picturesque, with tree-lined lanes, broad meadows, and rolling, densely forested hills. Plus, it was at least 60º F that day. We'd come prepared for some wintertime tramping, but the only snow we saw the whole weekend was of the artificially created kind, on some abandoned ski slopes up above Middlebury. In fact, about 25 feet after Michelle deciphered these signs

Pyongyang 9412 mi. fig. g: Pyongyang 9412 mi.

and we got our first glimpse of the inn off in the distance, we came across a caterpillar. A live one. In Vermont. In January.

The next day we came back to Shelburne Farms. We'd decided to put off our cheese shopping there until it was just about time to head north of the border again, but mostly we just wanted to go back and have another walk. Especially given the balmy weather. This time around we stayed out of the hills and headed for Lake Champlain and the inn instead, hoping to come across Shelburne Farms' dairy farm. Sure enough, about 1/4 mile from the inn we found their herd of Swiss Browns lunching.

swiss miss fig. h: Swiss Miss

About an hour later, after we'd toured the inn, taken in the lake, and gingerly sidestepped a skunk, we went back to the Shelburne Farms store, picked up a couple of blocks of cheddar, some bacon, and our sugaring bucket and hit the road.

Shelburne Farms, 1611 Harbor Rd. Shelburne, VT, (802) 985-8686

Ferrisburgh, VT

In all honesty, we really can't tell you much about Ferrisburgh except that it's no more than 30 minutes south of Shelburne, and if you drive down that way along the 7 you absolutely, positively will not be able to miss Dakin Farm unless you've got the mother of all head colds or something. The smell of all that cob-smoked goodness--hams, bacon, and the like--is almost enough to make you veer off the road. If you do find yourself overpowered, as we did, try to manage a controlled veer into the Dakin Farm parking lot. Yeah, it's a bit kitsch--not quite Cracker Barrel Old Country Store-style, but heading in that direction--but, as mentioned earlier, it's worth it for their honest-to-goodness cob-smoked bacon and odds-and-ends alone.

Dakin Farm, 5797 Route 7, Ferrisburgh, VT, 1-800-993-2546

Vergennes, VT

Saturday, no more than a half an hour south of Shelburne, we came across signs for Vergennes. Michelle had decided we had to check it out even before we caught a glimpse of it because she liked the sound of the name or something, but then we spied the town center off in the distance,

Vergennes, VT fig. i: Vergennes, VT, as seen from Route 7 (more or less)

remarked upon how much it reminded us of the way Canterbury had appeared from the Pilgrim's Way in A Canterbury Tale, and knew then and there that we had to take a closer look. Up close, it didn't look as much like 1940s Canterbury as we might have liked, but it was still pretty charming. We came across the town library/museum and we were in the process of admiring it from the outside when we noticed they were having a book sale and used that as an excuse to take a closer look.

Thayer & Bigelow, Vergennes, VT fig. j: artifact, Vergennes Museum

And right next to where we'd parked our car, we discovered a fine little chocolate shop, Daily Chocolate. Started up by a couple of chocolatiers from New Mexico a few years ago, Daily Chocolate serves up really rather adventurous (and rather delicious) chocolates, like pistachio-green chile bark (sounds crazy, I know, but it works), featuring their own complex blends of some of the finest American and European chocolates (like Scharffen Berger).

Daily Chocolate, 7 Green St., Vergennes, VT, (802) 877-0087.

Middlebury, VT

We'd heard all kinds of promising things about Middlebury, but, truth be told, we went there primarily to see if we couldn't score some Animal Farm butter (the pride and joy of Orwell, VT) at the Middlebury Co-op because Michelle had heard that they received some deliveries of this highly prized handmade butter (the only handmade butter in Vermont and Thomas Keller's preferred brand) from time to time. We struck out on Animal Farm butter, but we found some other nice things at the co-op, like some Macoun apples and some organic beers, and we fared pretty well at a used book and record store in the Frog Hollow area of Middlebury next to Otter Creek Falls. We had a feeling Middlebury would be a great town for used books and we were dead right. That was where Michelle picked up Noel Perrin's First Person Rural and Second Person Rural, along with 5 or 6 other naturalist classics--the kinds of things she covets. It was late afternoon by the time we finished tooling around Middlebury and we could have just made our way to American Flatbread's Marble Works branch, but we had our hearts set on going to the Waitsfield original, so we got back in the car and began our ascent of the Green Mountains.

Middlebury Co-op, 1 Washington St., Middlebury, VT, (802) 388-7276

Waitsfield, VT

When we got to Lareau Farm maybe an hour and a half later we were glad we'd made the trek. American Flatbread in Middlebury would have been nice, I'm sure, but there's something about that location in the Mad River Valley that we've found particularly relaxing every time we've been to the Waitsfield restaurant over the last few years. We got a great table just off to the side of the pizza-making station, which probably isn't the #1 table in the house, but was a seating we really enjoyed because we got a behind-the-scenes peek into the workings of American Flatbread--the lively banter, the ease with which they handle rushes, the way they try out a prospective pizza-baker. And even though our pizza got demystified somewhat because we saw it (and many others like it) get assembled before our eyes, that half-and-half New Vermont Sausage & Misty Knoll chicken/chipotle-maple BBQ sauce/collard greens/red onions/sweet corn/Grafton Village smoked cheddar deluxe edition tasted just as great as ever.

Those of you out there who still aren't all that familiar with American Flatbread might not be aware of this, but their restaurant is generally only open two days per week. The reason being, they spend the greater part of the rest of the week making parcooked pizzas so that they can freeze them and sell them in health food stores and other grocery stores across a wide swath of the Eastern United States. This time around in Vermont we finally wised up and picked up a couple of American Flatbread's frozen pies at the Onion River Co-op in Burlington to bring back to Montreal with us. We figured, "Why not bring those tastes back home with us?" Sure enough, the experience wasn't nearly as magical as it is when you get a pizza fresh out of that gorgeous earthen oven in Waitsfield (few things are), but you sure couldn't tell it was a frozen pizza either, and it was damn good.

American Flatbread, 46 Lareau Rd., Waitsfield, VT, (802) 496-8856

Onion River Co-op/City Market, 82 South Winooski Ave., Burlington, VT, (802) 863-3659

That's kind of the way we feel about Vermont. We love to spend time there ("Love it!," as Michelle has been known to blurt out), but we're pretty fond of bringing back souvenirs, too.


1 comment:

JayV said...

Thanks for this post. I live in Burlington. FYI, Five Spice Cafe in Burlington burned this past Saturday. $750,000 damage! Fortunately, the owners were insured; but will this best of Asian restos return to Burlington?