Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Life on the farm 08/24/09: Cheesemaker's Festival

This past Sunday, my husband Dan and I went to an official cheese-related event as an exhibitor. This was unusual in that we had sworn off doing such things sometime last winter. Never again, we had said; they are too much work, too hot/cold, late/far, and as exhausting as doing two all-day farmer’s markets in a row.

But when I heard about The Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival to be held at Shelburne Farms, it sounded like a party with friends, and I was one of the first to sign up.

(We sampled out our washed rind cheeses, and Tomme Collins - our blue cheeses were sold out at the wholesale level.)

It was Dan, myself, 49 other cheesemakers, two handfuls of wine/beer purveyors, and a bunch of local/regional food vendors selling and sampling out pickles, brownies, breads, bacon, candies, cheese and sauces.

(Notice how dark it is in this room; my flash doesn't reach far enough to light up Dan. I forgot to bring flowers, an upright display with the farm story, and our sign - but this was the morning after farmer's market, and we had to leave before 7 a.m. in order to set up. No time to check and see what didn't get packed the night before.)

After setting up a very basic display (in four feet of table space), I walked around to take pictures, bought some t-shirts and sampled ice wines.

I made a mental note that if we were ever to do this again it would be prudent to have some non-perishable branded items for sale, like tote-bags, shirts, or baseball caps.

I chatted with cheesemakers and winemakers who all seemed to be having a really good time. There are a lot of young wineries in the state right now, and new cheesemakers cropping up each year.

(Not a cheesemaker or a winemaker, but Dan liked her hat so he had a photo taken with her.)

(That's Cheri, the cheese guru for Healthy Living - and me, of course.)

But this was odd – I realized by the end of the day that I hadn’t sampled one single piece of cheese!

That’s because nearly all the cheeses made in Vermont are available in the Burlington area, so nothing was new to me. I did, however, put away one or two pieces of everything on offer from Vermont Smoke and Cure: bacon, ham, bratwurst, summer sausage, and pepperoni. Salty, yummy, porky goodness. It helped that they were located only six feet away from me.

There were pairing seminars and demos, cooking shows, and signings. The booksellers ran out of a tome by maitre fromager Max McCalman that I had on pre-order at Amazon and it wasn’t scheduled to ship until November. So close, yet so far! Even I got asked to sign a book with a story about our farm in it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the festivities as a participant, but our “booth” was positioned in an unventilated side-room, under a burned out light, with barely two feet of room behind a shared table, leaving space for only one of us to work comfortably. The beer line blocked people from getting to our cheeses, and made it necessary for us to elbow people aside to get in and out from behind the table.

(The "before" photo of the room next to ours.)

(The "after" photo, and it stayed that crowded all day long.)

In truth, I didn’t pay much for the spot, but it was dark, sweaty, and claustrophobic. There are only a few photos because it was too dark for my camera to work properly. The Vermont Brownie girls shot out of there like Cookie Monster was chasing them, after finding that a table had freed up in one of the better-lit, breezy areas.

I couldn’t blame them for abandoning their corner before anyone else had the same idea.

We left an hour early because the heat became overwhelming, and the smell of hot stinky cheese (yes, my own), smoked meat, sausages, stale beer, and people reached the level of a standing-room only Oktoberfest. I craved a shower, and Dan said he wanted to jump in the lake; if he had packed a change of clothes, he certainly would have. Never, again.