1. Where to Stay
The Vermont Cheese Trail isn’t a “trail” in any real sense—it’s a network of dairies clustered, roughly, in three sections of the state: southern, central, and northern. Spend your first night in the south at the Old Tavern at Grafton (from $150), just steps from the award-winning Grafton Village Cheese Company. The inn’s a rural-Colonial classic: You can wake up under period-style linens, sip coffee in the lobby beside an oil painting of George Washington, and eat local, free-range eggs for breakfast.
The central part of the state is home to nearly twenty dairies and the charming Woodstock Inn & Resort (from $255), located on the village green in Woodstock. A new chef has greatly improved the dining quality, and guests get passes to Billings Farm, a working farm and museum where you can check out traditional New England agricultural techniques.
Fast-forward 200 years at the fully modernized Topnotch Resort & Spa (from $325) in Stowe, within a few hours’ drive from another dozen cheesemakers in the north. The hotel’s fresh off a big face-lift and its restaurant, Norma’s, has one of the largest local-cheese lists in the state.
2. Where to Eat
Keep the made-in-Vermont theme going at the flagship restaurant of renowned glassblower Simon Pearce, in Quechee. The restaurant not only bakes Irish brown bread daily—it also generates its own hydroelectric power (via a waterfall tumbling right beside the glassed-in porch) and uses it to fire plates, bowls, and glasses on-site.
Sure, you can buy American Flatbread frozen pizzas at Whole Foods—but the real thing, slid fresh from a stone oven in northern Vermont, is far better. On weekends at the original flatbread plant in Waitsfield, the company sets tables on the factory floor and serves pizzas like the “Punctuated Equilibrium,” topped with a mix of vegetables and herbs, mozzarella, and fresh, local goat cheese.
Join an army of motorcyclists and other Route 5 travelers at Curtis’ All American Barbecue in Putney, which operates out of a pair of old-school buses during daylight hours from April to October. Order the combo platter of ribs and chicken, add a side of sweet yams or baked beans, and grab a picnic table—you can get your beer or wine at the gourmet shop across the street.
3. What to Do
The most exotic of Vermont’s 37 cheesemakers, the Woodstock Water Buffalo Company is home to the only commercial herd of Southeast Asian water buffalo this side of the Atlantic. Get a good look at the beasts and a taste of the nation’s only real-deal buffalo mozzarella by dropping by on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Get your cheese passport punched again just seven miles south of the Canadian border at Green Mountain Blue Cheese. The owner’s French-Canadian roots are echoed in the French-style blue, Gorgonzola, Alpine tomme and washed-rind Muenster cheeses. Go Gallic again an hour south at Shelburne Farms, where a grand stone château looks as if it were stolen from Burgundy. The 1,400-acre estate fields a nonprofit environmental education center and a petting barn, and its handmade Cheddars aren’t half-bad either.
Take a tour of the state’s largest cheese facility, a cooperative owned by about 1,300 different family farms, at Cabot Creamery. The dairy’s packaged cheeses are available everywhere, but its exquisite Vintage Choice, an eighteen-month aged Cheddar, is much harder to find. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the tiny Crowley Cheese operation, making just a few hundred pounds daily. Here you can watch small-batch cheeses made entirely with muscle power, poured, stirred, and cut by hand in a 900-square-foot, one-room “factory.”
4. Insider’s Tip
On top of its ridiculously good cheese, Vermont also has some of the nation’s best maple syrup (look for Grade A), bacon (Farmer’s Diner), and barbecue sauce (Richard’s). But the best place to buy all these goodies, ironically, isn’t in Vermont—it’s in Hanover, New Hampshire. The Hanover Consumer Co-op, located about a mile across the Connecticut River state line, is one of the nation’s greatest supermarkets and a longtime leader in the co-op movement. Here you can buy at least two great cheeses you won’t find on the trail: Cabot’s cloth-wrapped, cave-aged English Cheddar and Jasper Hill’s Constant Bliss, a favorite at both the restaurant and retail outposts of New York’s Artisanal. (Chef-owner Terrance Brennan keeps a vacation home in southern Vermont.)
5. An Oddball Day
Enough with the cheese—let’s talk meat. The Equinox Resort & Spa in Manchester is one of the few places this side of Scotland where you can hunt game with the help of hawks. The British School of Falconry, the first of its kind in the U.S., offers both half-hour introductory lessons and hour-long “hawk walks,” in which you can stroll through the woods as a trained bird takes off and lands on your gloved hand. In September and October, you can sign up for a three-and-a-half-hour hunt for partridge, quail, pheasant, or rabbit. (This is not a good option for bunny lovers.) Assuming you still have an appetite afterward, head toYe Olde Tavern in Manchester Center, where the Friday- and Saturday-night “Something Wild” special promises “a different game-meat preparation every evening.”
6. Related Links
The Vermont Cheese Trail homepage has a complete map and individual descriptions of the state’s 37 cheesemakers.
Why stop at cheese? The farms listed on Vtfarms.com are all open to the public, and some offer farm-stay programs.
Ditto for maple syrup, the state’s most iconic food product.