Rural Vermont is well known for its verdant Green Mountains and winter skiing, but among the strongest draws for visitors is the booming artisanal cheese trade. All across the state, small Vermont farms are producing an array of cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheeses in small, artisanal batches.
With advance planning and lots of time to drive the state’s country roads, you can pick up some of the finest cheeses in the country at the source. Some are seasonal and many never make it out of the state. Each producer will have multiple cheeses for you to sample though some of them will be self-service, where you pay for items on the honor system.
Here’s our guide to the best places for Vermont cheese open to visitors:
On the very western edge of the state in a valley tucked beneath two low mountain ranges, Consider Bardwell has a funky, DIY vibe. Like a number of smaller cheese purveyors, you’ll find just a self-serve honor-system shop. Here you pick up your cheese, meat and other goods and insert your cash in a box. When you pull in, you’ll see a couple pens with goats. Stroll across the road for a visit to these frisky (and friendly) creatures and then climb into the barn for some delicious cheese options. Bardwell does both cow and goat – favorites include the Pawlet, a cow milk toma-style, the softer, somewhat more pungent Dorset, and the goat milk tomme Manchester.
1333 VT Route 153, West Pawlet
Grafton Cheese Company
The bucolic village of Grafton, Vermont is the embodiment of New England, a quaint collection of tidy buildings with white siding surrounded by rolling hills. Though its facilities remain outside town, Grafton Cheese recently moved its tasting room to a building dating to 1835 right behind the historic Grafton Inn. Here, the shop spills over two rooms, overflowing with all sorts of Vermont products as well as a concise, well-chosen selection of wine and beer. Cheeses are set out throughout the shop – you can taste more than a dozen from a tangy, soft feta to the Duet (cheddar with blue cheese) to cheddars aged 1 to 4 years. For a more distinct experience, try the small-batch cave aged cheeses that change frequently with the seasons.
The production facility south of town at 533 Townshend Road, Grafton is open to visitors on select days and worth a stop even if just to see the covered bridge (ask at the shop for the facility’s opening hours). Grafton operates another tasting room and shop in Brattleboro.
56 Townshend Road, Grafton
400 Linden Street, Brattleboro
The summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, includes a sprawling 412-acre estate with gorgeous mountain views and a working farm. Started in 2008, the farm is already producing highly regarded goat cheeses. After you tour the house and take in the formal gardens, hike down to see the goats and the solar-powered barn or just pop into the Visitor Center to taste several varieties. This is a “micro-operation” so don’t expect tons of cheeses but the fresh chevre is quite good.
1005 Hildene Road, Manchester
Another historic site producing artisanal cheeses sits on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain just south of Burlington. Farm is actually a bit of a misnomer as the property includes 1,400 acres with gardens, historic buildings including an inn, orchards and several barns. With historical ties to the Vanderbilt family, the estate was revived in the 1970s as a non-profit dedicated to conservation and education. There are various options for visiting the grounds, from walking tours to guided tours, so allow a few hours to visit properly. This is a great place to visit with kids and the property offers activities for them as well, from petting rabbits and collecting eggs to gardening and milking cows and goats. The shop has a wide range of Vermont products and an instructive tasting of Shelburne’s raw milk cheddars aged from 6 – 9 months to 3 years, with the older cheeses gaining much more flavor and character. The clothbound cheddar is also exceptionally good.
1611 Shelburne Road, Shelburne
Just west of Londonderry, Taylor Farm is a scruffy but welcoming stop on the road to Manchester. The specialty is gouda produced from a herd of 50 Holstein and Jersey cows. You can choose from farmstead gouda or the more limited aged gouda, as well explore cheeses flavored with chipotle, caraway, nettles or maple.
825 Route 11, Londonderry
North of Brattleboro and a stone’s throw from the state’s only highway, Vermont Shepherd welcomes visitors to a self-serve shack sitting next to its sheep pastures. The tidy retail shop has a range of products including maple syrup and yarn, but you’re here for the cheeses. The sheep’s milk ricotta is soft with a slight tang, making it more interesting than most cow milk ricottas. Two types of hard cheese are for sale, Verano from sheep pasturing in the summer – grassy and herbaceous – and Invierno from Jersey cows in the winter – stronger and spicier, available “young” or “old.”
281 Patch Farm Road, Putney
There may be no better reason to visit Vermont in the summer than the delicious Summer Snow, a short-run sheep’s milk cheese from Woodcock Farm. Taking route 100 north of Londonderry, you’ll see a small sign on the right hand side – hang a right and then drive a few hundred yards up the road until it dead-ends outside a barn. Here you’ll find various farm animals and cheesemaker Mark Fischer plying his trade. If you’ve missed Summer Snow, he also makes a delicious alpine cheese (sheep and cow) called Magic Mountain, Timberdoodle (cow) as well as the nutty Weston Wheel. Just make sure to call for an appointment (802-824-6135).
Other names to look for, but not open to the public include Lazy Lady (Panama Red, raw goat’s milk rubbed with smoked paprika) and Jasper Hill Farm (the pungent Winnimere, Harbison and delicious Bayley Hazen Blue). Many local markets specialize in Vermont products and have numerous cheeses available for purchase.