We glissando over glistening roads, the wipers swiping intermittently, the wet green greengreen green of early
Reminds me of long ago, when she was little more than a baby, we put on our yellow slickers and went out into the drizzle to find some fiddleheads and found, as well, a whole, habitable, magic green world we would have missed had we viewed it only from inside the window. Today we’re looking for
It is the second stop on a little cheese tour we’re devising – our first stop was at Al Ducci’s Italian Pantry in
There’s no one home at Consider Bardwell except for Bob Hahn – “just a darn good helper” is how he bills himself – who tears himself away from a ladder leaned against the red brick house to meet and greet us. Almost as though he knew we were coming, he drops everything and graciously takes us on a tour of the many brick out-buildings – including the old brick granary with ventilating, lacy, brickwork – and shows us where the first dam was located, that, with a waterwheel, fueled what would be Vermont’s first cheesery, and, in 1862, the first cheese co-op.
The farm was owned by a man named Consider Bardwell, whose mother’s name was Experience, for whom the AGED Chèvre has been named. Chèvre, of course, is a fresh goat’s milk cheese, christened Mettowee at Consider Bardwell, after the river that runs through the farm, and, since the goats are only milked in summer, Chèvre can only be made in summer. For winter use it is aged, and called Experience.
We easily spend an hour exploring the state-of-the-art cheesemaking room with its stainless-steel vats, and the climate-controlled ‘caves’ which are rather vast new coolers lined with shelves full of cheese rounds of varying sizes and shades of tan. And on to the other end of this very large barn, where the babies gambol in their spacious pens, where Bob built them a little fort with a hidey-house at the base, and broad steps leading up to the fortress top and the doorway into the pasture at the front of the barn. The goats like to climb. Across the road the young, yet-to-be-bred females who graze in the rock-ribbed pasture love to climb on those rocks.
We traipse a labyrinth of movable electric fencing to the field, in the midst of the 300+ farm acres, where the nannies are grazing. Inquisitive, sleek, bright-eyed, nuzzling our hands, chewing on our shirt-tails, asking us who we think WE are. There are 44 milkers among 90 goats not counting the babies and the two rams. Bob would prefer the Nannies’ munching field to be not quite so flat – their bodies are designed to climb, and upward they wish to go!
Meeting the rams after meeting the kids and nannies is a slightly jarring experience for both Zoe and me. Long-bearded, scraped up, slightly scruffy, twice as big as the nannies, yet their eyes betray a heightened and developed sense of humor, as they greet us gruffly. There are only two of them, so we are not sure if the joke is on us or on them: Was the joke that all those nannies needed only two rams, or that two rams were sufficient to the task?
Finally, back to the cheesemaking room, where Peter Dixon had arrived. Zoe won’t quite be able to get the seductive and strangely personal odors of the cheesemaking room out of her mind for a long time. “Peter,” she says now, “looked like he would be perfectly happy to dive into the cheesemaking vat, where he cuts and then scoops up the custardy mass of curds floating at the top.” Indeed, he seems to have made a home there, among the vats of milk and the temperature gauges, and testing vials.
Angela Miller, the owner of Consider Bardwell, with her husband Russell Glover, had told me a great deal about Peter in the times we’d spoken at the Rutland Winter Farmers’ Market where she is a vendor, and also at the summer market in
Peter Dixon learned the art of making Camembert from French visitors in the 1970s, and has worked in-depth with Allison Hooper at Vermont Butter and Cheese, at Shelburne Farms and Taylor Farm in Londonderry, was part owner of the Guilford Cheese Company and of Westminster Dairy, and there may be one or two cheeses in the world that he has not personally perfected, and one or two animals whose milk he has not used to make cheese. Brie, Camembert, Quark, Crème fraîche, Chèvre, Cheddar, Fontina, Fromage Blanc; in the style of Raclette, Reblochon, Toma, Gruyère, and Comté; from cow, goat, and sheep milk. Peter is a partner in the Consider Bardwell business.
At Consider Bardwell Peter makes cheese twice a day, six days a week. From goat’s milk he makes the Metowee/Experience, the Danby, which is a feta, and the aged Tomme called
to the left is Quarry, Consider Bardwell's next "world-class cheese," according to Angela, who is pictured below.
Zoe and I take our leave, deciding on the road that our cheese tour has ended for the day. Next time she visits we’ll drive up to Blue Ledge Farm in Salisbury, from which hail others of my favorite goat cheeses, and to their neighbors in Whiting, the Crawford Family Farm, who make the wonderful Vermont Ayr, but for now it’s begun to rain again and a book in front of the fire sounds just the thing. As we drive away from Consider Bardwell, the mist closes around it, then through
...talk with the farmer...
It’s not until the end of summer, when Zoe has long returned down south to do art, make music, and mozzarella, and live too far from her mother, that I am able to sit down with Angela at Consider Bardwell’s kitchen table to tie some ends together. This is one busy, well-traveled lady. Although she spends weeks at a time at the farm during kidding season in early spring, and then also much of July and August, the rest of the time she is back and forth to New York City to tend to her office – she has her own literary agency – from Monday through Thursday, which leaves weekends to attend the Rutland Farmers’ Market, as well as farmers’ markets in Dorset, Manchester and Londonderry. A partner, Chris Gray, attends
“I’m the farmer,” Angela tells me. “Peter’s the cheesemaker, Russell’s the infrastructure, and Chris Gray does sales and marketing.” Russell, an architect with his own practice in NYC with much experience in renovation, has left no stone unturned in finding grants and loans and ways of renovating the historic farm, working with Efficiency Vermont to make it energy efficient – just now he’s working on plans to turn the silos into solar collectors – and building the caves.
Angela grew up on a farm in
When they came across the group of red brick buildings that would become Consider Bardwell, she fell hard. To take that particular leap the Miller/Glovers consolidated – they sold the
Then the intern left. Kaput, gone, and Angela, well Angela “had never even seen a goat before I had six of them in the back seat of my station wagon.”
...the wine spectacular...
But oh well, that’s the name of the game. Goats, and cheese making became a passion, and where there’s a passion there’s a way. Today Consider Bardwell makes 60,000 pounds of cheese a year. And today Angela is sitting at the kitchen table, looking pleased, with an issue of Wine Spectator spread out in front of her. 100 GREAT CHEESES, blares its headline. “From around the world,” says Angela. “And 10 of them are from
Angela is thrilled with
Other Vermont cheesemakers noted in the Wine Spectator are Jasper Hill with its Winnemere, and again with its Bayley Hazen Blue, as well as in combination with Cabot for Cloth bound Cheddar, and with Grafton for its Cloth Bound Cheddar. Grafton got another mention for it’s Cheddar One Year, and Shelburne Farms for its Cheddar Two Year. And Thistle Hill for its Tarentaise, One Year.
Just a note here, that Jasper Hill has built state-of-the-art caves in order to provide aging for their own and for other cheesemakers. Angela is appreciative of that service, though Russell has built their own caves, and she says, “I don’t want my cheeses four hours away – I want to visit my cheeses every day.”
I think that Angela’s mention of the three OUT OF 100 WORLD cheeses getting their start at the Rutland Farmers’ Market is more than mere pride – if it weren’t for farmers’ markets, how would these cheeses get started? How would these farms make a living with their acreage, with their animals, and with their products? What store would take a chance on a newcomer to the marketplace, what farm just starting out could produce enough to satisfy the needs of a Hannafords?
Farmers’ Markets prove their importance over and over again, maybe especially as regards cheese – that magical, ancient, intuitive endness of milk.
Cheese may be the end result, but more than that, “more than anything else,” Angela says, “I love the animals. I even love milking!”
This Twice Bitten column was published 10/07/08 in the Rutland Herald.