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A Taste of Place: Exploring the Vermont Cheese Trail

Cheese from the green mountain state is rich with flavors of clover and rain.

By Joanne CiccarelloStaff Photographer / November 3, 2010

Calley Hastings led her goats out of the pasture as a thunderstorm approached Fat Toad Farm, a family-run dairy farm in Brookfield, Vt.

Joanne Ciccarello/Staff

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In Vermont you can smell the color green. The majestic pines and the clover-filled meadows infuse the air with an aroma conjuring up nourishment and quiet. In the distance, the edge of a storm cloud took shape, making its way toward me. I ignored it while meandering the gravel roads, making a couple of stops on the Vermont Cheese Trail.

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"The taste of a place" – I heard many variations on that expression from dairy farmers.

According to Shelburne Farms cheesemonger Nat Bacon, what distinguishes farmstead cheeses (produced entirely on the farm) is a combination of climate, topography, and vegetation. The farm, located on the edge of Lake Champlain, is a lush site with abundant fields. The herd grazes on grasses that contribute to the flavor and texture of the cows' milk. Farther down the road, Fat Toad Farm co-owner Calley Hastings, who just loves goats, uses a movable fence to rotate grazing for the same reason. I arrived at her farm just as the storm caught up with me. As we sat down to chat, a crack of thunder shattered the Vermont calm.

The air was pungent with green. Blades of grass glistened with raindrops as the smell of the earth rose up. With a block of cheddar and a tub of goat cheesekeeping me company, I made my way back to Boston. Now I understood "a taste of place." The ingredients for cheese are the same all over the world. Milk and salt. But as I bit into the cheddar and then the goat cheese, the underlying flavor was unmistakable – green.

Tomato-Cheddar Soup

Serves 4

From "Cooking with Shelburne Farms: Food and Stories from Vermont," by Melissa Pasanen and Rick Gencarelli

1 packed cup (about 4 ounces) finely grated cheddar

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)

1 cup half-and-half or whole milk

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in purée, preferably fire-roasted

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, plus more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, toss the grated cheddar with the flour, making sure to coat all shreds. Set aside.

In a large, wide soup pot set over medium-high heat, melt the butter until foamy. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent but not colored, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the half-and-half to the pot, bring to a simmer, and simmer gently for 3 to 4 minutes. Take the pot off the heat.

Using your hands, lift the cheddar from the bowl and whisk handfuls into the hot half-and-half mixture until the mixture is smooth.

Add the tomatoes with their purée, the allspice, and the salt to the soup base and stir. Return the pot to medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes and cook, stirring to blend. Do not allow the soup to boil.

Using an immersion blender, a food processor, or a blender, blend the soup in batches. (Always use caution blending hot liquids.)

Return the soup to the pot over medium-low heat and warm it gently just until a few bubbles rise to the surface. Add pepper, adjust seasoning to taste, and serve.

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