Outside of the Classroom: Cheese, Beer, and Life on the Farm

Gastronomy students are always busy, both inside the classroom and out. On the rare occasion that school is not in session, students take advantage of the chance to get away and explore life outside of the program. In this mini series, students will recount their 2014 Spring Break to provide insight into gastronomy life outside of school.

Me, way too excited about all the cheese and looking oh so stylish.
Me, way too excited about all the cheese and looking oh so stylish.

by Mary Chapman

One of the highlights of moving back East from California (aside from the Gastronomy program!) is being just a few hours drive from Windhorse Farm, my aunt and uncle’s parcel of land in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. My last visit there, a whopping 7 years ago, provided me with some of the culinary memories that fueled my passion for food; I couldn’t wait to make more.  After delaying our trip by a day due to Vermont’s biggest storm of the year, we hit the road before dawn on Friday morning.

One exciting change to the area since my last visit has been the addition of the Cellars at Jasper Hill to Jasper Hill Farm, which has made some of my favorite cheeses since 2003. “The Cellars” are a series of caves where cheeses are aged – a process called affinage. We were lucky to score an insider’s tour.  Our host, Vince, showed us from cave-to-cave allowing us to taste cheeses at varying stages of the aging process. When we were done, Vince sent us on our way with a box of cheese and tips on how to accomplish our next task: hunting down Heady Topper IPA.

One of the Cellars at Jasper Hill caves.
One of the Cellars at Jasper Hill caves.

I’d never tried Heady Topper, but we had requests from friends back in Cambridge to bring back as much as we could get our hands on.  Why? It sits at the top of Beer Advocate’s Top 250 Beers in the World. At 2:15 we arrived at Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier and were told by the circle of men already collecting in the beer aisle that Heady Topper would arrive at 3:00.  We queued up and waited alongside people from as far away as Virginia. My favorite part was the response from the locals, who couldn’t understand the fascination and stared at us like a bunch of loons. All this for beer? For them, it wasn’t exotic or exciting; they had access to world class beer all the time.

My boyfriend, Will, carrying our haul.
My boyfriend, Will, carrying our haul.

Finally, we were off to the farm where the chores that would become routine by the end of our visit awaited; giving water and hay to the cows, horses, and donkeys, feeding the chickens and collecting their eggs, and my favorite chore: mucking. If you’re lucky enough to not know what mucking is; it means shoveling poop. Good thing the animals are cute, and the view was amazing. Screen shot 2014-03-21 at 2.34.25 PM

The beer hunt continued on Saturday at Hill Farmstead Brewery.  If we’d thought our 45 minute wait for Heady Topper was something, it was nothing compared to two hours at Hill Farmstead. Brewmaster Shaun Hill produces some of the most balanced beers I’ve ever tasted. Once I’d had a taste, the two hour wait felt completely worth it.

The line at Hill Farmstead Brewery and the worth-the-wait brew.
The line at Hill Farmstead Brewery and the worth-the-wait brew.

Five full growlers of beer later we headed back to the farm to help my aunt and uncle make butter and mozzarella cheese. I left most of the duties to my cheesemonger boyfriend as I sifted through old family photos.

Draining the butter milk from the butter; stretching the mozzarella; an old photo of my grandfather I found - it all makes sense now!
Draining the buttermilk from the butter; Stretching the mozzarella; An old photo of my grandfather I found – it all makes sense now!

That night, as we sipped on Heady Topper and munched on Jasper Hill cheeses, my uncle Rob grilled porterhouse steaks that had come from their herd, and Aunt Kate made mac n’ cheese. It was the meal that I’d been craving throughout my 6 years living in California and now, thanks to my experiences out there and with the Gastronomy program, I had so much more to add to the dinner conversation.  Kate and Rob are passionate about regulations placed on small farmers like themselves and Aunt Kate was excited to learn that there are people like us (Gastro students) who are aware of issues they deal with. For instance, how it was fine for them to serve us their beef, raw milk, raw cheese, and butter, but it would have been illegal for them to sell it to us. When we hit the road the next morning, we had a car full of beer, cheese, and butter, and a brain full of inspiration to continue my studies with a focus on farming policy.

Heady Topper; Grilling in the Snow; Delicious mac n' cheese
Heady Topper and cheese; Grilling in the Snow; Delicious mac n’ cheese

Mary is a first year Gastronomy student. Before joining the program, she spent 6 years making wine and selling artisan cheeses in Sonoma County, California.

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