We picked up a brochure for the Sugarbush Farm in Woodstock, Vermont. The brochure boasts “At the end of a scenic Vermont road lies a cheese lover’s paradise.”
Besides having 14 varieties of cheese - all with free samples, they also have 4 grades of pure maple syrup.
It was almost a two hour drive but with a disc golf course in the area we could make a day of it. We hit the disc golf course first then headed to the farm.
The 550 acre farm was established in 1945. It was a beautiful drive up to the farm. There was a wonderful covered bridge to drive through.
This is the Taftsville bridge. It’s a timber-frambed covered bridge that spans the Ottauquechee River. It was built in 1836 and is one of the oldest remaining covered bridges in Vermont.
Our brochure indicated that this was a working farm. We had the impression that they made cheese and maple syrup.
When we walked in we were immediately offered a chance to taste all 14 samples of cheese.
We were surprised to learn that most of the farmers in Vermont belong to one of many milk marketing co-ops (groups of dairy farmers who band together to form a business to market their dairy products). The Sugarbush cheese is made into cheese at a co-op cheese plant.
Sugarbush visits their co-op’s aging rooms and taste different batches of cheese. They select the cheese they feel will age to the best flavor. It’s then brought back to their own aging cooler.
Aging allows the natural enzymes in the cheese to continue to work and give the cheese more flavor and sharpness. A mild cheese would be aged only a few months, medium 5 - 12 months, sharp a year to 2 years and extra sharp over two years.
The cheese is cut into large slices with a hydraulic wire cheese cutter. It is then cut with a hand wire cutter into smaller sizes from 4 oz to 5 pounds. It’s then wrapped in aluminum foil to keep it fresh then hand dipped in 3 coats of special cheese coating wax.
Each cheese has its own cheese wax color to make it easy to tell the kinds of cheese apart. The bars are then labeled and wrapped in cellophane ready for sale.
After tasting a couple of different cheeses (certainly not all 14!) we headed outside.
Maple trees grow wild from natural self-seeding. Where large groups of maple trees grow and are used for maple syrup production, the area is called a “Sugarbush.”
The farm taps about 6,000 maple trees. A tree must be a least 40 years old in order for it to be tapped.
We were late for the season which is late February or early March.
A hole about 2 inches deep and a quarter inch in diameter is drilled with a power drill.
A metal spout is hammered in then a 16 quart sap bucket is hung and a cover attached to keep out the rain and snow.
We did not take the challenge!
Most of the sap now is collected with plastic tubing. Up to one hundred trees are connected together with plastic tubing and plastic spouts are driven into the tree. The sap runs down the hill in the tubing and is collected in a large tub at the bottom.
Maple sap is the combination of water that is stored in the tree’s roots and natural maple sugar which was produced the previous summer in the tree. The sap is thin and clear.
The sugarhouse contains the evaporator used to boil the sap down into syrup. The sugar maker checks the thickness of the syrup to know exactly when it has reached the correct thickness as set by the state of Vermont standards.
It takes 40 gallons of sap, boiled down in the evaporator, to make one gallon of maple syrup.
We walked around outside a little while longer and had a lot of fun feeding the dwarf Nigerian goats (Peanut Butter, Nibbles, and Kibbles).
Peanut Butter was my favorite.
We watched the draft horses nip at each other for a while.
We headed back in to make our purchases.
We knew of another cheese company in Brattleboro where we were staying. It was on our way home so we stopped.
The Grafton Cooperative Cheese Company was founded in 1892 by dairy farmers who gathered together in a cooperative to make their surplus raw milk into cheese.
In 1912, a fire destroyed the original factory. In the mid 1960’s the Windlham Foundation restored the company.
The Brattleboro facility is a production facility. It was getting late in the day so we didn’t take the time to look around the grounds.
Production at this facility is 4 vats of cheese a day. It takes 1,500 gallons of milk to make 1 vat of cheese. They use 6,000 gallons of milk a day and the daily production is 5,300 pounds of cheese a day.
The inside of the store was very nice.
We made a few purchases then headed home.