November 22, 2007

Raw Milk Co-Star: Vermont Shepherd

Featured in the photo with Chase Hill Farm Camembert is a wedge of the acclaimed American sheep’s milk cheese, Vermont Shepherd. Vermont Shepherd is also a raw milk cheese, its natural rind formed over a four- to eight-month aging period in a hillside cave. The remarkable quality of this cheese reflects the terroir of the Major Farm in Putney, Vermont, where the herd of ewes graze and are milked, and where the cheese is produced and aged. Vermont Shepherd is a true farmstead cheese, influenced by the Basque cheesemaking traditions that the Majors traveled to the Pyrenees Mountains to learn.

A wheel of Vermont Shepherd has convex sides and a mottled brown, natural rind, resulting from many layers of mold that are brushed smooth during cave-aging. When you sit down to enjoy a wedge of it, you may notice that the rind, which is not meant to be eaten, carries the slightly musty scent of hay. The cheese has a smooth, pale yellow appearance, and its texture is pleasantly dense and tacky in the mouth. Savory from start to finish, the rich flavor of Vermont Shepherd exhibits an initial note of sourness, an indication of its pure ewe’s milk composition (sometimes referred to as “sheepiness”). Its complex flavor is characterized by fleeting herbal notes and a lingering, nutty sweetness.

Vermont Shepherd is a versatile cheese that can be appreciated by connoisseurs and novices alike. With its rich, subtle flavor profile, Vermont Shepherd is complemented by a range of accoutrements, including dried or preserved fruits (the cheesemaker suggests cherry preserves or glazed figs), nuts, or olives. I prefer the intensity of concentrated fruit to fresh fruit with this cheese, and suggest that you save the apples and grapes to accompany other cheeses. Similarly, choose a flavorful beverage to drink with Vermont Shepherd, be it a fruity red or white wine, a semi-dry cider, or a rich, smooth beer.

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