Shelburne Cheddar: American Cheese Society Best of Show 1990

Shelburne Cheddar, Shelburne Vermont - Best of Show 1990Cheddar cheese is one of the most popular cheese varieties in the world. In the US alone, we consume around 10 pounds per person each year, which actually makes it second only to our voracious appetite for mozzarella.

As with any cheese, not all cheddars are created equal. Certain producers are able to take this kitchen staple and transform it into something truly remarkable. Some of those cheesemakers are the passionate and skilled artisans at Shelburne Farms, on the shores of Lake Champlain in Shelburne, Vermont.

Shelburne Farms was born when Dr. William Seward and his wife Lila Vanderbilt Webb bought farmland on Lake Champlain with the goal of creating a model agricultural estate. Today, the farm is a nonprofit organization that serves as an educational center supporting hands-on and farm-based learning and a network of educators engaged in sustainability education locally, nationally, and internationally. And, of course, they make cheese.

New England was actually the birthplace of cheese in the United States. The first dairy animals and cheesemaking techniques brought from the old world have thrived in that region since the first colonists arrived.

Cheddar became a favorite because it was sturdy enough to withstand the harsh weather and less than ideal living conditions of the early settlers. Today, Vermont produces more than 100 million pounds of cheese each year and the state boasts the highest concentration of artisan and farmstead producers per capita.

Shelburne Farms began their cheesemaking endeavor in 1981. After ten years of perfecting the process and recipe, their Vermont Farmhouse Cheddar, also known as Shelburne Farms Cheddar, took home the Best of Show prize at the 1990 ACS competition in New York City.

At Shelburne, the cheesemaking process starts with the animals. The farm keeps its own herd of grass-based, Certified Humane Brown Swiss cows which add pastoral charm to the gorgeous grounds.

Shelburne Farms Cheddar is entirely handmade, using time-tested methods including hand cheddaring. From their fresh, raw milk, small batch by small batch, the cheese is started, cut, turned, and aged from six months to three years. Using these traditional techniques, Shelburne will make 170,000 pounds of cheese this year, more than twice as much as they produced back in 1990.

The win at ACS provided a noticeable boost for Shelburne, giving them increased visibility as well as providing a platform for the discussion and promotion of artisan cheeses and their core value of sustainability.

Shelburne Farm began serving as the venue the annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival in 2009. Cheesemakers from around the state celebrate Vermont’s storied history with cheese with tastings, pairings, and events in this Vermont Cheese Council sponsored event.

Shelburne Cheddar, Shelburne Vermont - Best of Show 1990The winning Shelburne Cheddar was wrapped in wax, a traditional method that locks in moisture and results in a tangier and less earthy flavor. In keeping with artisanal trends, Shelburne has also been offering a clothbound version of the Shelburne Farms Cheddar in recent years. Increasingly popular, it marries the traditional cloth wrapping method with the Shelburne techniques for a cheese that is somewhat more crumbly with complex and concentrated flavors and every bit as delicious.

Both versions of the Shelburne Cheddar have a notable tang that pairs well with the sweetness of Vermont apples. This special pairing may come in the form of apples themselves or famously fresh New England cider. Honey can also provide a nice, sweet compliment to the sharp cheddar taste, as can a dry white wine or an India Pale Ale.

Shelburne Farms plans to continue their cheesemaking for many years to come. Aficionados can always feel good about making a purchase from the farm or their online cheese shop because all the proceeds go towards furthering the mission of Shelburne Farms.

A big thank you to Vermont Quince for providing the Quince Grainy Mustard featured here with Shelburne Cheddar. A delicious duo from the Green Mountain State!