Small town food producers are thriving — From cheese to gin: Locally made foods put Vermont taste on the holiday table

Courtesy of Douglas Sweets
Tart cherry shortbread cookies are dipped in dark chocolate at Douglas Sweets.

By MADELINE HUGHES

Business is good for Charlotte, Hinesburg and Shelburne food producers as the local food movement continues to flourish. New businesses continue to crop up, adding flavor, and drawing locals and tourists alike.

Combined, these often small businesses employ dozens of people, and it’s all part of a state trend. In November, Vermont Farm to Plate announced the state surpassed its 2020 goal to have 10 percent of food sales from food products produced in Vermont. Residents and visitors in the state spent $289.6 million on Vermont-made products, 12.9 percent of the state’s food sales.

“When the Farm to Plate Network first created the targets, the thinking was that if you increase consumption and demand of local food, production would need to increase to meet this new demand,” said Jake Claro, Farm to Plate Network director. “Increased production would then lead to more jobs for Vermonters and a stronger economy in our rural communities. From the most recent data collected, we see that this has indeed been the case.”

The Vermont Farm to Plate is a network of over 350 farm and food sector businesses, nonprofits, institutions and government agencies from across the state. The network is working toward a statewide plan to help Vermonters access fresh local food while building the local food economy.

Photo by Madeline Hughes
Shelburne Farms sells a variety of cheddar cheeses at its welcome center.

Shelburne Farms

Shelburne Farms is one of those partners in the network. The farm’s educational goals are shown through the commitment to local products, explained Holly Brough, communications director for the farm.

“It fosters a connection between food and place when you know where it comes from,” Brough said.

Tom Perry, the cheese sales manager for the farm, agreed.

“It’s all about local economy, buying local products and supporting our neighbors,” Perry said. He added that locally produced foods are more sustainable because there is a shorter distance they have to travel.

Local ingredients are vital to the farm’s culinary traditions, Jim McCarthy, executive chef at Shelburne Farms, added.

We as Vermonters “are fiercely loyal to brands made here in the state,” he said.

“It’s like we are local to a fault,” he joked inside the farm’s welcome center where the farm has been producing and selling local products for years. “And it’s really a way for people in Vermont to show what’s going on in our state.”

And as people gather with  friends and family near and far, the holiday season might be a good time to bring out these local products.

For example, the key to a good cheese plate is variety. Perry suggested that choosing four of Shelburne Farm’s cheeses – the beer cheddar, the smoked cheddar, the cloth cheddar and the block cheddar – would make a well-rounded cheese plate.

Or, try incorporating the cheeses’ distinct taste into other dishes.

“We know it’s really tempting to eat whole (block of cheese) on its own,” McCarthy said. “But try putting it in things like mac and cheese, an omelet or mashed potatoes.”

The same goes for maple syrup – a distinct Vermont flavor, McCarthy added. It’s obviously good over pancakes, he said, but he suggests finding other uses as well. One of his favorites is the farm’s maple ginger balsamic vinaigrette. Maple syrup also could be swapped with simple syrup in a cocktail.

The farm’s foods pair well with other locally produced flavors. Shelburne Farms recently did a cheese pairing with Shelburne’s Wild Hart Distillers. Shelburne Vineyards also sells and pairs Shelburne Farms cheeses with its wines. The Shelburne Farms beer cheddar is a project with Fiddlehead brewing.

Collaborations between local food producers are abundant. Shelburne News asked local food producers for holiday suggestions that show off Vermont flavors.

Douglas Sweets

Douglas Sweets started producing its shortbread cookies and sweet treats in Shelburne in 2016 after moving production to the company’s store in the Vermont Artisan Village off of U.S. Route 7. Manger Hannah Townsend suggests their shortbread for holiday festivities.

“It’s an old tradition to offer tins of shortbread to family and neighbors,” she said. “We make it a bit easier by having it baked and packaged in holiday boxes for you. We offer a large variety of shortbread with a twist of chocolate, spice, and exciting flavors.”

Fiddlehead

The brewery opened its doors in 2011 on U.S. Route 7 in Shelburne. Since then, the company has grown in popularity, selling beer in Vermont, Massachusetts and New York. It brews a variety of beers throughout the year.

“I look forward to darker, maltier beers with a higher a.b.v. (alcohol by volume) to keep you warm when you are out shoveling the driveway,”  said tasting room manager Brad Nutt of the brewery’s winter offerings.

“Hodad is a beer that we brew occasionally throughout the year, but brew more often in the winter,” Nutt said “Hodad is a porter brewed with toasted coconut, vanilla beans, cocoa nibs, and lactose. A great beer for watching the snowflakes fall.”

Nutt suggests Double IPAs, Second Fiddle or Mastermind to give guests or bring hosts the classic hoppy Vermont beer flavor.

Shelburne Vineyard

Ken and Gail Albert began making wine in 1998, growing grapes in Shelburne. They built their new tasting room on U.S. Route 7 across from Vermont Artisan Village in 2008. Since then, visitors and locals have been able to taste the vineyard’s wines before purchasing.

Every year, the vineyard offers a holiday gift box featuring local goodies. This year, one gift box features NuBleu lavender products from Charlotte’s Mt. Philo Farm & Vineyard and the vineyard’s Seasons in a Vermont Vineyard Cookbook, written by Shelburne resident Lisa Cassel Arms. The vineyard also has other boxes with a variety of Vermont-themed products such as maple.

Vermont Smoke and Cure

Vermont Smoke and Cure started in 1962, growing until it moved from Barre in 2012 into an old cheese plant in Hinesburg.

With the holidays coming, and schedules getting busier, the company suggests using their products for “snack dinners.”

“Vermont Smoke & Cure created 12 days of snack dinner to save you time and stress during this hectic holiday season,” said Rachel Brett, director of marketing. “To us, snack dinner means low-prep, no-cook meals that ideally take five minutes or less to get in front of your family.”

Recipes from the company include English muffin pizzas, bacon mac and cheese, as well as an Asian fusion recipe.

Vermont Tortilla Company

In 2015 April and Azur Moulaert started producing their Vermont-grown corn products in Shelburne’s Artisan Village. Today their tortillas are sold in local stores and at their production facility.

For the holidays, the Moulaert family uses their fresh masa, the corn dough used to make their tortillas, to make tamales. Azur’s great-grandmother passed a tamale recipe to his grandmother.

Though a native of Costa Rica, Azur recalls his family made hundreds of tamales every Christmas for their family as a traditional “tamaleada,” the Mexican tradition that dates back to the Aztec and Mayan culture.

Vermont Tortilla sells fresh masa on special order.

Wild Hart Distillery

Craig Stevens, owner of Wild Hart Distillery acknowledges that gin is not typically a spirit people think of consuming on cold winter nights. However, the Shelburne-based distiller wants to challenge people to get creative with cocktails.

Stevens suggests minimal ingredients to keep spirits closer to their original flavor.

“Then it’s closer to the spices in the alcohol. You can incorporate bitters to keep it simple, yet make it fancy,” he said, suggesting a gin old fashioned.

He noted craft spirits are a trendy gift that can be paired with glasses, or different food products like Douglas Sweets cookies or Shelburne Farms cheese.

As for his gift to give of choice, “All my friends are getting a bottle of my gin and bitters,” Stevens said. He added the bitters make a difference in the drink, bringing out certain flavors of the gin.


Fall of the Wild

Recipe by Wild Hart Distillers

Courtesy Wild Hart Distillers
The Fall of the Wild cocktail blends pear and cardamom flavors with a kick of gin.

A sweet, seasonal cocktail with pear and cardamom flavors and a kick of gin.

First, fill a small-medium size glass with ice. Add two ounces of Wild Hart Distillery’s American Dry Gin. Add two dashes of cardamom bitters. Add four ounces of pear juice. Crush a spring of rosemary, to release oil, and add to glass. Mix well.

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