Very Big Cheese

Grafton Cheddar

In the town’s early years, the people of Grafton, VT raised sheep. Now Grafton—which dates back to before 1791– is a very pretty village where they make cheese that ranks among the best the state has to offer.

Before the Civil War, almost 1,500 people called Grafton home but the war, especially the Battle of Gettysburg, took a heavy toll as attested to by tombstones in village cemeteries.

Civil War tombstones in Grafton cemetary

The Grafton Village Cheese Company began in 1982. They turn out hand-crafted aged cheddar that is free of synthetic hormones and produced largely from the milk of Jersey cows from local family farms. On certain days, there’s a tour of the cheese making operation but, in true Vermont spirit, it wasn’t taking place over the Thanksgiving weekend when lots of tourists were around. However, a very good video about the cheese making process runs in the cheese shop and my family had a great lunch at Mack’s Place, a casual restaurant attached to the shop that serves breakfast, lunch and snacks.

Inside Mack's Place

(A special shout out to the friendly folks at Mack’s – I left my camera there and when it was found, they offered to ship it to me. I tried to pay for the shipping but was told “never mind, just come back and eat at Mack’s.” You bet I will.) Afterwards, we walked to the Gallery North Star that always has good work, much from Vermont artists, on display.

Built in 1801, The Old Tavern across the street from Mack’s is a beautifully restored Vermont country inn with 45 rooms and has a restaurant that serves dinner. It’s said to be a lovely place but thus far, I’ve had to content myself with lots of cheese from the store (we prefer the 2 year old cheddar) and lunches at Mack’s.
Grafton cheddar, regardless of age, makes a great snack, grilled cheese sandwich or nibble with drinks. This recipe uses it to turn out a very rich soup that would make a wonderful winter lunch with a salad and bread.

Classic Cheddar Cheese Soup

Cheddar Cheese Soup (Emeril Lagasse)
4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/3 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
12 ounces sharp yellow cheddar cheese, grated (about 4 cups)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Optional: crumbled bacon, salsa, or creme fraiche, chopped parsley leaves for garnish
In a large, heavy saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and peppers and saute until vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the stock, milk and heavy cream. Bring soup to a low boil and reduce heat so that the soup barely simmers. Cook, stirring frequently, until the soup is very thick and flavorful, about 20 minutes. Add the grated cheese in 1/2 cup increments, stirring after each addition until completely melted and smooth. Do not allow soup to boil. Season with salt and cayenne pepper, to taste.
Serve in shallow bowls, topped with some crumbled crispy bacon bits, a dollop of salsa or creme fraiche, and chopped parsley, as desired.

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8 Responses to Very Big Cheese

  1. Peter says:

    As usual, this Christmas time, we are busy.
    Saturday we hosted a wreath-making workshop, attended by 10 ‘elves’ – some of these decorated wreaths are destined for front doors, hearths, etc. We also sold 5 of our own, home-grown trees, from the ‘back-forty’.

  2. Susan Morgulas says:

    As I’ve said in the past, I think your blog is terrific! I personally have zero (or below) interest in cooking but I love the way you start with the history of a place you’ve visited, sashay into a discussion of the local specialities adn wind up with what sounds like a great recipe. Susan

  3. Mary Stern says:

    Hi Mari—I love your blog especially when it’s about Vermont. Your recipes sound great and I have copied a few—cooking is not my biggest talent but I have good intentions to try one or two some day. Hope you-all are fine and hope to see you when next I’m in New York City.

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