Grade A – Amber Rich
Written by Jamie
As we crossed the border back into the states and got cell service again, we phoned the Lazy Lions Campground in Graniteville, VT to see if they would welcome us at 9pm that evening, and they graciously agreed. We grabbed sandwiches at a convenience store and watched the sunset over the beautiful rolling Green Mountains as we drove. Neither of us had been to Vermont before, and while this was our first major en route change to our travel itinerary, we were excited to not have a plan in place for exploration the next day. As we pulled into our campsite, we were greeted by our kind host, who said we basically had the park to ourselves and loaded us up with brochures of local attractions. Feeling exhausted but completely reaffirmed in our decision to leave Quebec, we hit the sack and got a great night’s sleep.
We took it slow the next morning and looked over the brochures our camp host had given to us the previous night. With a bagels and coffee in hand, we planned a day of exploring the local factories that produce popular consumables that are iconic Vermont products – maple syrup, Cabot cheese, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
We first headed a few miles down the street to Bragg Farm, one of many VT sugarhouses that specializes in the production of pure Vermont Maple Syrup. We started by watching a movie that broke down the basics of production, including the tapping and sugaring, and since we were nearly the only people there, got to ask the owner a ton of questions about the whole process.
1) All maple sap is clear and not very thick when it is tapped from the tree; only after it is heated to 219 degrees (important in differentiating VT maple syrup from others) does it get to the thickness of maple syrup
2) It takes 40 gallons of sap to make each gallon of maple syrup
3) There are 4 color-based grades of Vermont Maple Syrup, and while the color differences have associated taste and use differences, there is no difference in viscosity/ thickness!
We both decided on our favorite grade (Grade A, Amber Rich) and bought a bottle for some pancakes and to pour over some vanilla ice cream in the near future 😉
We continued on our journey to the Cabot Creamery, a dairy farm co-op with over 1200 family farm contributors that distribute their products all over the US. We recognized them from their iconic plaid packaging on a number of their cheddar cheeses. We got to take a full tour of their cheese-making facilities in Cabot, VT, where we learned a number of cool things, but the most interesting thing was about the origin of yellow-orange cheddar. Some cheddar cultures due yield a slightly yellow or orange-tinted cheese, but generally speaking, cheddar cheese (and most cheese) is naturally white, because milk is naturally white. Somewhere along the line, companies started to dye their cheddar cheeses a bright yellow-orange hue because consumers were convinced that the brighter the cheese, the better the taste (an interesting misconception that we still see today not only with cheese, but with produce that is chemically modified to look more colorful). Historically, Cabot only produced white cheddar cheese, but when they expanded their distribution, they noticed that their cheese was not as widely received, particularly in parts of the south, where competitors with bright yellow-orange cheddars had higher sales. Thus, Cabot discovered a natural plant-based dye that they could add to their cheddars that they sold in those particular regions where bright yellow-orange cheddars were better received. So there you go – quite literally some food for thought 🙂
We ended our day of food production tours at the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Burlington, VT. This was easily the most commercialized tour we took in terms of the way things were presented (big movie presentation, fancy visitors center paraphernalia), but it was still interesting to learn about the history of the company, their humanitarian and community-centric approach to business, and the way they make their ice cream! They even have a Flavor Graveyard for all the various flavors they’ve retired over the years. One interesting fact we learned is that only one of their retired flavors has ever come out of retirement for a limited engagement: Coffee Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz!
With 2 ice cream pints in hand, we headed back to the campground and then grabbed dinner in Montpelier at Three Penny Taproom. They had a great bar area that was perfect to have some more beers while working on our laptops. After a few more hours of work, we headed back to the campsite and watched one of our all-time movie favorites (set in Vermont): Super Troopers.
Trae and Jamie