The Green Mountain state lives up to its name. Vermont is full of lush, verdant countryside. And from this land comes a bounty of amazing food. One resident told me that Montpelier prides itself on being the only state capital without a McDonald’s. While I’ve yet to verify that trivia tidbit, it certainly fits in with the natural, highly localized vibe of the culinary scene. I couldn’t go a single meal without being shown or told where in the region an ingredient was sourced from. In other words, whether you’re craving freshly tapped maple syrup or apples plucked straight from the orchard, there is no better place to go to sample fall’s greatest flavors. Below are some of the edible highlights and best food destinations across the state.
If Vermont had an official flavor, it would probably be maple syrup. The state is the nation’s leading producer of your favorite pancake topper, generating 2 million gallons of the sweet stuff last year alone. That’s nearly half of the nation’s supply, 47 percent to be exact. In other words, if you visit Vermont without stopping at a sugarhouse, were you really even in Vermont? If you find yourself in Ferrisburgh, be sure to stop by Dakin Farm, where they’ve been boiling down sap for nearly 60 years. You can observe the process, plus check out a variety of old-timey farm tools on display, used to collect sap in the 1800s.
Once you learn how maple syrup transforms from tree to table, you can taste the results. The farm store offers a ton of free samples. I was literally downing straight shots of syrup, working my way from delicate to robust varieties (like chocolate, the darker the better!). The resulting sugar high was totally worth it.
A trip to Vermont wouldn’t be complete without touring a local dairy farm. By most estimates, Vermont has more cheesemakers per capita than any other state. I happened to take a trip to Shelburne Farms, a gorgeous 1,400 acre estate, which includes a residence once owned by the Vanderbilt family. Not only is it a historic landmark, but it’s also a fully functioning farm and non-profit, dedicated to sustainability education and innovation.
Tucked into the forests and fields of Shelburne’s stunning landscape is a cheesemaking barn, which might just be the most idyllic location on the whole manor, if not the most delicious. Visitors can observe the entire process, as the milk of their herd of Swiss cows is transformed into blocks of cheddar. I arrived at around noon, in time to watch them separate the curds and whey from the coagulated milk, just one of many steps in the intricate process.
More importantly, I got to taste the end result. For some well-needed perspective, I sampled cheddar that was created from the milk of the same herd, and over different periods of time–six months, one year, two years, and three years. While made with the same exact ingredients, the flavors varied greatly and became increasingly sharp as the aging period increased. Time, it turns out, plays the most pivotal role in the creation process. Since they are an authority on the cheesemaking process, it makes sense that Shelburne Farms is also home to the Vermont Cheemakers Festival, which showcases dozens of artisanal dairy products every August. It is the perfect way to be overwhelmed by lactose.
If you’re craving cream that’s a little sweeter, head to the original Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury. You can tour the facility, visit the Flavor Graveyard (RIP Wavy Gravy), and most importantly, chow down on their latest ice cream creations. If you’re up for a challenge, try finishing a 20 scoop sundae notoriously named The Vermonster!
Vermont takes its beer scene very seriously. With the most breweries per capita, you can barely walk a block without wanting to down a pint. Or, if you prefer, you can cycle your way through the beer scene. The adorable Hotel Vermont offers a Bike and Brew tour through downtown Burlington. It’s the perfect way to take in the scenic waterfront views of Lake Champlain, while also taking in locally made drinks, at Foam Brewers, Switchback Brewing, Zero Gravity Craft Brewery, and Citizen Cider.
Of course, no beer lover could leave the state without visiting the Alchemist Brewery in Stowe. Given a savvy marketing campaign and unparalleled love of hops, the company is best known for Heady Topper, a double India Pale Ale that’s gained a national reputation. Stock up on as much as you can. You’ll win over friends and maybe even some enemies.
Vermont is an ideal state to take a cooking class in because of the abundance of fresh, local ingredients. I spent an afternoon at the Brot Bakehouse School and Kitchen crafting a five-course French meal, with nearly every ingredient sourced from the surrounding gardens on the premises. The workshop was taught by baker and chef Heike Meyer. She’s lived in the state for nearly a decade and insists it’s one of the best locations to learn how to master the art of French cooking, given the vast availability of high-quality, farm-fresh items, particularly produce and dairy.
And you can definitely taste the difference. I never sampled mintier mint, and the arugula was so strong, I thought I bit into a peppercorn. The tomato confit we made was particularly remarkable given how in-season the fruits were at that time of year. The unusual recipe paired savory tomatoes with sweet apples and nuts for a striking combination. (Fair warning: it dare not be attempted with pale and mealy, grocery store-bought tomatoes!) But everything we made, from the baguettes to the prune tart, were incredible and represented an amazing blend of international craft and local ingredients.
Header image courtesy of Shelburne Farms.