Friday, July 27, 2007

Vermont Vacation: Cheese and Community

When I first called Peter Dixon to arrange an interview with him, he mentioned that he was due to put on an annual dinner for his village of Westminster West and invited me to come. Not being a stupid person, I accepted. Dave and I drove down, stopping in to visit David Major of Vermont Shepherd on the way.

David and his first wife, Cindy, started making some of Vermont's first artisan cheese on their property in 1990, and trained several of the state's most well-known cheesemakers at their Dairy Sheep Education Center. The cheese that they make, the eponymous Vermont Shepherd, is an aged, raw milk sheep cheese that is only available seasonally and has been lauded as one of the finest of its kind in the country.

The afternoon we arrived, David and his second wife, Yesenia Ielpi, were heading out to bring in the sheep for the evening's milking with their two border collies. They milk the sheep twice a day and make cheese every two days during the spring and summer, then age the cheeses in the hand-dug cave on the property for four to eight months. Their supply usually runs out about the time they start all over in the spring, but it's available on their website and at outlets around the country.

Leaving Vermont Shepherd (sadly, in the middle of milking), we drove the mile or so to the tiny village of Westminster West on the outskirts of the town of Westminster. According to Peter, these little villages got started when a group of townspeople would leave to start a new church and settle nearby. The dinner was being held in the Congregational Church in the village, and we found Peter and some helpers out behind the parish barbecuing chicken and vegetables over a couple of large grills. It being a warm evening, the village children played among the headstones of their former neighbors and relatives in the cemetery across the road.

It was a wonderful demonstration of the continuity that exists in these little communities, and that same spirit was evident during the gathering over dinner. Attended by local residents and their families, as well as summer people and even a recently elected legislator who lives nearby, it was a time to catch up on news, lobby for favorite causes and enjoy the harvest of midsummer together.

We felt privileged to be invited and welcomed into their midst, and got to chat over dinner and cleaning up the dishes afterwards. And now we have memories of that warm and perfect evening with Peter and his wife, Jake and Dahlia, Peter and Caitlin and the other wonderful people of Westminster West.

Read the rest of the posts in this series: Da Big Cheese!, Burlington and Environs, Twig on a Branch, My First Time and Muddling Through Middlebury

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