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by Judy Antell


   The farmer in the dell may have disparaged cheese, but Vermont cheese makers are banding together in a “Cheese Trail” that can be the focus of a fun, if fattening, family trip.  Farm animals and cheese, two of my daughter’s favorites, make for a great weekend in Southern Vermont.

   To make the trip educational, head first to Grafton Village Cheese Co.  At this cow’s milk farm, you can watch through a large window cheese being made, and see a short video about the entire cheese-making process.  There are plenty of cheddar cheeses to sample (and purchase), and a few cows graze in the fields.  Visitors are welcome to pet and feed the cows (you can buy feed), picnic on the grounds, and go for an easy hike.

   Grafton Village Cheese Co. is part of the non-profit Windham Foundation, which also runs The Retreat Farm.  The farm, open Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day, has over 50 animals to visit, including rabbits you can pet and chicks you can hold.  The farm has also unusual animals, like emus and llamas, and miniature horses kids can groom.  If you have an animal-obsessed child, this is a must.

   At Taylor Farm, in Londonderry, there are monthly Farm Days weekends, where you can pet baby goats, lambs and pigs, visit chickens and ride in a horse-drawn wagon.  The cheese here, gouda, is also made from cows, over 400 of which are in the farm.  If you ask, you may get to watch the cows being milked.  Taylor has a farm stand with its own cheese, of course, and homemade bread, pies and cookies.  Local raspberries, maple syrup and other Vermont cheeses are also sold. Taylor Farm is open year-round; in the fall, there is a corn maze, and in winter, sleigh rides with hot cider.

   If you want to broaden your child’s cheese palate, go to Vermont Shepherd, which makes raw milk sheep cheeses.  The farm isn’t quite as welcoming to visitors, but you can see the sheep, and after sampling a variety of cheese, you can picnic on the grounds.   The most unusual cheese is at Woodstock Water Buffalo, which makes water buffalo mozzarella and yogurt.  There is a large observation window for watching the cheese and yogurt being made, and although you cannot go into the barn, the water buffalo can be observed.

   If you are visiting dairy farms, you may also want to stay at a farm. Shearer Hill Farm, a bed & breakfast in Wilmington, welcomes children.  The small working farm includes cows and its own sugarhouse.  The Meadowlark Inn, in a restored farmhouse, also allows children, and has an organic garden providing produce for its full country breakfasts.

—Grafton Village Cheese Co, Grafton.  (800) GRAFTON; www.graftonvillagecheese.com
—The Retreat Petting Farm, Brattleboro.  $6, ages 12 and up; $5, ages 2-11; free, under 2.  (802) 257-2240; www.theretreatfarm.com
—Taylor Farm, Londonderry.  (802) 824-5690; www.taylorfarmvermont.com
—Vermont Shepherd, Putney.  (802) 387-4473; www.vermontshepherd.com
—Woodstock Water Buffalo, South Woodstock.  (802) 457-4540; www.woodstockwaterbuffalo.com
—Shearer Hill Farm, Wilmington.  (800) 437-3104; www.shearerhillfarm.com
—The Meadowlark Inn, Brattleboro. (800) 616-6359; www.meadowlarkinnvt.com

For more info:  www.vtcheese.com

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