It’s Saturday and I’m heading south on I-91 at 10 o’clock in the morning, on my way to the Cheese Cave. It sounds like an interesting place. The Vermont Shepherd Cheese Company ages their cheese in a cave embedded into a hillside while the sheep frolic outside. I arrive at the farm in Westminster and drive down a dirt road, right up to the cave entrance. I did see a bunch of cars parked back up at the farm turn-off and realized now I should have parked up there as well and walked down here. The road, or path, really, did seem narrow and bumpy. A couple people walking back up to their cars were forced to jump into the trees as I come barreling down. No matter, I screech to a halt three feet from the cave door, spraying gravel and dust.
Cave. Bah! I imagined a gaping hole in the earth I’d need to crawl though to get to a deep, stalactite-laden room. Here was a friendly, white door on a cute stone building. Inside, I’m greeted by an adorably freckled brunette who’s begging me to sample some of the cheese whilst I wait my turn inside the “cave.” I’m so sorry, she says, they do not have their Timson cheese right now but are selling what they call Tim Tomme in its stead. They also have a Putney Tomme. Both are made with cow’s milk. The last type they had laid out was their multi-award winning Vermont Shepherd, made with sheep’s milk. “You guys milk sheep?” I asked. Apparently so.
It’s my turn in the cave and there are no stalactites, no cheese elves running around squeaking orders to one another, nothing that I had imagined there would be. There are just shelves and shelves of cheese wheels undergoing what my tour guide affectionately referred to as “the aging process.” He talks of separating curds and whey, molding the cheese into their wheel shape, soaking them in salt water, setting them on a shelf for 4-6 months (and turning them over every day), scrubbing off the bad mold, and leaving the good mold. That was it. That was the whole tour. I bought some cheese and left.
While I was leaving, I was able to spot some of the milking sheep. They looked like any other sheep I’d seen in my life but they had large, heavy udders. When they took a step, these sacks would swing from side to side between their legs. Ew, they’re like little wooly cows.
Driving back down the hill toward Route 5, I saw a sign saying “PickYoUr own APples!!” I thought about how good apples are with cheese and made the right turn. It was a ways to the orchard but thankfully there were signs pointing me in the right direction every twelve feet. “Apples! This Wayà”, “Apples!”, “Keep going!”, “Almost there!” When I arrived, a crusty old woman sitting in a lawn chair in the bed of a truck handed me a bag and pointed at the orchard entrance.
So many trees with their boughs drooping from the weight of the fruit! It was like the Garden of Eden or Little House on the Prairie. I wished I wasn’t carrying a plastic shopping bag but wearing a flowered dress and apron. I could hold up the corners of my apron, creating a hammock, and place the apples into it. Then I’d go back home to the farm and bake a fresh apple pie for my hard-working husband and our eight hard-working children. Alas, I have no idea how to make an apple pie and my husband and children are just voices inside my head. Pity. I stomp angrily between trees trying to find the best and biggest apples.
There were many different varieties available, Macintosh being the most prevalent. There were also a few rows of Gala. Many I couldn’t name but were the color of plums or strawberries. At one point I came to a grafted tree; half the limbs offering Macintosh while the other half were sagging with green Granny Smiths. It was pretty wild. Red and Green on the same tree, just like Christmas. I picked a half-bushel of different apples and walked back out to the old lady. I mentioned the grafted tree and she said that there was one tree in the orchard across the way that had five different varieties grafted to it. It was all fascinating, in a Frankenstein kind of way.
Before going back home, I had to find Curtis. I heard from someone that there was an old dude around Putney named Curtis who sells ribs out of a blue school bus. I had to find out for myself. I drove though downtown, not really knowing what to look for. A blue school bus of course, but where would it be? By the side of the road? Constantly on the move? Eventually, I saw enough smoke rising up into the sky to make me think a small building must be on fire. I drove a bit closer and found Curtis’s BBQ: “The 9th Wonder of the World.” I figure there are at least a thousand places in the country claiming that same title, which dilutes the strength of Curtis’s shameless statement. 9th Wonder, my ass.
Pulling into the parking lot up in front of his blue school bus, which is stationary, I see Curtis off to the right cooking in what can only be described as a pigpen. The only pigs in it are roasting away over tin trashcans converted into grills. From the looks of it, he’s currently cooking the ribs from three giant pigs and 20 whole chickens, cut in half. Oh yeah, time to get my food on.
I order some ribs, a Curtis Birch Beer and took it over to a picnic table. The ribs are the best I’ve ever had in my life. Slathered in tangy sauce with the meat falling-off-the-bone tender. These were magic ribs and I am a believer that Curtis’s BBQ truly is the 9th Wonder of the World.
Next Week: Oktoberfest! In welchem Vermontmädchen erhielten, bumsten oben und pukes.
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Miles driven: 135
Cheeses bought: 2
Apples picked: 28
Ribs devoured: 2
Ribs bought to take home: 6