Since I'm not a skier, spend my summers at the Cape, and have been in school during the fall for what feels like the last 80 years, I've never had a good time to visit Vermont. But now, with a little time on my hands and a kitchen sans counters or sinks, I had the chance to escape for a few days and take in all the good things that our neighbors to the north have to offer.
We left Boston early and headed up through New Hampshire and on into Vermont. We stopped at the Crossroads Country Cafe in White River Junction for breakfast. The place looks like every small country cafe, but it had some of the most amazing pancakes and homemade bread that I've had. The pancakes were light and fluffy with crispy edges and fantastic buttermilk flavor. And thick slices of buttered fresh cinnamon raisin bread? Oh so good.
After breakfast, we finished driving up to Waterbury and Stowe. Our first stop was the Green Mountain Coffee Visitors' Center. They have a small exhibit focused on fair trade and the coffee growing and roasting process, as well as a shop with just about any flavor coffee you could want.
How could you visit Vermont and not have some Ben & Jerry's? Just up Route 100, Ben & Jerry's has a working factory that produces about 250,000 pints a day (and 500,000 pints per day in their other factory) while still being entertaining for visitors. Everything was brightly painted, our guide was funny, and of course, there was a sample at the end. The factory floor itself is very small - I'd say it could fit inside a typical school gym. And showing more humor is the flavor graveyard located by the parking lot, where old flavors are retired gracefully.
Driving further up Route 100, there are a bunch of shops that are fun to visit, if perhaps a little overly touristy. Cabot Cheese, The Kitchen Store, Danforth Pewter, and Lake Champlain Chocolates share one plaza, and Cold Hollow Cider Mill and Grand View Winery Tasting Room share another plaza. Cabot and Lake Champlain are available all over the place, but these stores give you the full line of products. In fact, the Lake Champlain store includes a factory seconds area where you can get this chocolate a little bit cheaper. I bought the sodas above, from Vermont Sweetwater Bottling, because of their unusual flavors. I loved the rhubarb raspberry and was quite surprised by the maple. A great local find!
I enjoyed the Grand View Winery Tasting Room the most out of this bunch. For $1, you get to try six different types of fruity wines - much sweeter than most wines out there, but then, I prefer sweet wines. Flavors range from pear to blackberry, and my favorites were the raspberry apple and the hard cider.
For dinner, we ended up at Pie in the Sky, just a few doors down from our hotel. I'm a sucker for "gourmet" pizzas, so this place really hit the spot for me. We ordered the Blonde Vermonter (above, with olive oil, cheddar cheese, green apples, and ham) because it seemed like the right thing to do on a Vermont vacation, and the Thai Pie (peanut sauce, chicken, cilantro, red onion, and broccoli) because that's my mother's favorite type of pizza. Both were excellent, with crispy crusts and terrific flavor combinations. The menu there is huge too, with unconventional toppings like leeks and black beans. If this were closer, I'd eat there all the time (and apparently they have a lunch buffet for $7.25 with pizza, soup, salad, and soda - an amazing deal well worth taking advantage of).
The next day, we headed out to Cabot to visit the Cabot Cheese Factory. All the Cabot shops, including the factory, have samples of all their different cheeses out so you can try them all. Their newest flavors, Tuscan, Tika Masala, and Chili Lime, are all fantastic. Part of the tour included a video outlining the history of the company, and they focused on the fact that Cabot is a co-op, meaning all of the roughly 1300 farmers who supply the milk are also the owners of the company. In a time when so many people are focused on trying to eat locally and support small farmers, it's great to see a big company like Cabot that runs exclusively on that concept. I also found it interesting that Cabot created the niche for Vermont cheddar - before they coined the phrase, nobody was looking for cheddar from Vermont, but it's now one of their biggest products.
Another thing I love about Cabot? Tons and tons of recipes on their website, some of which I have already tried and loved.
After that, we headed down to Woodstock and Quechee. We wandered around the center of Woodstock, which is a beautifully picturesque New England town, then did some shopping at Quechee Village (which has a really fantastic antique store that I could have gotten lost in for days, plus another Cabot Cheese store). For dinner, we headed to the beautiful Simon Pearce factory, store, and restaurant, which is what got my mother interested in taking this trip in the first place. We wandered around the store, where I picked out things that I may never be able to afford, and looked out over the gorgeous waterfall before heading into the restaurant. Just about everything was delicious, but the standouts were the arugula salad (with Manchego cheese, Serrano ham, marcona almonds, and quince paste) and the horseradish-crusted cod (above, with crispy leeks, herb mashed potatoes, balsamic shallot reduction). Service was attentive without being obtrusive, and you get to try out all the glassware in the store as you eat. This is a perfect special occasion or fancy night out restaurant.
Breakfast the next morning had us back at the Quechee Village shopping center, where the Farmers Diner is located. It is a quintessentially Vermont diner, filled with amazing local ingredients and country fare. Local eggs, meats, cheeses, and flours are all over the menu. Their hash browns have just a little bit of spice and fantastically crispy edges, while the pancakes, mixing white and wheat flours, have a slightly nutty flavor while still being light and fluffy. I only wished we could have stuck around to have lunch there too - the menu looks fantastic!
By this point, we were a little tired of being in the car together, but we had one stop left before we could head home. King Arthur Flour is just up the road from Quechee. The complex includes a store, a bakery, and an education center. I'd love to take a class there sometime, but there was nothing we wanted offered in the few days we had free. Instead, we used our time to wander around the store and bakery. I could have blown a lot of money here, but I exercised restrain and only picked up a few things (including an olive bread mix that I'm dying to try).
This was a great, quick, and fun trip, filled with delicious food, beautiful foliage, and plenty of shopping. If you're interested in taking a similar trip, I've put together a map with all of my stops, and I have some more pictures here on Flickr.