During this week, I’ll be riding my bicycle from Boston, and into and around Vermont.
Many of the best cheeses in New England come from Vermont, but I’ve only been once.
I want to see the land with my own eyes, and I want to see how the cheesemakers work the land and make their cheese. Vermont is dotted with small and large cheesemakers, and on this trip I hope to be able to stop into 11 of them.
Since we’re living in times of an incompetently handled pandemic,I doubt that these visits will be normal at all. Indeed, my first stop today at Grafton Village showed me exactly that. More on that later.
Boston to Brattleboro is 166 kms by the Route I’ve chosen, which is a fair distance on a bike - nigh on 100 miles in the old money. And since this adventure is unsupported, my bike was loaded up with camping gear, a few clothes, cooking equipment and 5 water bottles, this all means that it was heavy! Super heavy!
An early start to beat the heat and give me time to arrive in daylight was necessary- 7 am roll out!
It’s not until you ride through Boston and the surrounding areas that you realize how busy and how urban things are, for a long way out from the Old State House.
Yes, Wellesley, Sherbourne, and so on are very nice. But there’s still an impatience which belies the struggles of city life, just under the surface. They may be different towns, but they still act like Boston. The cars toot and rev and stop, the pedestrians rush hither and thither. Fancier cars and swankier clothes than Jamaica Plain, but you’re still tied to the city.
It wasn’t until I rode/flew down a steep hill into Framingham and then climbed out the valley (steep again) that the air felt different. Ashburnham, Winchendon, were now a different place entirely. Perhaps it was their proximity to the New Hampshire border, and the overflow of that state’s laissez-faire attitudes which permeated as far as Framingham.
Whatever it was it was tangible.
Massachusetts took up 80% of the riding today, with the remainder being New Hampshire (and just a smidge of Vermont).
The roads were less densely trafficked, but the size of the vehicles or groups of motorcycles made up for it. Riding a bike in NH is a weird experience, because on the one hand, the shoulders are wide (and full of crap) and most drivers are polite and give you distance; but on the other hand the huge vehicles and groups spew fumes and make such a cacophony that your teeth vibrate.
In MA, the best idea is to get off the roads all together, and that means Rail-Trails, and there were a couple of fabulous ones, Sudbury and Hudson I think.
Here was the best scenery and wildlife spotting (a goldfinch!). But in NH, the highlight was definitely riding alongside the Connecticut River. As the river wound itself around the rocks far below, the views of Vermont on the other side were stunning. I’m also a sucker for run down old mill towns, and there were plenty of those to be seen - with run down Victorian houses still more majestic than the characterless rectangular grey crap you find as new construction in Boston nowadays.
And then across the river on a wobbly (to say the least) wooden bridge and Downtown Brattleboro announced itself, with a burst of colourful shops and restaurants, and Bernie 2020 signs.
The Grafton Village store was the last stop of the day - it was 3 pm, a good time to buy some cheese.
Masks, required. Gloves, required (and provided). Though sweaty hands and vinyl gloves don’t mix very well.
The two staff were clearly in a quiet moment when I entered, and so I was able to chat a bit and take in their cheese case and selection.
A solid amount of Vermont cheese. I saw Green Mountain Blue cheese, Blie Ledhe, Lazy Lady, Sage Farm, Grafton, Springbrook, to name the ones I remember, but some good out of state ones too - Prufrock (very variable quality) and St Stephen (excellent, but now found in your local 7-11 it seems). A smattering of foreign - some bad individual brie, a lonely manchego a bunch of random Aged Gouda (they keep) as well as L’Etivaz and Schlossberger Alt, which were completely out of place, honestly.
The shop itself had been shut from March to May, and now the shop was open, 10 people in appropriate attire could be inside, the cheesemaking facility was shut, and there was no sampling. Retail was down 35% year on year.
They are lucky that Grafton is large company, with those restrictions, independent cheese retail is going to suffer.
I picked up some Madison blue (Green Mountain Blue Cheese co) which I love. An ash ripened sage farm button of goat, which I’ve never had before and Schlossberger, just because.
Into the panniers they went. Off to the sketchy hotel I went (the only one!) and the first day was complete with the exception of a very nice dinner on a patio on Downtown.
80 kms tomorrow, and the first night of camping!