Did you know that there is a website that highlights every single cheese monger, shop, barn, road shack and store in the state of Vermont?  You’re welcome.

As a lover of all things cheese, I had to at least start making my way through the list of 49 “cheeseries.” My friend Meghann is also a lover of all things cheese, and so we embarked on a leaf peeping, cheese eating, wine seeking, maple consuming adventure through the southern part of the state.

First stop? Brattleboro, VT for a very quick stroll through the town. We made a lightening speed detour in Twice Upon a Time, a store filled with “everyone’s grandmother’s things in one place” according to Meghann. We debated whether or not to buy 1980s ball gowns to wear for the rest of the trip, but opted to keep things real with our fall gear instead. I sadly did not see the beloved tea shop that sells the best chai (we’ll just have to go back!).

Afterwards, we drove down the road to the Grafton Village Cheese Company. I have attended plenty of cheese classes – but never a cheese tasting. I have found my mecca. Bowls and plates of cut up cheese are everywhere, and it is essentially a grand cheese party free for all. We sampled a range of cheeses from cheddars (aged 1, 2, 3 years and “old timey”). We sampled parmesans. Smoked maple. Basically heaven. In the center of the store is the case of extra awesome cheese. The goat cheese covered in ash that I so loved in Paris was calling my name. And after a quick sample, we snatched up a tiny wheel to enjoy.

Grafton Village is also on a farm. The petting zoo portion was sadly closed, but we still hung out with goats.

The best part about hanging out with goats in Vermont? You don’t have to claim that this was an activity you did on your customs form when entering the US.

Next stop was Putney Mountain Winery in Putney, VT. The tasting room was inside a giant basket store. I’m pretty sure there was a basket Reptar, among sharks, deer, moose and other creatures that lined the ceiling.

Putney Mountain Winery makes fruit wines and cordials. We tried Rhubarb Blush, Simply Cranberry, Simply Blueberry, a black currant after dinner wine, ginger cordial and maple cordial. Needless to say, I left with a bottle of the ginger cordial because in addition to loving all things cheese, I also love all things ginger.

We intended to find a place to picnic near the winery, and enjoy some of our new cheese treats. A Black Sabbath cover band was playing in the middle of town and essentially that was about all you could hear. Interested in a different type of ambiance, we looked at Google Maps and decided to drive to some green spaces. First green space? A cemetery. Second green space? The creepiest baseball field with a shack in the middle of the property and ripped up living room furniture outside. We sat in the car crying laughing for five minutes outside the shack before deciding to continue on our way.

Then we stumbled across Hidden Springs Maple – a very cute maple sugar shop with picnic tables and Adirondack chairs! Score. We stepped inside first and left with maple drinks, maple syrup and maple ice cream. Lunch was enjoyed, safely.

Stuffed to the brim (at least me, Meghann seemed to do a better job pacing herself with cheese!), we headed back to the car to drive about an hour North towards Woodstock. Our third stop was the Cabot Quechee Store. It was also an antique fair and flea market, and an alpaca exhibit. It was amazing.

Somehow, more cheese was consumed. This time, there was probably 30 varieties ranging from every cheddar under the sun, to bacon to garlic to Tuscany themed and more. I tried the spreadable port wine cheese and regretted it.

With just 90 minutes to spare, we made it to our final destination – Billing’s Farm and Museum (where they also have cheese!). Back in the 1890s, the farmer made 5,000 pounds of butter a year to distribute from Vermont to New York. Today it’s just an awesome museum with a few too many mannequin figures. We strolled the property taking fabulous pictures, watched them milk dairy cows (it is sadly done by machine and no longer done by hand these days – I guess this is more sanitary!) and visited the baby calves. Fresh apple cider was available, and we ended the visit with a quick stop to buy some of their butter cheddar cheese.

It was time to make our way back home – but since the Quechee Gorge was on the way, we stopped. And climbed to the bottom, which was fabulous, until we had to climb back up the mountain to the top. But in retrospect, this was probably good after the amount of cheese we had consumed. “Working off that cheese business.”

Paris – Day Six

First up? The Museum of Natural History (specifically the Hall of Evolution). A massive museum with taxidermy animals of about every species filled this space. Nearly everything was in French, with the exception of a few special exhibits, so we mostly wandered around. Because it was a week day in March, we had the museum almost entirely to ourselves up until we were about to leave (at which point all of the school groups arrived for field trips).

Following, we headed to a creperie that was highly recommended and had buckwheat crepes and galletes (meaning I could eat them). I had one with gruyere, smoked ham and a sunny side up egg. James had the same without the egg. For dessert, salted caramel with whipped cream. I have never tasted something so incredibly amazing in my life.

We left and walked around the area, making our way to the Notre Dame. A cheese shop, which is known for being one of the best in the world (and not mean to tourists), was on the way. Now armed with the knowledge from our class earlier in the week, we were confidently able to walk in, point (because our cheese monger didn’t speak English) and walk away with the most amazing cheeses. Sadly I cannot bring any of these home because they aren’t pasteurized.

We arrived at Notre Dame, took a quick loop around inside, and left to bring our cheese home to the fridge. Stopping of course to get dessert for later, and a croissant for James.

Home we devoured the cheese. I cannot even tell you. It was so good. We had a brie, a funky goat and a little wheel with a heart of fig jam in the center. Now in a cheese coma, we lounged around for a few hours, glad to have a break in one of our days that are typically filled with walking. Around 4:15 we headed back out to see the Catacombs.

The Catacombs are passages built 20 meters under the city of Paris. Originally, they were limestone mines, which often caved in, taking the homes and parks above with it. In the late 1700s, the city finally started to fix the tunnels and built supports. When the death toll from the French Revolution (pre and post) were getting out of control, they used the space as a mass grave – naming it the Catacombs. It is both eery and beautiful. If you are at all the littlest bit squeamish, I advise you to stay home.

On our way back to the apartment, we decide to walk through the Luxemborg gardens which literally were closing as soon as we arrived. So we walked along the edge, looking in. Back at the apartment, we feasted on a homemade soup, some baguettes and treats we purchased earlier in the day.

Paris – Day Three

What a most glorious day. Armed with our subway passes, and a new found sense of direction in this city, James and I headed out to the Musee de l’Orangerie – also known as the home to Monet’s water lily paintings. I opted for the audio tour this time (and I’m glad I did, you get so much more out of a small museum with some narration behind it – and it’s actually feasible to hear almost everything!). We started in the basement of the museum – and found ourselves among Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Cezzane, etc. Absolutely breathtaking paintings – paintings I studied in art class – paintings I admire intensely. Here we were, in this small, two level museum, surrounded by the works of master painters. Only in Paris.

And then I made my way upstairs to the section dedicated to Monet. If you have not been to this museum, and are in Paris, GO. Two rooms are dedicated to the water lilies – each containing four paintings. What I was unaware of, is the sheer massive size of these paintings. Each one wrapped around the room, and took my breath away. How was it possible that he could capture such beauty?

We left, in a star struck daze, to head to the famous kitchen supply store: E. Dehillerin. Imagine an old hardware store, but instead of nails and hammers, it’s filled with an array of copper pots, utensils and every imaginable knick knack. Let’s just say that I did a little present shopping here, and spent WAY too much money, but it was worth every cent.

Don’t let that packaging fool you. This was the “bad” supermarket cheese, with its ooey gooey partner sharing the same platter.

Afterwards, we headed towards Le Aligre market, where had arranged for a wine and cheese tasting class – a three hour ordeal that turned into four, but who’s complaining?! We took the class through “Paris by Mouth.” I thoroughly enjoyed the teacher (Meg – the founder of Paris by Mouth and an American who has lived in Paris for more than a decade). We tried more than 10 types of cheese, starting with goat, moving to blooming rind, then to stinky like a barn, then to pressed (think cheddar), then to harder cheeses (think parmesan but we didn’t eat that type) and finally ended on blue cheese. Almost every cheese had it’s own wine pairing – so as you can imagine I was quite tipsy when I left!

Because the day before NoGlu was closed, we headed to another nearby gluten free bakery: Helmut Newcake. I bought a baguette, a loaf of bread and an eclair. I had literal tears in my eyes because I had not eaten an eclair in more than five years since going back on my gluten free diet. I will definitely need to go back before I leave. The baguette was also incredible – and I felt like a Parisian as I ripped a section off to eat. The inside was… SOFT. Like bread.

Following, we headed immediately to Galleria Lafayette for a view of the city from their rooftop – a free alternative to the Eiffel Tower, and a view that actually has the aforementioned monument in it! It wasn’t nearly as high, but it was breathtaking. Afterwards, we headed back down (stopped quickly for coffee) and landed on the ground floor, surrounded by silk scarves, bags and shoes.

At this point, we needed to go to the grocery store and get home to change before going back out for a show at the Moulin Rouge. We made a pit stop at MonoPrix, a department slash grocery store that had every imaginable goody in it. Armed with my new knowledge about wine and cheese, I picked a few items out (it won’t be as good as the cheese shop, but until I can get there it will do!) and then went on a hunt for some souvenirs. It didn’t disappoint.

Dinner consisted of gluten free pasta with a delicious pesto we bought at Monoprix – along with some goat cheese, broccoli and tomato. Nothing fancy, but it’s been nice eating at the apartment the last few nights. We’ll be enjoying dinners for the next four nights out.

The Moulin Rouge show was… well, I don’t know if there were words. It felt like the time Cory and I went to see the Counting Crows. We weren’t necessarily disappointed, but it was very odd. The best way I can describe it is a bunch of very fit men and women with outrageously horrible 1960s costumes, a lot of bad wigs and clacking plastic beads. I’m sure each dancer is good on their own, but together in sync? The miniature horses that they brought out later were better coordinated. It felt campy, but it wasn’t supposed to be. I wished my Dad had seen it – he would have loved and hated it all at once.

After 90 minutes, I couldn’t take anymore – especially when they botched the can-can. So we took off and headed back for some much needed rest at the apartment.