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Maplebrook Farm Cheeses

Bennington, VT

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Cheese curds are famously squeaky, but some are squeakier than others. I came to this conclusion while nibbling my way through a selection of Maplebrook Farm's dairy products. As reported here last week, the Bennington brand uses milk from the new Hardwick-based Vermont Milk Company. Following an interview, Maplebrook co-owner Mike Scheps sent me a non-standard cheese sampler to taste-test: hand-dipped ricotta, fresh and smoked mozzarella and cheddar-cheese curds. Having never consumed fresh curds - fresh bits of cheese that would otherwise be pressed into blocks and aged to make cheddar - I dug into them first.

Inside the clear plastic tub, I discovered butter-colored hunks of cheese in various sizes and shapes. Some were roughly square; some looked completely random. The first one I tossed into my mouth did indeed squeak against my teeth as I chewed, causing a pleasant shiver. The cheddar-y flavor was delicate and enjoyable. By my eighth bit of curd, I figured out that the softer ones are silent, the firmer bits noisier.

When I could finally force myself from the cheddar chunks, I moved on to the mozzarellas. Biting into the plain version, I was instantly reminded of summery garden-tomato salads topped with shredded basil. Since I won't be able to enjoy that combination until next July, my thoughts turned to pasta tossed with prosciutto, roasted garlic and baby arugula, with strands of Maplebrook's melted "mozz" on top. The smoked version tasted the way a campfire smells; it would be delightful in an omelet atop caramelized apples, onions and wilted spinach.

Last up: a small spoonful of beautifully creamy ricotta. The flavor is fresh and clean. Though it would perform fabulously as a supporting player in stuffed shells or calzone, you could also whip up this cheese with a little honey and dollop it onto a fruit salad - as you might with mascarpone - in order to really taste it.

Now, back to those addictive cheese curds . . .

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