“For me,” says Anne Saxelby, “‘fancy’ cheese as a kid was the ‘sliced white American’ kind.” These days, it’s a little different, since Saxelby and her namesake cheese shop have been crucial to the explosion of interest, understanding, and appreciation for actual American cheese. This fall, her expertise will spread even further when her book, The New Rules of Cheese, is published in October. It is, she says modestly, “a little guide to the things I wanted to say,” but given Saxelby’s reputation, it’s safe to assume the “little guide” will also be an authoritative take on cheese in all its forms. Speaking of multitudes of cultured dairy products, Saxelby spent the past week vacationing in Vermont, sampling what seems like every cheese and pastry she and her family encountered along the way. (This, in Grub’s estimation, is the correct way to vacation.) You can read it all in this week’s Grub Street Diet.
Friday, August 21
I’m up at 6 a.m. eating a piece of a doughnut I found on the counter of our Airbnb and drinking coffee while my toddler sings in her crib. This is my last day of vacation, but I’ve got a ton of work to catch up on, so the 6 to 7 a.m. hour is the one I’ve claimed for myself. As long as she’s not screaming I’ll just keep eating and typing.
We’re on vacation in Vermont and there’s a brand of doughnuts you can find at just about any gas station or general store called Koffee Kup doughnut. They’re so good. As a general rule I will eat any doughnut put in front of me, but the maple are my fave. They’re dense and cake-y, and the glaze is thin and it shatters when you bite into it.
I inherited my love of doughnuts from my mother, who during my childhood years was almost religious in her devotion to Lee Donuts in my hometown of Libertyville, Illinois. Every Saturday morning she’d go early before the place got cleaned out and come home with a box full of frosted, cream-filled, and jelly-filled delights.
A bit later everyone is up, and since I didn’t even have a whole doughnut I feel the need to have a proper breakfast. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, so if I can stretch it out a bit and have two (or even two and a half), I’m all for it. I have some yogurt with granola and peaches we picked at Wellwood Orchards, a small orchard and Farm in Springfield, Vermont.
Peaches are goooood this year! I’m told by my more farmer-ly friends that they’re just about the only fruit that’s good and available in abundance this summer in this part of the country. I eat this meal (and most others) with Reggie, my almost 2-year-old, on my lap. It’s not that she can’t be trusted to sit in her own chair, she’d just rather sit on me, eating my food and anyone else’s food she can get her little paws on. Eating with Reggie is a full-contact sport. You have to be quick and agile to get some good bites in, and she’ll probably step on my thighs and pinch them against the chair and drop spoonfuls of yogurt on my clothes in the process. I am frequently decorated with food and have chosen not to give a fuck.
We get on the road about 10 a.m. and stop in Woodstock, Vermont, at a cute little café called Mon Vert for more coffee and a few road pastries. (I warned you about my multiple-breakfast problem.) Their coffee is delicious (I order a cortado) and their cheese-and-fruit Danish is soft and sweet. It calls to mind the Toaster Strudel, which is a mostly forgotten challenger to the Pop-Tart that was made in the ’90s. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago eating any and all processed food ever invented, and while I’m sure this Danish is made of actual food, it still brings me back!
Lunch is a socially distanced picnic at my good friends Mark and Gari Fischer’s house in Weston, Vermont. Mark and Gari own Woodcock Farm, a sheep dairy and creamery that I have worked with since I opened my shop back in 2006. They make really incredible sheep’s and cow’s milk cheese and are wonderful people. This year they’ve limited their production somewhat because they’re down a staff person and because Mark just had his hip replaced about a month ago. They also do a lot of summer farmer’s markets, so during this time of the year they sell most of the cheese they make themselves, meaning I can’t get my hands on it! This is fine with me because working with small producers means rolling with the punches and doing business in a way that works for everyone.
Gari has laid out an incredible spread of their cheeses, cold cuts, freshly cut fruit, crudités, and hummus. I make myself a sandwich of Weston Wheel — a 100 percent sheep’s milk cheese that I can’t get right now, but love — and some salami and turkey, and it’s like seeing an old friend.
After lunch we make a stop at the Vermont Country Store in Weston. The Vermont Country Store is pretty much my mecca of shopping. They have a bunch of weird old stuff that nobody particularly needs but is nonetheless so captivating to me that I can’t not buy it! Old tape recorders, those vintage black Kit-Cat Klocks that wag their tails as a pendulum, flannel for miles, soaps and old kitchen and household goods, so many good brands of socks (another obsession of mine), and maple creemees! A maple creemee is maple soft serve, and is a rite of passage in Vermont in summer. One must have a maple creemee in season. I order a large one and it comes with two tiny maple cookies stuck into it. I give the cookies to Reggie (who has already started to make the “gimme” motions with her hands) to throw her off the scent and relish every last bit.
The maple creemee induces a wave of nostalgia — my first job was at a soft-serve drive-in in Libertyville called the Dairy Dream. My friend’s parents bought the place when we were 14 years old, and I started working behind the counter slinging soft serve for $4 an hour. There is an art to soft serve, as anyone who has visited a Mister Softee truck can attest, and I appreciate that art deeply. You have to swirl your tower at the right density, not too tall, and with tight, even rotations so it doesn’t fall off the cone.
Dinner is a disaster. We have one leg of our drive left and zero plans. In the afternoon we visited another farm, Spring Brook Farm, and the kids (I have three: Max, 7; Josie, 6; and Reggie, 2) got to feed baby calves, gather eggs, and help with the afternoon chores, which was super fun, but has now put us on the road right at dinnertime in a pretty rural part of Vermont without many options. This is part of what makes Vermont amazing (no strip malls, no McDonald’s) but immediately exposes parental tactical errors in meal planning. We see a drive-in type of place in a town called Mount Tabor and pull over. We end up eating slightly-better-than-gas-station pizza, pretzels, and Cokes in the car, even though our trunk is full of farm eggs and artisan cheese. Sigh. The kids are pretty happy about it, though, and I’m pretty sure that Coke and junk food for dinner every now and again is good for your soul.
We arrive at our friend’s house in Chatham, New York, around 9 p.m., where we’ll be spending the next two nights. After the kids are in bed, we have some late-night cheese and wine.
Saturday, August 22
Wake up slightly hungover from the late-night cheese-and-wine fest. I am a total lightweight and anything more than a glass of anything pretty much means I’m going to have a headache the next day. It keeps me honest, I guess. With three kids and a business to run I’m not really allowed to be hungover.
Have some toast with coffee to start the day while the kids play in the pool. Carbohydrates and butter always seem to do the trick for me if I’m feeling a little wonky in the morning. A bit later my husband and my friend Joie come back from their morning of grocery shopping with a truckload of bread and pastries from the Bartlett House, an impeccably beautiful bakery and café in nearby Ghent, New York. I help myself to a chocolate croissant plus bread and Verano, which is a sheep’s milk cheese from Vermont Shepherd. Even after all of these delicious, buttery carbohydrates the engine isn’t fully firing so I take a nap, one of the greatest pleasures of my adult life.
I wake up to my husband and our friend Josh preparing lunch, in a thunderstorm, on the grill, which is quite heroic. We have wagyu burgers from my husband Patrick’s company, Heritage Foods USA, which are the best burgers I have ever tasted in my life, topped with Ashbrook cheese from Spring Brook Farm. We are pretty damn spoiled and we know it. We are also the least kosher couple in town — meat meets cheese — but the protein situation in our fridge is always under control. There are also fresh strawberries brought by the neighbors and some coleslaw and corn-and-bean salad.
This vacation feels like the first glimpse of quasi-normal since COVID hit. We’re staying at our friends’ house, they invited friends for lunch, and everyone is having a blast. It feels really good and convivial. We’re still wearing masks whenever we go out to public places, but to be in the comfort of someone’s home hanging with friends feels pretty great.
“Lunch dessert,” as my kids call it, is blueberry and peach pie from the Bartlett House. I should point out that my husband has a bit of an over-ordering and over-buying problem when we’re out to eat or at country stores. It comes from a great place. He wants to support the chefs by trying all of their stuff, support small businesses by spending money with them when he has the chance, and of course, try everything to see what’s most delicious! It can also mean having a lot of leftovers — I am the designated leftover eater and/or garbage disposal in our household — and a lot of weird shit in your trunk after vacation. Case in point: After our trip to the Vermont Country Store, I opened the trunk to discover a giant lazy Susan shaped like the top of a barrel and five big wooden bowls.
Dinner is tuna pasta, a specialty of Patrick Martins’s (a.k.a my husband), along with kale salad, roasted eggplants, and of course more pie for dessert. The tuna pasta was supposed to be a tutorial for our friend Joie, who had it at our house once and loved it. The problem is that Patrick is a bit of an “intuitive” pasta cook and it turns out a little bit different each time. This time he goes down a different path and adds tomato sauce and raisins to his usual base of tuna, a million anchovies, capers, and garlic. It’s still very good, but not the “original” Patrick Martins tuna pasta. Did I mention that Patrick is really good at cooking pasta? Let the record show that he is.
Sunday, August 23
We’re on the road back to New York and stop at the Bartlett House on our way out of town for breakfast and coffee. It pays to have a big family with a deeply ingrained culture of over-ordering, because then you can try more stuff! This time I’m in charge of the order and take full responsibility for the glut of pastries that arrive. We get a ham-and-cheese croissant, a chocolate croissant, a baguette, a blueberry muffin, a raisin-bran muffin, some homemade lemonade (pronounced “lemo-mom” by Reggie, which I take as a compliment) for the kids, and coffee for the grownups.
We arrive back in Brooklyn around lunchtime and look into the fridge with trepidation to see what’s lurking there. There’s not much there, so lunch is a buttered baguette and an apple. Make a grocery list and head out to the supermarket.
Turns out the baguette and apple wasn’t enough food because around 5 p.m. I am exhausted, so I eat a handful of walnuts to tide me over till dinnertime. Nuts in any form are my secret weapon against hunger in between meals. They’re always the thing I go for because they fill me up and I believe it’s somewhat healthy?!
Dinner is pasta with lomo crisped in a skillet and tomato sauce, and poached veggies because I am forever trying to get everyone to eat more vegetables.
Dessert is Van Leeuwen ice cream, mocha-cookie crumble and chocolate. I think by now my severe weakness for ice cream and sweets in general should be quite apparent. I have zero shame about it. I love ice cream so much. I go back and forth about what local brands of ice cream are my favorite and go through phases, but my top three are Van Leeuwen, Ample Hills (I hope they are still going to make ice cream despite their recent filing for bankruptcy — pretty please!), and Blue Marble.
Monday, August 24
Breakfast is some expired yogurt from Narragansett Creamery that I brought home from work. This particular vintage has a best-by date of sometime in mid-July. I want to shout it from the rooftops: Yogurt will not kill you after its best-by date! It’s fermented! It might get a little tangier, but for the love of God don’t throw it away!
There. I’ve said it.
I put some Early Bird granola on my expired yogurt, and pour myself a large cup of very strong coffee. We have a giant Bialetti moka pot that we use for morning coffee.
First day back at work since vacation, so I have some cheese scraps leftover from what we’re cutting for mail order — some Ashbrook from Spring Brook Farm and Alpha Tolman from Jasper Hill Farm. One of the biggest benefits to working in cheese (and there are many!) is that I never get hangry at work.
Lunch is a salad with feta from Titan Foods, an incredible Greek shop in Astoria. They have a whole feta bar … literally like 12 kinds to choose from, and all of them are amazing and so cheap! There are other odds and ends from our fridge in my salad. Like I said before, I am our family’s designated leftovers eater and garbage disposal, and salads are my vehicle for processing said leftovers.
Around 3 p.m. I have some HobNobs and coffee. HobNobs, if you don’t already know, are these amazing British biscuits that are made from layers of toasted oats, a truckload of butter, and salt. They are dipped in chocolate on one side. I pride myself on being able to identify the delis in the areas of Brooklyn and Manhattan that I frequent that sell HobNobs. If you need to find some, shoot me a line.
I am my Grandma Therese in a younger body. She eats constantly throughout the day and loves a cookie and coffee break in the afternoon. I am eternally in her debt for having blessed me with her rapid metabolism!
Dinner is R&D garlic bratwurst from Heritage Foods, toasted sunflower rye bread from Winner bakery in Brooklyn that I harvested from the freezer (I always try to keep good bread in the freezer), veggies, mustard, and pickled red onions. I also found some weird old blue cheese in the walk-in at work that I brought home and that we are now eating. As you can see, there is a thematic emphasis of old, questionable dairy products in my life. The blue is a bit too strong on its own, but smeared on Winner bread with butter it is heaven. Everyone in the world needs to know this trick. Blue cheese + butter = awesome.
Dessert is more Van Leeuwen ice cream. Peanut butter, marshmallow, and chocolate this time.
Tuesday, August 25
Breakfast is too much strong coffee and Weetabix cereal with Early Bird Granola. I love Weetabix almost as much as I love HobNobs.
Around 10 a.m., at work I drink the rest of a Stumptown iced latte that I bought at the supermarket by accident the other day. I knew I was buying the one with Oatly “milk” — don’t even get me started — because I am fascinated with why people like it so much. But I mistakenly picked the chocolate flavor! It’s weird, but to honor my commitment to coffee, and to leftovers, I drink it.
Lunch is more salad. This time it’s with leftover green beans, carrots, some of that R&D garlic bratwurst, and a hard-boiled egg. Like a chef’s salad for a dumpster-diving, leftovers-eating mother.
Coffee and sweets break: a Burke Mountain truffle brought back to work by my business partner from his recent trip to Vermont. It’s delicious, but truffles are so small! I must compensate for the smallness of the truffle with two chocolate and peanut-butter cookies whose label reads “cholesterol free.” I hope not!
Arrive home from work starving despite the meat salad and extra cookies. There are two frozen pizzas in the fridge — one Roberta’s margherita and one Newman’s Own pepperoni — so a taste-off is obviously in order. At the risk of losing respect from my peers in the food industry, I actually prefer the Newman’s Own. Also threw in more salad and some broccoli for good measure. Which brings me to another random thought: Why do kids love broccoli? My 2-year-old eats it like it’s going out of style. Josie, my 6-year-old, counts lobster and caviar among her favorite foods, so no surprise there. And it’s even met with enthusiasm by Max, my 7-year-old, who eats mostly white food.
Dessert is vegan strawberry ice cream from Van Leeuwen. As you have probably teased out by now, I am leery of anything vegan or alt-“milk.” But my friend from art school told me this was the only vegan ice cream she’d ever eat, and she’s right. It’s really good. I think they use cashews and coconut cream as the base for many of their flavors, and it’s undeniably tasty.