Beer, wine, and cheese, oh my! From farms and farmer's markets to culinary-themed hotels, central and northern Vermont makes for a gorgeous spring or summer road trip for food lovers (that goes way beyond visiting the Ben and Jerry's factory or Cabot outlet). Whether you're planning a romantic getaway or a family vacation, there's something for everyone and it couldn't be easier to navigate.
If you're coming from the south, start on route 7, which extends from southern Connecticut almost to Canada. Begin at Shelburne Farms, just south of Burlington, and tour the historic estate and 1,400-acre working farm situated right on Lake Champlain. Grab some fresh baked bread from their bakery and award-winning cheddar and make yourself a picnic on the picturesque grounds. If you wish to stay overnight they also have an inn, which we named one of the top 100 hotels of 2012.
Now that you've got some food in your stomach, backtrack on route 7 about 1 mile to sample the vino at Shelburne Vineyard, a sustainable winery using northern varietal grapes. Their sunny tasting room is open seven days a week, and visitors are encouraged to wander the surrounding vineyard.
If beer is more your style, hit up Fiddlehead Brewery, just across the road. A relatively new microbrewery, they don't can or bottle any of their beers so you can only sample their brews on-site and on draft at restaurants and bars around Vermont. A true local specialty!
Continuing north into Burlington, keep up the beer theme by visiting Magic Hat Brewery. Although locals argue that the brewery has gone corporate (they sold out to North American Breweries—makers of Genesee and Labatt—in 2010), it's still worth a trip to sample the beer from the source and see how it's made.
If you're in town on a Saturday, don't miss the Burlington Farmer's Market, held weekly in City Hall Park downtown (in winter it's held indoors every other Saturday; check the website for details). Meet local producers and farmers, taste cheese and maple syrup, and pack a picnic care of one of the many prepared food stands that sets up shop.
Continue east about eight miles and check into the The Essex, a culinary resort and spa that's like a playground for foodies. Join an intimate cooking class at Cook Academy or wander their lovely chef's garden (complete with herbs and chickens). Enjoy chorizo nachos or local root beer mussels at The Tavern, their casual pub, or savor a sophisticated tasting menu at their more upscale restaurant, Amuse.
When you manage to tear yourself away from the cooking classes and spa packages at The Essex, head southeast on I-89 to Waterbury, home of Ben & Jerry's. Release your inner kid and allow yourself to be giddy at the sheer volume of ice cream being made here. Go on the tour to check out their patented process for making sure all those yummy bits and pieces are evenly distributed throughout the ice cream and, of course, have a sample.
Just five minutes away is the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, an adorable general store that sells a wide variety of Vermont items and food products. Of course their main draw is the fresh apple cider and warm apple cider donuts.
If you've ever wondered what happened to Maria and her family after The Sound of Music then don't miss the Von Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, where they settled in the 1940s. Built in traditional Austrian style on 2,400 acres of beautiful land, the lodge is still run by Maria's youngest son. Walk off some of the food with a hike along one of their many lovely trails, then blow off some steam at the DeliBakery while sampling the lagers brewed on premises at the Trapp Family Lodge Brewery. The main dining room and lounge also offer plenty of menu options, including traditional Austrian wiener schnitzel.
On your return drive down south, make a few worthwhile detours at family run dairies to get a slice of idyllic country life—and some amazing cheese. Fat Toad Farm is a must visit, especially during baby goat season. A true mom and pop endeavor, in addition to traditional goat cheeses they also make an out-of-this-world goat milk cajeta (caramel sauce) that makes a great gift (for yourself or someone else).
Finally, top off your road trip than with a quick bite and beer at the Long Trail Brewery. Situated alongside a babbling brook, the brewery offers a self-guided tour as well as excellent microbrews and pub grub.
There are also lots of other small farms, dairies, and microbreweries dotting the Green Mountain State, so there are plenty of opportunities to get even further off the beaten track in search of a great bite. And, of course, drink responsibly...especially on a road trip.
The List: Eat
Shelburne Farms—tour a huge estate and 1400-acre working farm, sample their delicious bread and cheese and watch the process.
Burlington Farmer's Market—meet local producers and farmers, taste cheese and maple syrup, and pack a picnic care of one of the many food stands that sets up shop.
Ben & Jerry's—see where the magic happens. Cheesy, but I actually thought the tour was interesting.
Cold Hollow Cider Mill—fresh apple cider and apple cider donuts (plus a general store with lots of other Vermont food products)
Neighborly Farms—small, family-run organic farmstead cheese dairy
Fat Toad Farm—goat cheese and amazing goat milk cajeta (caramel sauce)
Taylor Farm—180 year old dairy producing all different flavors of gouda, like garlic, chipotle, nettle, and maple smoked farmstead gouda
The List: Drink
Fiddlehead Brewery—Full disclosure: this is the one place on this list I haven't been but it's a new microbrewery right across from Shelburne Vineyard.
The List: Stay
The Essex—Culinary Resort and Spa, with a chef's garden, fantastic restaurant, and cooking classes
Von Trapp Family Lodge—Where did the Von Trapp family end up after The Sound of Music? In the hills of Vermont, of course! They built this Austrian-style lodge, which is still run by their descendants who opened up a brewery on site a few years ago.