BRATTLEBORO—Most cheese names are fairly predictable. Most are named after the place they were traditionally made or sold.
But as far as I know — and I know a lot about cheese — only one cheese was named after a mythical giant.
Dziugas — a firm, cows’ milk cheese — takes its name from a kindly giant who, legend states, guarded Samogitia, one of the five ethnographic regions in Lithuania.
Until trying Dziugas, I had never had, nor heard of, any cheese from Lithuania. I have been selling (and eating) cheese for 20 years.
Also, I spent some of that time working for importers, which allowed me access to cheeses that some people never see in stateside shops.
Although this region of the world takes cheese very seriously, for a variety of reasons we do not see cheeses from the Baltic states on our shores. One major factor is that the import-export channel has not been established. Without the supply, no demand has followed. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
But now, Dziugas is available here in Brattleboro.
Kerry Secrest, Vermont’s honorary consul of Lithuania, first discovered Dziugas when she traveled to that country.
“I go there almost every year, and I always eat the cheese,” said Secrest, a fourth-generation Lithuanian-American whose work involves connecting the two cultures and their economies, according to a 2014 story on her appointment.
Secrest said she once remarked to Lithuania’s attaché to culture and commerce, “Wouldn’t it be great if Dziugas was sold in the United States?”
“It is,” he replied.
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On “one random February day,” Secrest brought some Dziugas to Joseph Green, cheese buyer for Grafton Village Cheese’s Linden Street retail store and asked him if he would consider adding it to his collection.
“I came in and asked, ’Would you try this cheese?’” Secrest said.
“It’s really a no-brainer on my part,” Green said, explaining “it was the cheese itself” that helped make the decision. “It was joyful to snack on,” he said.
Dziugas has a pleasant balance of sweet and citrus, with little saltiness. It will not melt easily, but it can be grated on hot foods or shaved onto salads.
“I thought it was interesting,” he said. “It reminded me of Piave and moderately aged Gouda.”
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Grafton Village Cheese Company’s mission — to support rural economies — also helped him decide to bring this unknown cheese into his inventory, Green said.
“Lithuania and Vermont are a similar size,” he said, and both “have a more rural bent in their dairy and meat industries."
Even though Lithuania is not local to Vermont, Green believes “you’re helping more directly by supporting smaller economies and smaller producers,” by supporting Dziugas cheese, and this fits in with Grafton’s goals.
“Lithuania has a strong cheese culture,” Secrest said, and Dziugas is a cheese Lithuanians enjoy on an almost-daily basis for grating or as a table cheese.
“Grafton is the first shop to carry it, and we hope to expand it” across Vermont, Secrest said, noting “a few people have requested it elsewhere in the state."
“This is a first step,” she said. “Now let’s see what can happen.”