Foodie start-ups might just be the state's elusive fountain of youth, writes Thomas Bywater.
A mad river is a river that flows North.
Seemingly heading uphill, defying logic and physics — a mad river goes against the flow. This is why Mad River Valley in Vermont is the perfect place to start an American food revolution.
The Mad River Food Hub was founded as a business incubator for local producers.
Helping take foodie start-ups and business ideas to the next level, it's the kind of concept more associated with Silicon Valley than the Vale of Winooski, but the results are far more practical, tangible and delicious.
The hub has attracted young, enthusiastic artisans and producers from across the state — each with their own specific craft and expertise. So far the hub lists 30 small businesses among its customers.
You have a meat curer, apiarists, brewers, a distillery — and a whole cheesemonger's worth of small-batch dairy producers. It is a space where producers can come together on a manageable scale, to collaborate on something extraordinary.
At the tasting centre in Mad River, the food miles might have been minimal but the inspiration and expertise had come from across the world.
"We're quite cosmopolitan," says Robin Morris, founder of the hub.
Morris is an understated British expat who — like so many others — escaped a career in business management in Manhattan for the good life in the Green Mountains.
It seems the Vermont countryside needed his expertise as much as he needed the change of scenery.
Morris saw the rich variety and quality of produce which could be found in the sate "from alpine highlands, down to the valley grasslands", and here he found a new vocation.
In 2011, he founded the Mad River Food Hub to provide processing rooms, a distribution network to grow cottage industries into recognisable, profit-turning operations.
Like Morris, the hub's customers offer a smorgasbord of different trades and backgrounds.
On the platter in front of me is rosemary salami and coppa from Babette's Table. This was made in-house by Erika Lynch, a Kentucky native, who ping-ponged between butcheries and time working in Gascony in France before settling in Vermont.
Also on the board is cheese from perhaps the state's best known European transplants.
The von Trapps bring their alpine, pasture-fed cow's milk to the centre for processing and turning into cheese. Yes, as in the Sound of Music von Trapps, and as small-holding farmers they've come a long way from Saltzburg.
These very different businesses are brought together under the tin roof of the Food Hub.
With rising demand for small-batch cured meats and speciality cheeses it created America's first shared-use dry curing facility. Providing a shared path through the notoriously tough and expensive Federal USDA regulations on food processing, it has helped formed a collective that can overcome these hurdles and gather up talent and different expertise.
Stepping outside, you can tell it's perfectly placed. The Mad River is a natural conduit not only for rivers, but also tourists flowing in from the neighbouring resorts of Sugarbush and Mad River Glen.
It's the tail end of summer vacation. Throughout the wooded hills, swimming holes like Warren Falls are bursting with youth.
Jumping from the smooth rocks and waterfalls, they are making the most of another summer in Vermont. At this moment the thought of leaving the state to find work or continue study is far from mind. Though many of America's inland states have had an exodus of youth to the coasts in search better prospects and jobs, it seems the tide is turning in Vermont.
Each year more return. They return for the lifestyle and the opportunities opening up.
This is not just through projects like the Mad River Food Hub. In May, Vermont offered a new grant of $10,000 to remote workers and freelancers who move to the state.
Originally designed to combat a rising median age, the Green State seems to be undergoing a youthful spring. The university town of Burlington by Lake Champlain is now bristling with foodie start-ups.
Last year the median age of Burlington ticked below 26.7 — in a state famed for good life, this city is actually getting younger.
At the same time the craft brewing scene has exploded — though these businesses are a far reach from the studenty homebrew you might expect. The industry brings in a drop over $309 million in economic impact for the state every year.
The Vermont Brewing Association has 55 members, the most breweries per capita of any US State. Each is included in its Beer Passport, a memento for craft beer completists to be filled in with a pint served at each of the VBA's member breweries.
Put it this way: it's not something you can do in a weekend. Like cured meats and speciality cheeses — it's an investment in time.
flies daily from Auckland to Burlington via San Francisco.