A New England Original, the Uncommon “Common Cracker”

Vrest Orton and customers at The Vermont Country Store

You’ve probably heard of them, even if you’ve never had the pleasure of eating one. Vermont Common Crackers are the original “cracker barrel” crackers. Since 1828 they’ve been a staple in New England country stores, stored in a wooden barrel next to the cheese counter and sold by the scoop.

Despite the name, there’s nothing common about these crackers—in fact, The Vermont Country Store is the only company still making them—and there’s really no other cracker like them. They are crunchier and slightly drier than most crackers today. That’s why they keep so well, and travel without crumbling. In the old days, they were a staple of New England farmers, western ranchers, prospectors, even soldiers.

Vermont Common Crackers were the invention of two Vermonters who baked three days a week using the family horse to turn the special machinery. On alternate days the same horse pulled a wagon delivering to country stores, boarding houses, and railroad depots for shipments out west. Today we still make them the same way—except that we’ve eliminated the trans fats to make them even healthier. We even use the same machinery! The horse is retired, though.

You might be inclined to think common crackers are bland, especially compared to crackers and chips today that are covered with brightly colored flavor powders. But the mild, agreeable flavor is the whole point. It’s what makes Vermont Common Crackers a perfect compliment to all kinds of cheeses; they enhance the cheese’s flavor and creaminess instead of competing. They are also fine for soups and spreads. Some people even use them to cleanse the palate after a glass of wine—pretty fancy!

Vermont Common Crackers come in Regular and Bite Size. The Regular ones are big and thick, almost a biscuit. You can enjoy them the way old-time Vermonters do: split them open, spread with butter, and toast to a golden brown. The Bite Size ones are smaller but still substantial; five or six will do for a bowl of soup.  They’re also available in Plain and Cheddar Cheese.