The drive from Made INN (the quirky bed and breakfast in Burlington that served as our home base for the Vermont portion of our summer of 2023 New England cheese excursion) to Jasper Hill in Greensboro was exactly how I imagined the Green Mountain State landscape. Long stretches of picturesque, dense forests dotted by small, historic villages. Sparse cell phone service. The reality of getting lost brushing up against the excitement of so many places worth getting lost in.
It is in this mindset that we drive up to Jasper Hill, or at least, to the end of our GPS directions and without access to our email containing further instructions, which I was so sure I had downloaded. We are there to tour The Cellars, a 22,000 sq ft underground cheese aging facility, where the affinage experts of Jasper Hill age cheese to perfection. But all we see is a farmhouse and a red barn, and although we know we are in the right place, there is no sense of where The Cellars might be. Luckily, we are guided in the right direction by a helpful member of the Kehler family.
Nowhere else on our cheese travels will we see so much cheese in one place, and it is quite remarkable, artisan cheese produced at this scale in the United States. Of course, the history of cheese in this country is one of mass scale, but one where volume and cost efficiency come before quality and producing a healthy product. It is inspiring to see Jasper Hill run counter to that philosophy, to think of how much capital has been invested. That it all has come together within a few decades is the remarkable story of Jasper Hill.
“Meaningful work in a place we love”, the sentiment that started the Kehler brothers, Andy and Mateo, along with their wives, Victoria and Angie, on the journey that became Jasper Hill, now one of the most iconic brands in American artisanal cheese. Jasper Hill Farm was started in 1998, and the first five years was spent building structures and developing skills. In 2003, they began selling cheese on a small scale, directly to individual retailers and restaurants. This is the typical path of the artisan cheese business. A cheesemaker might hope from here to develop a relationship with a regional distributor, get its cheese into a specialty grocery store’s cheese case. For Jasper Hill, things happened… differently.
Their success with this initial phase of business was met with a stunning proposition, to develop a traditional, British-style clothbound cheddar for Cabot. The partnership came together, and soon Jasper Hill was aging these special-batch cheddars in the basement of their farmhouse creamery. From there, Cabot Clothbound won Best of Show at the 2006 American Cheese Society Competition, and with demand heavy, the Kehlers built The Cellars at Jasper Hill, a modern affinage facility, to age Cabot Clothbound, Jasper Hill Farm cheeses, and, importantly, the cheeses of other Vermont cheesemakers.
Jasper Hill has continued to invest in the things that matter, dedicated to their “taste of place” mission. Jasper Hill operates two farms, where their herds of Ayrshire cows are on pasture from roughly May through October, and hay fed the rest of the year. These cows provide the milk for all of Jasper Hill’s raw milk cheeses. Additionally, Jasper Hill purchases milk (at three times commodity prices) from two neighbor farms, each with about 50 cows, which are also pasture-based seasonally, hay fed in the cold months. The practice of regenerative agriculture combined with these premium milk prices paid are the focal point of their intention to build “ecological and economic resilience in [their] community.” Like dairy farmers throughout the United States, Vermont farmers have suffered as low commodity prices have driven out small farms, leading to consolidation favoring environmentally destructive industrial scale dairy farms and low wages.
In a fitting tribute to their community, all of the cheeses produced by Jasper Hill are named for local figures and places in their Greensboro community. These dedications are a symbol of Jasper Hill’s values, but their follow-through is not lacking. Their commitment to terroir, that “sense of place”, drives basically everything at Jasper Hill, from partnerships to investments in science and technology. A peek into The Cellars at Jasper Hill will show this.
A five million dollar construction project completed in 2008, The Cellars is not so much underground as much as it appears swallowed by a hillside. In fact, dynamite was used to carve out the space to build the facility, comprised of “The Ellipse” and seven “vaults”. The Ellipse is what they call the central ovoid structure from which their vaults radiate. Each vault is set to specifically calibrated temperatures and humidity levels to create the best aging environment for each style of cheese and purpose; Bloomy Rinds, Alpine Hastening, Alpine, Cheddar, Cheddar (again), Washed Rinds, and Natural Rinds.
The scale of the place is astounding, the largest affinage facility in the United States, a cheese bunker, modern and imposing, with secret-government-operation vibes befitting a place that keeps a microbiologist on staff and has visitors sign an NDA. The largest and tallest vault is reserved for cheddar, mostly Cabot Clothbound, the cheese that made this all possible. Beyond Cabot, Jasper Hill has partnered with smaller creamies who deliver cheese into the hands of the affineurs at The Cellars, including Shelburne Farms and Von Trapp Farmstead.
I go on and on, because with Jasper Hill, every little detail is worth exploring. In the tallest vaults, they use a specially built robot to flip the cheeses, reducing the physical labor involved, making the job easier for their employees. To best harness the flavors of their milk, they’ve brought in special equipment from France. To take the most control over the flavors that end up in the milk, they’ve studied the hay drying techniques of Parmigiano Reggiano producers and built the first hay dryer to operate in the United States, Randi Albert Calderwood Cropping Center. They go so far as employing an in-house microbiologist to better understand the complex relationships of all the microorganisms involved in cheesemaking, from the soil through the aging room.
Together, these projects define Jasper Hill as a cheesemaker on the forefront of where traditional practices meet modern science. Where they could produce a higher margin product by simply turning their successful brand into a watered down version, Jasper Hill is focused on a sustainable future, on making great cheese without compromising their values. Purpose isthe first word that comes to mind when I think of Jasper Hill. In an era where many of their peers have sold off to international conglomerates (Cypress Grove and Cowgirl Creamery to Emmi, Rogue Creamery to Savencia, Vermont Creamery to Land O’Lakes), Jasper Hill continues on as an independent operation, albeit with the benefit of an important partnership with Cabot Cooperative Creamery, a relative giant in the domestic cheese scene.
Although more industrial and perhaps clinical than many other artisan cheesemakers, Jasper Hill’s dedication to the scientific exploration of terroir is admirable. They’re still all about quality, supporting small farms, and regenerative agriculture. They continue to explore traditional techniques under the lens of modern microscopes. We love them for it.
One of the most decorated American artisan cheeses, Harbison is a bloomy-rind spruce-wrapped masterpiece recently named “Best American Cheese” at the 2023 World Cheese Awards. But the award that will always be closest to our hearts is the 2018 ACS “Best In Show”, which was won at the American Cheese Society’s annual conference held that year in Pittsburgh, only a few months after our little cheese shop opened up on Penn Ave. Upon winning the award, Jasper Hill asked for all we had in stock to fill their well-earned premier spot at the Festival of Cheese. We were happy to oblige (and of course they sent us replacement cheese right away)!
Harbison is a Jasper Hill original. The cheese gets its name from Anne Harbison, affectionately known as the grandmother of Greensboro. She’s active in the community, runs a bed and breakfast, and works in the public library. With its spruce bark wrap, Harbison draws some influence from Vacherin Mont d’Or, but as a bloomy rind it offers up something much different than those more pungent washed-rind cheeses. We love Harbison most when it is fully ripe, when the paste turns to a thick gooey custard, and can be eaten by the spoonful. You can feel the ripeness by pressing gently down on the cheese, where we’re looking for it to give a little. Slicing off a thin circle of rind by taking a knife to the top of the cheese just above the spruce bark, so that the custard can be dipped into is the recommended way to eat this cheese.
The spruce bark wrapping Harbison is harvested from Jasper Hill’s woodlot where the outer bark is scraped using a two-handed knife to reach the cambium, or interior bark layer. After dividing these into strips, each wheel of Harbison is hand wrapped with bark. It’s a pretty intense process that many different members of the Jasper Hill team help out with!
As the cheese ages, the bark gives Harbison structure allowing it to reach peak, spoonable ripeness. It also contributes the obvious woodsy flavor notes and develops a more diverse microflora than a straightforward bloomy rind would normally. You’ll see the white fluffy mold familiar to any Brie-lover, but also on the bark green and gray.
With a touch of romance, Anaïs loves to liken eating a spoonful of Harbison to taking a walk on a sunny Sunday morning in a forest during the Fall, where you can taste the wet leaves on the ground and an old fire from the night before. And any good camping trip deserves delicious potato chips, so try the Route 11 Sour Cream & Onion with a spoonful of Harbison.
Milk: Raw Cow Rennet: Traditional Rennet Age: 3-6 Months Ingredients: Raw Cow Milk, Salt, Rennet, Cultures Texture/profile: Semi-firm washed-rind, highly meltable, velvety smooth and meaty. Pairing idea: Jammy Yummy Caramelized Onion Jam
Something like Jasper Hill’s take on Raclette, Whitney is named for Tim Whitney, Jasper Hill’s longest-standing employee. The latest addition to Jasper Hill’s standard cheese lineup, the production process for Whitney is yet another example of Jasper Hill’s dedication to exploring the cross-section of modern and traditional. Reclaimed copper vats from the Jura Mountains of France, the region famous for the alpine cheese, Comté, were brought into their newly renovated creamery to improve the expression of terroir in their alpine cheeses.
While seldom seen in creameries in the United States, copper vats have been used by European cheesemakers for thousands of years and are renowned for certain properties ideal for alpine-style cheesemaking. Beyond the logistics of such an endeavor, copper vats also bring higher scrutiny from food safety regulators in the United States, where stainless steel, which requires less oversight to ensure food safety, is the standard. Meanwhile, regulations for Swiss Emmentaler, Sbrinz, and Raclette, French Comté, and Italian staple Parmigiano Reggiano, among many others, require the use of copper vats.
There are two main reasons copper is the ideal material for an alpine cheese make. Firstly, In order to develop the desired moisture content needed for this type of aged cheese, the curds are cooked before being pressed into molds. Copper’s thermal conductivity, at more than 20 times the efficiency of stainless steel, allows for both a more even temperature for cooking the curds and a more rapid cooldown, which preserves more of the delicious (Sense of Place!) flavors. Secondly, the presence of a higher copper levels present in the cheese evidently contributes to a more desirable flavor and texture.
The results with Whitney are clear, as it took home the 2022 ACS Best of Show award in its first year. MIld and pleasant, with notes of toasted nuts, cured ham, and sweet cream. When melted, Whitney’s aroma and flavor intensifies, and the resulting meatiness is excellent scraped atop roasted potatoes in the classic Raclette dish. Or, as we suggest here, serve paired alongside the Jammy Yummy Caramelized Onion Jam, melted or not.
Milk: Raw Cow Rennet: Traditional In-House Rennet Age: 8-11 Months Ingredients: Raw Cow Milk, Salt, Rennet, Cultures Texture/profile: Firm Pairing idea: Birdy’s Spicy Yellow Mustard & Potter’s Caramelized Onion Crackers
Inspired by the classic alpine cheeses of Europe, most comparable perhaps to Appenzeller, Alpha Tolman is a rich, nutty, and fruity example of Jasper Hill’s dedication to science, craft, and tradition.
Like Whitney, Alpha Tolman is a cooked and pressed cheese utilizing the copper vats from the Jura Mountains. Fresh wheels are washed with a cultured brine, which develops the distinct funkiness. Aged longer than Whitney, Alpha Tolman develops those beautiful tyrosine crystals, and complex flavors of nutty, meaty, fruity, and oniony.
It is also perhaps the most “under the microscope” of the Jasper Hill lineup, as it is produced using in-house rennet and cultures developed by their Creamery Team. Traditionally, native cultures and locally produced rennet were the only way to make cheese. But in the age of industry, the overwhelming majority of cultures and rennets are proprietary ingredients bought from just a handful of large manufacturers. This standardization has had many benefits, from isolating specific flavors to increasing consistency across batches of cheese, but it has its drawbacks too. Mostly, the standardization of a crucial ingredient limits a cheesemaker from truly expressing their specific terroir.
The culture program is focused on capturing and propagating native cheese-ripening cultures, a truer sense of place. An, in yet another nod to their (cheese) community, their in-house rennet is named Sax Rennet, after Anne Saxelby, whose Saxelby Cheesemonger in New York played a crucial role in bringing domestic artisan cheese, including those of Jasper Hill, to the market, and who passed away suddenly in 2021. For the rennet, the team at Jasper Hill create a de-albuminized whey known as Recuitte that then is mixed with calf vells—strips of a cow’s fourth stomach or abomasum. The result is a coagulant that deepens the umami characteristics of our raw milk cheeses.
It is truly no small thing for Jasper Hill to turn their microbiologist-attention toward these ingredients, as it risks reintroducing the types of inconsistencies that in part led to standardization in the first place. Yet, Jasper Hill has set out to achieve both simultaneously, to create a cheese that is both consistently great and unique. In Alpha Tolman, they’ve succeeded.
Recently at our shop, we featured this cheese for a Sample Saturday. Tyler, our cheesemonger who spearheads the project and does our “Monger Approved” Instagram videos, felt that Alpha Tolman reminded him of soft pretzel, and felt it would be a natural fit alongside the yellow mustard and crackers. It was such a hit, and we simply had to include it as the pairing idea for this box! We hope you enjoy it!
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar
Milk: Pasteurized Cow’s Milk Rennet: Microbial Rennet Age: 9-13 Months Ingredients: Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes Texture/profile: Firm and crystalline, nutty and tangy, brothy, brown butter Pairing idea: Quince & Apple Fig & Black Tea Preserves
The rocketship. A traditional clothbound cheddar, crumbly, punchy, earthy and nutty – rocketship. Without this collaboration with Cabot Cooperative Creamery (a Certified B Corp currently owned by 800 farm families throughout the Northeast that has supported Vermont’s landscape for over 200 years), much of what Jasper Hill does would be unimaginable unable to find financing. And the reason for this partnership has everything to do with the revival of the traditional clothbound cheddar at specialty cheese counters across the United States, and the complexities involved in the aging of traditional cheddar. British imports such as Montgomery’s, Quicke’s, and others, created a demand for a cheese Cabot was unequipped to handle but heavily interested in producing.
See, what makes a clothbound cheddar different from the familiar block cheddar is everything that happens in the aging room. The cheesemaking steps are identical; heat milk and acidify, coagulate with rennet, cut curd and release whey, cook curds, drain and cheddar (yes, cheddar is an action – a story for another day!), milling and salting, forming and pressing (Check out the video for more details!!!). But while block cheddars are vacuum sealed in plastic and aged in facilities designed to inhibit mold growth, clothbound cheddars are aged in facilities built to encourage (the right kinds of) mold. Cabot wanted a clothbound cheddar, but they didn’t want it anywhere near their facilities, where it would present a risk to the consistency of their block cheddar. Jasper Hill stepped in to offer their affinage expertise.
The traditional production of cheddar, wrapping a wheel of cheddar in cloth and rubbing with lard, was developed as a way to seal and protect the cheese. As a method of production, cloth wrapping was a precursor to wax and plastic methods popular today, a means for a cheesemaker to take more control over the development of their cheese, retain more moisture to achieve a desirable texture, and increase their profits (since cheese is sold by weight). Until the more efficient methods were developed, and due to the low cost of cotton as directly related to slavery, clothbound cheddars were once widely produced in the United States. But the cost and complexities of this method would not hold up to the pressures of standardization required by industrial cheesemakers competing in a commodity market.
Yet it is those complexities that make a clothbound cheddar stand out. But it still starts with great milk! Cabot makes this particular recipe with top-quality milk, and they are transported as a young cheese to The Cellars at Jasper Hill for aging. In any great clothbound, there will be flavors familiar to a block cheddar fan, sharp and lactic, but those flavors are relatively muted beside other bold ones, often earthy, nutty, sometimes spicy. In Cabot Clothbound, we have a very balanced cheese, tangy and nutty, rich and sharp with pleasant earthy undertones. Try it with the Quince & Apple preserves, sweet figs balanced with the tannins of the teas alongside the complex Cabot Clothbound… is just an absolute flavor rollercoaster!
Bayley Hazen Blue
Milk: Raw cow’s milk Rennet: Traditional Age: 3 months Ingredients: Raw cow milk, salt, rennet, cultures Texture/profile: Semi-firm, creamy Pairing idea: Dick Taylor 75% Brazil Fazenda Camboa
One of the first cheeses made at Jasper Hill, Bayley Hazen is named after the Bayley Hazen Military Road, commissioned by George Washington as a Revolutionary War supply route. Like last month’s Blue Bell from Valley Milkhouse, Bayley Hazen draws on the traditions of British Stilton, an iconic blue cheese. In developing this recipe, Mateo Kehler spent a year working at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, and spent time with traditional British cheesemakers.
A dense and creamy cylindrical wheel, Bayley Hazen is approachable in flavor profile; toasted nuts, cream, notes of grass and slight pepperiness. Friendly, yet impressive. So much so, it was served to the (now-former) French President Françoise Hollande at a White House state dinner in 2014.
To make Bayley Hazen, a special blend of cultures is added to a vat of raw milk from their Ayrshire herd. The cheesemakers at Jasper Hill use a specially designed blue cheese vat, built in the shape of a long halfpipe (most cheese vats are round). When the curds are cut, this vat shape helps create a consistent curd size, something like a marshmallow. After cutting and once they’ve reached the desired texture and pH, the curds are piled high up into perforated cylindrical forms. Here, the uniform size and texture become crucial, as the curds set perfectly in the cylindrical molds, dense enough to stand up straight but not collapsing either. Then the molds are turned until set, when they are rubbed with salt and moved to The Cellars. Finally, they are hand pierced using a stainless steel spike and aged for three months, where it is constantly rotated to develop the rind.
For our pairing, we’ve included a bar of chocolate. We cannot say enough about Dick Taylor Chocolate, a bean to bar craft chocolate maker based in Eureka, California. Their chocolate starts with sourcing premium cacao beans directly from farms, creating a more equitable, ethical, and sustainable trade relationship. Much like artisan cheese, craft chocolate starts with the land, where quality and sustainability simply go hand in hand. Good cheese can only come from good milk. Good chocolate can only come from good trees. This 75% Brazil Fazenda Camboa chocolate bar with notes of honeysuckle, grape and walnut, is the perfect fruity yet bitter match to Bayley Hazen Blue.
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