Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two Curds...Jasper Hill.

Thanks to my trusty GPS, the Mazda & I were able to navigate the dark & rainy roads to arrive at Jasper Hill as planned to meet up with Zoe. As luck should have it they were still making cheese & milking the herd, which made for an action packed after hours tour. Our first stop was a visit to the barn, where the beautiful herd of 40 Aryshire cows were rocking out while producing delicious milk. Milk that would be used in the cheese room across the way, our second stop, to produce Bayley Hazen Blue, a raw cows milk blue cheese. Remaining milk will help produce Constant Bliss, a soft ripened bloomy-rind cheese that is nearly as buttery as a triple cream, without triple the cream. They recently began acquiring pasteurized milk from a nearby dairy to supplement their own milk & increase production of this delightful cheese, which they were still making during my visit...very much by hand. Scooping ladles of plump curd into the small molds.

Just when I thought my visit to a farmstead creamery after dark could get any better...it did. Before heading over to check out The Cellar, I was able to catch Mateo Kehler for a brief cheese chat on his way out for the evening. Mateo, the original cheesemaker for Jasper Hill, started the farmstead with his brother Andy and later convinced their wives Victoria & Angela to join the fun.

The adventure began in 1998 when the brothers bought a chunk of land in Greensboro, VT, where they used to spend summers with their grandparents. Cheese was not their first instinct of what to make on the farmstead. They tried both beer & tofu before turning to the curd...and the rest is cheese history. Mateo went to England to study with Neal's Yard & Andy rounded up the finances to begin the business. Their first batch came in 2003 & shortly after they began winning awards including "Best in Show" at the 2006 American Cheese Society competition for Constant Bliss.

As the business continued to grow...so did their vision for the future of Vermont artisan cheese. The vision was sparked by a partnership with Vermont cheese behemoth, Cabot. They had produced a batch of traditional clothbound cheddar, but needed both a place to store the high maintenance cheese and a connection to the artisan cheese market. Jasper Hill provided both managing the cheese mites that come along with all clothbound cheeses and selling it almost effortlessly. As demand increased for the Cabot clothbound cheddar, Mateo & Andy realized they would certainly need more space than was available in their small cellar (located under their cheese room), and plans were set in motion for a project that has potential to drastically change the American cheese scene.

The Cellars at Jasper Hill, is 22 thousand square feet of cheese aging (finishing, affinage, whatever you would like to call it) heaven and is the first facility of it's kind in the States (the pic at right is from a few years ago, like I said it was dark & rainy when I was there...so my pics did not exactly capture the site). This $3.2 million investment is based on European models where milk & cheese is produced on the farm & than transported to a finishing facility where it is carefully aged, sold, & distributed. The idea is to allow cheesemakers to focus on producing amazing quality cheese without worrying about the cost & labor that comes after. The bunker-like structure carefully built into the side of a hill directly across from the barn is an amazing and completely unexpected site. It is composed of 7 arched vaults with independently controlled temperature & humidity set to ideal conditions for the variety of cheese within each vault. Left, you can sneak a peak at the inside of one of the larger vaults entirely filled with clothbound cheddar from both Cabot and nearby Grafton Village. Smaller vaults like the one at right have become home to more delicate soft ripened cheeses from a variety of cheesemakers including Von Trapp Farmstead (yes, they are direct descendants of the Austrian family made famous in the Sound of Music...now making cheese...I love it!), Ploughgate Creamery, Crawford Family Farm & Dancing Cow from my last post, and many more. All tasty Vermont cheeses, living in perfect harmony. Now do you see why I call it heaven?

Mateo & Andy, and the entire Jasper Hill family, are taking American artisan cheese to levels it has never seen. Mateo commented, "We (Americans) have hundreds of years of history to make up for (when it comes to cheesemaking)," and Jasper Hill is trying to speed up the process by investing serious time, money, & effort for the sake of the curd. In doing so they are also supporting the movement to smaller sustainable producers & are helping to make it as economically viable as it is fulfilling. Ideas that do not always have to be mutually exclusive...especially when the product is delicious Vermont cheese! Hair nets off to these guys! Nearly makes my curd-loving eyes misty.

It was truly an enlightening evening, and I am so thankful for Zoe taking time after a long work day to show me around. Tons of Curds for you, Zoe! Hope to see you again soon.

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