|City slickers at Jasper Hill Farm. Photo: Dimitri Saad |
The beasts behind a few of the brilliant cheeses at Vermont's family-owned Jasper Hill Farm and its extraordinary, 22,000-square-foot cheese-aging cave, built right into the earth (one of only two like it in the nation), are up on their current pop for two reasons. As sales and outreach specialist Zoe Brickley told a group of self-proclaimed dairy enthusiasts, it's both because "the barn boys like it" and because the cows do: "If cows are stressed out, their production goes down. Happy, contented cows are best for milk quality."
Jasper Hill seems intent upon making its fellow cheesemakers happy and contented too, by providing aging facilities for 10 to 12 farmers throughout New England. With their enormous cave, they have recreated an atmosphere that has been "historically used" to create cheese, which is a boon for many local cheesemakers, who traditionally had to rely essentially upon tricked-out refrigerators. Owned by two couples (brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler), Jasper Hill is helping keep artisanal cheese alive in New England, and sustaining some of the top fromagers in the country.
After the jump, how they do it and a look at the caves and aging process.
|The Jasper Hill cheese caves. Photo: Dimitri Saad |
Cheese cave tours are not for the faint of olfactory, as we learned shortly upon entering the premises. The caves are immaculate, and what smelled like formaldehyde hit us with a wallop upon entry. We donned caps and protective footwear so as to avoid contaminating the premises with external bacteria, and waltzed into aging room after aging room to be met with a totally different scent in each (which Brickley referred to as a room's "personality").
Jasper Hill is the sole location where Cabot's famous clothbound cheddar is aged, and Brickley tells us "the volume that we can depend on from Cabot creates cash flow that we can then invest in providing aging services" to local farmers. They are celebrities in the cheese world: Von Trapp's Oma (incredible, oozy, sweet cow's milk cheese); Landaff (where cows line up for a massage from a cow brush daily); Crawford; Dancing Cow; Consider Bardwell. The list goes on.
|The cheese caves. Photo: Alex Van Buren |
Cabot's Clothbound, which is brushed in lard and turned daily, became "butterscotchy," in the words of one touring affineur, as time went on. "Why lard?" asks one curious visitor.
A visiting chef interrupts Brickley before she can answer: "Because lard is delicious, that's why!"
The formal answer: If cheese dries too quickly, it cracks.
|Bourée from Dancing Cow Farm. Photo: Dimitri Saad |
We departed the caves, tossed the caps and booties, and walked back out into the fresh air of Northern Vermont, coming back to check on those happy cows. One had just had a calf, and its mother eyed us angrily, as if to say, "Stay away!"
It was an admittedly poetic, beautiful rural scene. So it didn't come as a surprise to hear one visiting cheesemonger the next day mooning about the caves: "I'm going to get a tattoo of the clothbound cheddar," she declared. "I'll periodically rub it with lard!"
Lesson learned? Cheese: Those who love it ... really, really love it.