For those of you not familiar with Jasper Hill, it is owned by two brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler who both transitioned from roles outside the dairy industry to establish the cheesemaking operation, Jasper Hill Farm in 2003. With a big vision in mind, Andy and Mateo then took a new approach (at least in the USA) to aging cheeses that support the community of the local area by establishing the Cellars at Jasper Hill. It helps to be located in the Vermont – the state with the largest number of cheesemakers per capita in the USA.
While the concept of ‘Affinage’ and the prestige of ‘affineurs’ has been around for hundreds of years in Europe, we’ve had less of a culture of collaboration and community in the New World. The Cellars, 22,000 square feet in size are not only an ideal place for cheese nerds to drool within, but also a place for cheeses of varying stages of maturity to rest and reach their peak. Cheesemakers across Vermont send their ‘green’ (freshly made) cheeses to be ripened, distributed and marketed by the experts in the Cellars in order to access the burgeoning market for artisan cheese nationwide. Since setting up their business in 2003, Mateo and Andy recognized that it was these tasks- aging, marketing and distribution that gave cheesemakers the most trouble, so by sending their cheeses to the Cellars, cheesemakers are able to focus on their core strength – actually making cheese.
In addition to working with other local producers, cheese is still made on site using milk from their herd of 45 Ayrshire cows. During my visit I helped make Bayley Hazen Blue – a flagship Jasper Hill Cheese, made from raw milk and using traditional techniques to produce a natural rinded, fudgy textured cheese that highlights the grassy, hazelnutty flavours in the milk. Jasper Hill Farm has named all its cheeses after local identities and Bayley Hazen Blue is named after the Bayley Hazen Military Road which was a supply route for troops during the Revolutionary War and brought some of the first settlers to the land. After being made, drained and salted the 7lb wheels of Bayley Hazen are sent over to the cave men and women at the Cellars where it is pierced and regularly turned over the next 3-4 months.
Together with the gang in the cheese house (and a big thank you to Tim, Calista, Sarah and Evan for showing me the ropes!) I also flipped Constant Bliss (a slow ripened lactic curd cheese with a white bloomy rind), brined Moses Sleeper (creamy bloomy rinded cheese) and got to play with Jasper Hills newest, yet to be released seasonal cheese – not yet available for purchase but happily aging in the caves!
After sweating it out in the tropics of the cheese house, it was off to the chill of the underground caves of the Cellars . As soon as you enter the cellars you realise this is serious business – 7 specially vaulted rooms of varying humidity giving different styles of cheeses the most ideal conditions to grow, blossom and become the cheesy goodness we love!
Again, the spirit of the workers were a standout for me as the cheeses were washed, turned, rubbed, spiked and pampered with many a good tune belted out in the background.
The respect that the team at Jasper Hill bring to the craft of both cheesemaking and affinage, ensures the cheeses of the North East Kingdom are some of the finest in the land. And there is no doubt in my mind that Andy and Mateo are on to something by creating an operation that thrives on sustainability, innovation and collaboration.