Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Cellars at Jasper Hill

When I attended the SF Cheese School's 3-Day seminar this spring I met lots of great people, one of who is Jack Dean, representative of The Cellars at Jasper Hill. We also had the pleasure of tasting some of the cheeses produced by or aged by Jasper Hill (Constant Bliss, Winnimere, Bayley Hazen Blue, & Cabot Clothbound Cheddar). Delicious!

Not only was I impressed by the cheeses, but also by the story behind Jasper Hill, and I figured you'd be interested too. So last week I contacted Jack and he was kind enough to spend some time talking with me about the Vermont dairy cooperative. Right now, Vermont is losing about 30 dairies annually and in fact they've lost some 32 farms this year already! Jasper Hill Farm founders, Mateo and Andy Kehler are all about trying to make small Vermont dairy farms viable (cheese-making is one of the ways to do this), and "The Cellars" is an extension of that vision. Currently, Cabot is paying a fee to age their clothbound cheddar at The Cellars, and the cool thing about this is that those funds are used to help small dairies in all aspects of their cheese-making business whether it's training, development, equipment, marketing, or distribution.

A great example of how it all works is a cheese called Oma (pictured above), produced by the Von Trapp family and aged at The Cellars. Dan and Sebastian Von Trapp are former Jasper Hill employees who used their gained knowledge to turn their family dairy farm into a viable producer of cheese. This 1 lb., washed-rind cheese made with the milk of Jersey and Ayrshire cows is currently only available in small amounts in New England. However, Jack tells me they are working on bringing the cheese to the west coast and that I can (hopefully) get some for my store by the holidays. I can't WAIT!

Not only does "The Cellars" help to create new cheese-makers like the Von Trapps, but it also helps established cheese-makers like the Crawford family who make a wonderful cheese called Vermont Ayr. The Crawfords collaborated with Mateo and the cellar's affineur to improve their cheese. They were able to tweak the make of the cheese a little so that the right flora and cultures would grow and improve its flavor profile. This cheese just made its way to California and we're intending to bring it to our counter this fall, but in the meantime I drove about 40 miles to get my hands on some (in true junkie fashion), and let me tell you it was worth the drive!

Vermont Ayr is a raw milk alpine style cheese with an off-white paste that delivers a rich, nutty, grassy, slightly floral flavor with a mildly sweet (almost pineapple-like) finish. YUM! The day I tried this cheese happened to be my birthday so I bought enough to bring with me to my b-day dinner with friends. They snapped it up so quickly I regretted not buying more, and being the junkie I am, I almost regretted not keeping it all for myself!

Congrats to Jasper Hill for a job well done. Keep up the good work!

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