May 4th, 2006
|06:57 am - East Coast cheese tour 2006: Jasper Hill Farm|
We made a quick stop at a Maple-everything store on the Maine/New Hampshire border. There was an autographed picture of George Bush on the wall but the plastic maple syrup containers were still warm from being filled so I pretended it didn’t exist. I did accuse the woman of heating the containers up in a backroom microwave when she heard our car. She laughed politely so I guess I wasn’t the first to suggest that. Or that she actually did.
We were headed to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom which was green and hilly and stunningly beautiful. Ever since I started carrying their cheese I’ve wanted to visit Jasper Hill Farm For me, it was probably the biggest attraction of the trip because they are becoming some of the best cheesemakers in the country.
Production doesn’t get much more small-scale and craft oriented than this. I was bitching to my distributor about the small quantity of Winnemere I was receiving. Then I talked to one of the brothers and found out there were only about 500 being made a month for the whole country. I suddenly became happy with my case a week allotment.
Andy and Victoria Kehler greeted us when we finally made it to their farm around 5 PM. They were doing the day’s second milking so we were directed to the milking parlor’s refrigerated keg while they moved from udder to udder. It’s always odd staying with people you barely know, but right then I new it would be ok.
We groomed cows and drank beer while trying to avoid getting covered in cow saliva . If anyone out there still has fantasies about the joys of rural living seeing how hard farmers actually work will probably cure you. They had been at the farm since 5 AM and by the time they finished milking and we finished feeding the cows and flipping the cheese made earlier, it was about 8 PM. True, Andy’s brother Mateo and his wife Angela were out of town so there was more work to be done than normal, but that is an everyday schedule.
One of the things I love about visiting farms is that reminder. Any cheesemonger or vendor can come visit a cheesemaker and cut some curds or flip a few cheeses. It is a great feeling to be part, even for a few hours, of that maturation process, of creating something edible, let alone something amazing like the Jasper Hill cheese.
It’s something else entirely working from 5 AM – 7 PM almost everyday of the year. The Jasper Hill folks definitely hold onto their sense of creation, love of their craft, and the beauty of their land. It’s obvious just spending a few minutes with them. But man, after we ate dinner and drank some wine I was happy to "sleep-in" until 6:30 AM. By the time I actually got out of bed they had been at work for a couple hours.
See, don’t they look wide awake for a 7:30 AM photo shoot?
They make three main cheeses:
Bayley Hazen Blue
a Stilton-y cylinder of truffle-textured blue cheese
basically an American Chaource: soft-ripened but firm in texture.
a spruce-bark wrapped, washed rind cheese that is pungent, rich, meaty and earthy. Winnemere is the only US cheese that comes close to the complexity of a French Vacherin Mon D’or.
All cheeses are made with raw milk on the farm from their herd of 36 Ayreshire cows
After being mauled by Pickles the hump-machine, the sweet-tempered, huge, drippy cows were quite a relief.
don't worry, I only rock the hairnet in specific professional occasions,