Every two months or so, Tripp, our domestic cheese buyer in Cambridge, and I, domestic cheese buyer for our South End location, drive up to Greensboro, Vermont and visit with our friends at the Cellars at Jasper Hill. The purpose of these trips is primarily to select new wheels of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar.
Artisan cheeses, like Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, tend to differ slightly from one batch to another – even wheels made one day apart and aged under the same conditions, can be surprisingly different. These variations can be attributed to the season, to changes in the weather and to what the cows might have munched on the day they were milked. I like to think of it as a sort of time capsule, a way of capturing a moment of the farm’s existence in time.
Our proximity to and relationship with the Jasper Hill team has enabled us to be selective about the specific flavor profile of the Cabot cheddar we carry at Formaggio Kitchen. In fact, we are the only shop that regularly visits the Cellars to taste through different batches of the cheese, selecting the wheels we feel our customers will like best. Tripp and I look for batches that successfully balance salty and savory notes with hints of wonderful caramel sweetness. We also look for a rich, creamy and well-developed texture. Generally, we have found that the wheels we prefer have been aged about one year.
When we arrive at the Cellars, we meet with Zoe or Vince, who guide us through their vaults of cheese. We tell them a little bit about what we are looking for and how many wheels we are looking to buy – this helps them guide us to cheeses that are likely to be a good fit. We typically try anywhere from 3 to 5 different batches of Cabot, usually made just a few days apart.
Each batch has a test wheel and, using a cheese iron, we are able to extract a sample from the wheel without cutting it open, something that would stop the aging process. After each taste, we take notes on the flavor and texture, and move on to another batch. Once we’ve decided on a winner – or sometimes two – we help wrap and prepare our chosen wheels for transport back to the shop where it gets stored in our caves until we need it on the cheese counter.
The most rewarding part of these mini road trips is coming back to the shop and sharing our cheese selections with our customers. We like to think of it as sharing a very personal snapshot of Vermont’s rich, cheesemaking landscape. Please – next time you are able to visit us – ask to sample this amazing cheddar. We are always happy to give folks a taste of this cheese, well on its way to becoming a Vermont classic!
Sarah Spira is the domestic cheese buyer and a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen South End.