The Cellars at Jasper Hill FarmPrint this PageJune 2008
For more on the cellars at Jasper Hill Farm, view our slideshow.
We arrived at Jasper Hill Farm on a rainy Friday morning after navigating the scenic but rugged roads of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Jasper Hill, which is run by brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler, keeps about 46 Ayrshire cows, whose milk is used to produce popular cheeses such as Constant Bliss and Bayley Hazen Blue. Around the time we stopped by, the cows were making their seasonal dietary transition from hay—their wintertime meal—to about 300 acres of lush green pasture. This new diet will be reflected in both the flavor of the milk and, ultimately, the cheese.
The real story that morning was Jasper Hill's newest and most ambitious project—a 22,000 square foot cellar that has been built into the hillside across from their barn. This cellar, which features seven individual caves radiating outward from a central hub, is essentially Jasper Hill's gift to the Vermont cheese industry. The farm intends to age and distribute cheeses from around the state in an effort to give a leg up to smaller farms that may have trouble shipping their cheeses across the country.
Before we could enter the cellars, we had to put on hairnets and take off our shoes. While the caves are alive with certain kinds of molds that are beneficial to the cheeses, they want to be sure to keep out any unwanted bacteria or mold that might come in from the farm. Jen, who works at Jasper Hill, showed us around the individual caves, some of which were already stocked with wheels of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, the award-winning cheese that Jasper Hill produces in conjunction with Vermont's Cabot Creamery. The cheese is styled after the British bandage wrapped or clothbound cheddars such as Keen's or Montgomery's. These wheels age for 10 months at which time they are sent to retailers and distributors around the country.
Another cave held smaller wheels of washed rind cheeses from Jasper Hill, Lazy Lady Farm in Westfield, VT, and Dancing Cow in Bridport, VT. This is a small selection of the much larger collection of New England cheeses Jasper expects to house in their caves. Once these cheeses arrive in the cellars, Jen explained, Jasper Hill staff continues to carefully wash their exteriors with brine until they are properly aged. A team of Jasper Hill tasters get together every week to taste through the cheeses and decide which batches are ready and those that need a bit longer.
A large vault in the center of the facility was still empty, waiting to be filled with cheddar. Because the room is designed to hold so much cheese—577,000 pounds—Jen told us that Jasper Hill plans to employ a special robot to flip the wheels as they age.
That is good news for the farm's employees, many of whom still work across the road in Jasper Hill's original farmhouse. Here, we met Lesley and Roberta as they produced the day's batches of Constant Bliss and Bayley Hazen Blue.
Roberta began her batch of Bayley Hazen by adding rennet to a large tank of raw milk. After allowing the curd to coagulate, she broke up the clumps by hand, which helps expel the whey and give the cheese texture. The cheese is then put into molds, where its characteristic blue veins will develop, and aged for at least 60 days.