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 put on hairnets and cave booties to cover our shoes. Jen, showed us around the caves, some of which were already stocked with wheels of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, the award-winning cheese produced by Vermont’s Cabot Creamery specifically for Jasper Hill to age. 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— Jasper Hill plans to employ a special robot to flip the wheels as they age.
The level of dedication (not to mention financial investment) in this facility is evident in every room of the cellars and is demonstrated by every staffer and builder working there, striving to build something that is as much about selling cheese as it is about supporting the agrarian lifeblood of Vermont itself.