Summer at the Cellars at Jasper Hill

By: Summer Babiarz

While driving a van of Murray’s folks to Jasper Hill Cellars in Greensboro, Vermont I am keenly aware of how “New York “ we all sound as we gush over the vibrant green mountains. One thing is for sure, we all agree that THIS is where cheese should be made. As we drive by a little boy walking down a country road carrying a fishing pole, we begin to suspect that Vermont is staging postcard moments. This theory gets legs a half hour later when a baby black bear scampers across the road. It is finally confirmed as we pass a happy herd of cows chomping greedily on a field of wildflowers. However, our favorite sighting by far is the red barn with a mural of Bayley Hazen Blue cheese posing as the moon as we roll into the gravel driveway of Jasper Hill Farms.

The Cellars at Jasper Hill

Not everyone gets to tour the caves at Jasper Hill, which are not open to the public. As Vince Razionale meets us warmly and asks us to sani-suit up, we chat about how lucky we are to have been given an opportunity to see some of our absolute favorites in their aging environment. Jasper Hill has a stellar reputation for craftsmanship and artistry and picking a favorite is like picking your favorite song.

The first stop was the Bloomy cave. These stone caves are magnificently beautiful and have round ceilings to prevent raining. We see newly-formed Moses Sleeper and the dramatic transformation it makes into a cloud-like pillow in only six days. New Harbison wheels are deep cream colored and do not yet have their distinctive white speckled mold growing over its boiled Spruce-bark spine.

Alpha Tolman aging in the Cellars

The Alpha Tolman cave was next. Wheels of this Scharfe-Max-inspired-cheese are in neat rows up to the cave’s ceiling. Vince explains that Bloomy cheeses are a quick study due to their short life-cycle. In contrast, firm and larger format cheeses like Alpha Tolman could take years to develop fully. He cores Alpha Tolman wheels, and we all taste this cheese at different ages. Vince confesses that selling “age” is a little gimmicky and that he prefers to focus on the flavor profile.

The Cabot Clothbound Cheddar cave is so bountiful that the ammonia released during the aging process dries out your eyes as you enter. Vince explains the three benefits of lard coating these cheddars before they are bound in cloth:

Endless Cheddar!

1. It helps the cloth adhere to the wheel of cheese

2. It helps to develop the correct amount of mold growth

3. It helps to regulate the correct density and water weight.

The last stop is the Natural Rind cave where Bayley Hazen Blue is maturing before and after being pierced. It is especially cool to see these blues before their blue veining has developed. However, my favorite part about this cave was seeing that each rack is resting on a bed of small wet stones which helps to keep high humidity and cool temperature.

Cabot Clothbound

As we make our way back down to the city, freshly cut grass gives way to concrete. The rolling thunder clouds are into roaring subway cars, and the sound of crickets are silenced by honking horns on the dreaded BQE. That being said, whenever the city gets me cranky I need only nibble one of the treasures from the Cellars at Jasper Hill to remember a perfect July day in cheesenerd paradise.

Earthy Cheese

Like most industrialized food products, Cheese gets a bad rap for not being the most earth friendly. With Earth day imminently approaching, I find myself thinking about cheese, how it’s produced, and the effect its production has on our environment.

Ultimately the environmental issues that surround cheese are based on its very low yield ratio. It takes a lot of milk to produce cheese! (About 10 gallons of milk for one pound of cheese.) The current model for mass dairy production maximizes yield, with little concern for the environmental effects. I do think that it is important differentiate industrial cheese and what we have behind the case at Murray’s. Most of our cheese comes from smaller farmers, who take the time to care for their milk, and while profit is intended it is achieved with good farming practices in mind. In fact many cheese producers believe that what they are doing is not making cheese or milk, rather growing grass, after all it is the grass that ultimately becomes cheese. Farmers are also finding new ways to keep their systems more closed and efficient. This means turning waste into profit.

Jasper Hill Creamery, cheesemakers who we have worked with for years, are pioneers in the field of closed system dairy farms. They have implemented a waste treatment facility on their farm that they call the “Green Machine.” This converted barn allows the farm to process and reuse waste from both cows and cheese making. Whey, the liquid byproduct of cheese making, is treated and then used to irrigate land, while manure is processed for fertilizing, and methane is harvested for heating. By creating this closed system, and eliminating as much waste as possible, Jasper Hill can make great cheese, while reducing their negative impact to the environment.

These efforts aren’t just good for the planet, they’re good for your taste buds too! The truth is, the correlation between flavor and responsible farming is strong. When a cheese is well made and full of deep nuance, it is often the result of well-fed cows and well-farmed land. If you are looking for something earth friendly, the Mongers at Murray’s should have no problem pointing you in the right direction. In fact, these are probably their favorite cheeses!

Jasper Hill Harbison: So Earth-Friendly the Tree Hugs the CHEESE

Cheesemonger Sean Kelly gives us the scoop (pun intended) on this gooey Earth Day pick.

We really never hear about cheese when talking about Earth Day. It sounds like a bit of a stretch to discuss cheese on a day that’s supposed to be focused on environmental conservation, awareness and activism.  But why not? Really, it makes perfect sense for cheese and cheese farming to enter into the topics of discussion for Earth Day. When done right and responsibly, cheese can represent a certain closeness to our food sources. Cheese comes from milk, milk comes from cows, cows eat plants; how many things does the average American consume on a daily basis that can have their genealogy traced so clearly and with so few steps? Indeed, it seems as if the best cheese almost always comes from the smallest, most traditional and most natural sources.

A perfect (and delicious) example of just how well cheese can fit in on Earth Day is Jasper Hill Farms’ compact and beautiful creation, Harbison. Harbison, in production, flavor, and concept, is the definition of terroir and brings a true taste of place to anyone fortunate enough to dive into its creamy and buttery paste. The cheese, named for Greensboro resident Anne Harbison, is produced at Jasper Hill Farms from their small herd of Ayrshire cattle. The farm itself is a picture of sustainability, maintaining a small herd and closely monitoring the health and well -being of the animals, as well as finishing up a project that will recycle manure solids from the cows and wastewater and whey from the cheesemaking process to help power their facilities. Once this project is completed, the farm will produce almost zero waste.

Harbison sets itself apart from its other bloomy-rinded cousins not just by way of its noble upbringing, but also by its outfit choice. The small wheels each come wrapped in a small girdle of spruce bark obtained from trees on the farm, which are naturally composted to enrich the soil after the bark has been harvested. The bark wrapping affects the flavor of the cheese in an interesting way; the flavors that shine through in a wheel of Harbison don’t simply remind one of the plants and scents of the woods, but rather are evocative of the forest as a whole. Herbal flavor notes (mustard, fennel, and tarragon, to name a few) dominate the start, while the finish highlights the buttery and rich milk produced by the Ayrshire cows. These flavors yearn to be paired with a crisp sparkling white, or a bright, hoppy IPA to match the powerful herbal notes. Cured meats and dry salamis are enlivened by the creamy spoonable wonder and bring a new depth of flavor to a ripe Harbison.

So, this Earth Day, show your love for Mother Nature by enjoying cheese the way nature intended. Grab a wheel of Harbison, peel off the delicate top rind and let your cheese plate proclaim your love for the Earth.