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.

This March we’re mad for…Oma

By Liz Thorpe

In the summer of 2009 I finally found Waitsfield, Vermont and the meandering driveway that led to the Von Trapp dairy farm. That was after the GPS sent me down a logging trail, a bee got stuck in my tank top, stung me, and I nearly hit a tree. Few cheeses are worth that kind of drama, but I was delighted to find (and still am) that Sebastian and Dan’s cheese, Oma, is one. Although they make only two batches of cheese every other week from the thick, golden, unpasteurized milk of the family’s predominantly Jersey cow herd, we’re lucky enough to sell it at Murray’s.

It’s a brilliant collaboration, the effort of two third generation dairy farmers to improve upon their parents’ organic model by making a singular cheese that is aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill. When you hear about seasonal cheese it immedaitely seems fleeting–rare, precious, and necessary to taste NOW. But all cheeses, even those like Oma that are made year-round, have moments where you can feel and taste the unique conditions of their making. And right now this cheese is exceptional.

Why? Because Von Trapp cows are processing a late winter diet of organic hay studded with fat clover buds and all that fodder (and not much walking through snowy hills) is giving an especially thick, rich, fat-and-protein laden milk. To ensure that the wheels this March are the absolute best I dragged a group of devout cheese proselytizers from the Murray’s ranks into our classroom to blind taste 6 different batches of Oma.

Breaking through the nectarine-colored crust of each wheel, we found interior pastes ranging from custardy to springy, and a windfall of flavors reminiscent of eggy French Reblochon to decidedly bacony quiche. All 6 were lovely, but we chose those with a stickier, more elastic texture and balanced, savory. No bitter bite that can happen with this style.

It’s hard work, but someone has to do it, and we want you to get the best.

PS: Yes, they’re the same family as the singing Von Trapps but the focus these days is on the music of milk.