Do you ever have a post that you wish could always stay at the top? That is how I feel about my last post, Homemade Nutella for Norway . But I suppose when faced with tragedy, the most important thing is to continue living and moving forward, and so with that, I will move on with this blog, always keeping loved ones in Norway close to my heart.
It feels like the past few months of my life have been really cheesy. It all started with the course I took at Sterling College. Then 2 Thursdays ago, while the tragic events in Oslo happened, I was standing over vats of hot curds and whey all day, oblivious to the outside world, at The Cellars at Jasper Hill. My friend Sarah, who with her husband Jason owns a fabulous catering business JDC’s, is also a cheesemaker at Jasper Hill. So she invited me to spend the day there shadowing her and seeing how a large cheesemaker operates.
It was an amazing experience, a much larger scale than any other cheesemaking experience I have had so far, either at Sterling or in my own kitchen. After getting outfitted in a pair of white plastic clogs, a white jacket and a hair net, I was able to cross the threshold from the outside work, to the curd world.
(Ladling Constant Bliss)
Sarah was in the middle of something, so she sent me downstairs to watch and chat with Calista and Evan who were ladling curds into molds for Constant Bliss . We talked about their experiences in the cheese world, which greatly outnumbered mine. But we all agreed that there was something zen-like about ladling hot curds. I would have loved to ladle with them, but didn’t want to upset the obvious groove they had going!
After a while I went back upstairs, and watched while Sarah used a big machine to cut the curds for another batch of cheese, this time Moses Sleeper. What the machine didn’t cut, we used small cheese knives to do by hand. We then took baskets of the steaming curds, dumped them on huge trays, with drainage mats (for the whey) and fluffed the curds, and then dumped the fluffed curds onto another tray, which Sarah then stuffed into molds. We did this with two different batches. It was awesome. Hot, but awesome. The second time, a film crew was there, from a new Food Network Show, The Big Cheese (which is not even on the air yet…). So who knows, our work that day may end up on an episode, but really the film crew was there for the cellars. I wish I could have gotten photos, but really the work was too wet for a camera to be safe. So you will have to imagine…
If you live in Northern Vermont, you have surely heard about the Cellars. Even if you are not in Northern VT, you may know of them. The Cellars are two thousand square feet and 7 vaults of beautifully delicious aging cheese – some of it, Jasper Hill makes, but a lot of it is from other cheesemakers in Vermont.
The largest vaults are only of Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar. The photo above is just one vault, and is only of two rows in the vault, of which there had to have been at least 8. But it is more about cheese, it is about a local movement, and helping Vermont’s dairy farmers, and small artisan cheesemakers, continue to be viable and to thrive! I really can’t say it better than their website:
“Farm viability is at the heart of the mission of the Cellars at Jasper Hill. The state of Vermont has seen a precipitous decline in the number of viable dairy farms in the last fifty years, and the Cellars is a business created to halt that decline. Dairy farms help to define the working landscape of Vermont, and artisan cheesemaking is a growing industry that provides an outlet for New England dairy farms to turn their landscape into milk, their milk into cheese, and their cheese into profits.
However, starting a cheesemaking business can be challenging enough without the added stress of aging and marketing that cheese. The Cellars at Jasper Hill provides a place for cheesemakers to send their “green” cheeses to be ripened and marketed by staff who are specially trained to do just that. By reducing the initial investment and training needed by farms trying to diversify, the Cellars at Jasper Hill will provide opportunity to a greater number of those farms.
We hope to relieve small cheesemakers – who wish to simply make cheese – of the burden of being constantly engrossed in all of the intricate details that are involved in maintaining customer relations and keeping their cheeses in healthy circulation. By having a central location from which to distribute and ship the cheese, the Cellars at Jasper Hill helps to ensure that cheese arrives to its destination in the shortest time and best condition possible.
Through all of this, the Cellars at Jasper Hill contributes directly to the expansion of the farmstead model of cheesemaking. We are a mission-based company, and our mission is to preserve all of the integrity and beauty of Vermont’s working landscape.”
(Von Trapp OMA)
…And this is one of the many reasons why Roberto and I moved to this part of Vermont. The dedication of local producers, and their willingness to help others in their industry, all in the name of keeping Vermont a happy and prosperous place. Jasper Hill is a big operation, but it needs to be because it houses so many cheese varieties from all over the state, including some of my personal favorites, like Oma, from the Von Trapp family. Yep, those Von Trapp’s.
They also house Ploughgate Creamery Cheese. In fact last night I met Marisa Mauro, owner and cheesemaker at her one woman cheesemaking show! She invited me to come over to the creamery sometime soon to see how things are done there, and I very much am looking forward to it.
The cheese world is small and feels even smaller in Vermont. I am trying to learn, and observe as much as I can from as many cheesemaking operations as I can. I have met many contacts, and hope to meet more via my friend Taylor, co-owner of Good Food Jobs (a great resource if you are looking for a job in the food industry) who used to work at Murray’s Cheese in NYC. So she knows a lot of cheesy people.
(Cabot Clothbound Cheddar)
I feel very lucky to live where I do, as an aspiring cheesemaker. There are a lot of resources here and a very rich dairy history that is well-established and in the process of being revitalized through the hard work and dedication of people like the Kehler brothers who own Jasper Hill and all the small artisan cheesemakers who are bringing back true farmstead cheeses for consumers.
As a side note, I learned another important thing during this experience – the true reason for sweat. This particular day I was there was during the big heat wave. It was about 90 degrees outside, and at least 90% humidity. The cheese room(s) have no AC. So I literally sweat my own body weight that day. Once I left, I felt rather cool, and when I got home, I felt refreshed. All I could think about all day was taking a shower as soon as I walked in the house, but once I got home, I was cool as a cucumber, and Roberto was still sweltering! I realized you have to sweat A LOT to get the cooling affects, instead of sweat just being annoying, it is miraculous! I guess that is why everyone was making jokes all day about how there are no fat cheesemakers!