CHEESE NOTES

High-res Vermont cheesemakers won big at last week’s World Cheese Championship, including Bayley Hazen Blue from the Cellars at Jasper Hill. From Vermont Public Radio: 

Say Cheese! Vt. Companies Bring Home Honors
Three Vermont cheesemakers brought home honors from last week’s 2014 World Champion Cheese Contest, held in Madison, Wi. A panel of 50 international judges picked the winners in various classes including varieties entered from around the world.
Among the winners were these Vermont companies:
Cabot Creamery Cooperative, of Cabot, was awarded three Best of Class Awards for its 2+ Years Cheddar, Hot Buffalo Wing Cheddar and Cottage Cheese. Cabot also took third place for its Medium Cheddar.
Cellars at Jasper Hill, of Greensboro, was awarded two Best of Class Awards for its blue veined Bayley Hazen Blue and soft ripened Harbison.
Grafton Village Cheese Company, of Brattleboro, was awarded third place for its mixed milk Shepsog.

Read the full story.

Vermont cheesemakers won big at last week’s World Cheese Championship, including Bayley Hazen Blue from the Cellars at Jasper Hill. From Vermont Public Radio

Say Cheese! Vt. Companies Bring Home Honors

Three Vermont cheesemakers brought home honors from last week’s 2014 World Champion Cheese Contest, held in Madison, Wi. A panel of 50 international judges picked the winners in various classes including varieties entered from around the world.

Among the winners were these Vermont companies:

Cabot Creamery Cooperative, of Cabot, was awarded three Best of Class Awards for its 2+ Years Cheddar, Hot Buffalo Wing Cheddar and Cottage Cheese. Cabot also took third place for its Medium Cheddar.

Cellars at Jasper Hill, of Greensboro, was awarded two Best of Class Awards for its blue veined Bayley Hazen Blue and soft ripened Harbison.

Grafton Village Cheese Company, of Brattleboro, was awarded third place for its mixed milk Shepsog.

Read the full story.

Oma, Mt Alice, Mad River Blue, Savage
Molly checks for a clean break
stirring the curds
stirring the curds
 Sebastian and Molly releasing the curds from the vat into the moulds
filling the moulds
filling the mou
lds
Freshly pierced Mad River Blues
Young Oma's
Mt Alice in the cave

A Visit To Von Trapp Farmstead

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a top creamery on the Vermont cheese scene: Von Trapp Farmstead, in Waitsfield VT, in the north-central area of the state. I was on my way to the Cellars At Jasper Hill, so Von Trapp was a timely stop, as they have worked closely with the Cellars for a few years now. Visiting both in one day gave me a unique opportunity to see both sides of the new model of cheese production in Vermont: the producers and the affineurs.

Von Trapp Farm has been in operation since 1959, when Werner and Erika Von Trapp purchased it. In 1979, their son Martin and his wife, Kelly, took over the farm with their three children. For most of that time, it has been a milk dairy only; it was not until the late 2000’s that Martin and Kelly’s sons, Sebastian and Dan, proposed the idea of building a creamery to make cheese from their high-quality milk. This followed on their going through the process of obtaining Organic certification for their milk, and came at a time when the Von Trapp’s, like many Vermont dairies, was struggling to remain profitable in the face of cripplingly low prices for milk. For Sebastian and Dan, cheesemaking held out promise as a “vehicle for sustainability”, a way to keep the farm in the family while generating a product they could be proud of.

In 2009, after Sebastian had spent time in England apprenticing with cheesemakers, as well as working with the Kehler brothers at the Cellars, they completed construction and opened the doors on the cheese house. Dan has since moved on, but Sebastian is still running the creamery, and is now working with cheesemaker Molly Gould. Molly was actually my connection to Von Trapp, as we had first met while we were both students in the Cheesemaker Certification program at UVM’s Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese (VIAC).

I arrived on an afternoon when they were making my favorite Von Trapp cheese, the Oma (you can see my previous post about Oma here.
Named for their grandmother (“Oma”) Erica, this pudgy, pungent washed-rind is the first cheese that they began making and was their introduction to the cheese world. It’s gone through quite a bit of development and refinement over the years, and is now a prize-winning beauty with a rind of amber and pink, covered with a morning frost of white mold, a bit sticky, and an elastic, oozing paste when ripe, moderately eyed, and a well-balanced flavor profile; earthy, buttery, with notes of nuts, hay and cave. This cheese is actually aged at — and bears the label of — the Cellars at Jasper Hill, and is part of the Kehler brother’s much-vaunted affinage program, working to revitalize Vermont’s dairy economy by providing an outlet and state of the art aging facilities for locally produced cheeses (I’ll be speaking more about my visit to the Cellars in a future post).

The Von Trapp cheesemaking room, located near the milking parlors and cow barns, is a gleaming, state of the art facility, with the 1500-liter Dutch-made vat mounted on a catwalked platform about 4 feet off the ground. This allows the curds to be released through a large pipe at the bottom and flowed out onto the cheese multi-moulds in a highly efficient manner — ideally you want your curds into the forms as quickly and smoothly as possible, to minimize damaging them or allowing them to start knitting unevenly or sitting in the vat too long. I arrived just in time to see the curds being cut and stirred by Molly; Sebastian then manned the vat, controlling the flow as Molly rapidly piped the curds into the forms and portioned them out, topping off all the wheels before sending it down the line and pulling in a fresh multi-mould.

Once they were in the moulds and ready to move to the caves, a hatch in the floor with a pulley above it allowed the carts of fresh wheels to be lowered to the underground drying, brining and aging facilities. Molly took me down to the caves, where we saw bloomy rind’s being wrapped, and blue cheeses, freshly pierced, aging on racks, as well as Oma’s getting brief initial agings before being ready to ship up to the Cellars.

The Von Trapp cheeses are true farmstead cheeses, with the cow barn visible through the creamery window and the milk coming fresh every morning directly from the cows some 50 yards away. The herd is a mix of Jersey, Ayrshire and Normandie cows; This mix of milks — Jersey’s and Normandie’s are particularly prized for their butterfat content — combined with the high quality, organic feed, is an integral ingredient, Sebastian believes, in the quality of the final product.

In addition to the Oma, Von Trapp has three other cheeses in their lineup:

Mt Alice
a buttery, mild, Camembert-style bloomy rind cheese, with a smooth texture, named for a peak not too far from the farm. Made with pasteurized cows milk and aged for a minimum of three weeks. 

Savage
A new alpine creation and named for Samuel S. Savage, who settled the von Trapp farm in the 1700’s. An alpine-style, hard-cooked and pressed cheese which is aged for 8-12 months. Savage is actually aged in the alpine vaults at the Cellars at Jasper Hill, but sold under the Von Trapp label, through an arrangement separate from that of the Oma. Savage brings buttery, nutty and sweet flavors, with a bit of B.Linen red and wonderful bacon and roasted leek notes on the rind. My favorite alpines are the ones with a bit of punch, like Challerhocker, Scharfe Maxx or Sternschnuppe, and Savage seems to be developing in that direction.

Mad River Blue
Also a fairly new cheese, the Mad River is aged in the Von Trapp caves. A natural rinded raw milk blue aged for 3+ months. Buttery, salty and sweet, with vegetal notes and a bit of pepper.

It was great to see the cheesemaking in action at Von Trapp and to taste the new cheeses that they have in the works. Oma and Mt Alice are pretty widely available at cheese counters in NYC and elsewhere, and the Mad River Blue is showing up more frequently. At this point, the Savage is produced in very limited quantities and is currently only sold at farmers markets in Waterbury, Waitsfield & Stowe and Burlington. 

(And yes, in case you were wondering: The Von Trapps are related to the Trapp Family Singers of Sound of Music fame. The Trapp Family Lodge is located down the road in Stowe, VT.)

Pleasant Ridge cheesemaker Andy Hatch buys Uplands, develops new semi-soft cheese

Two big pieces of news in this story: Andy Hatch — Cheese world rock star and maker of two monger-favorite cheeses, Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Rush Creek Reserve — is now officially co-owner of Uplands Cheese;  and, they’re working on a new tomme! from The Cap Times in Madison, WI: 

Pleasant Ridge cheesemaker Andy Hatch buys Uplands, develops new semi-soft cheese

This week, Uplands announced that Hatch and his farming partner, Scott Mericka, will take over for Gingrich and Patenaude at the farm 50 miles west of Madison.

The shift in ownership is a transition that has been in the works since 2008. Gingrich, now in his 70s, has retired and plans to move to Madison.

"People have already been eating Scott and Andy’s cheese for years," Hatch said. "Just the paperwork changed."

Uplands has cultivated a following for its Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a gruyere-style cheese that won Best in Show at the American Cheese Society competition three times, most recently in 2010. Each batch is aged between six and 24 months.

It’s calving season now, and Hatch is working on a new cheese as well. It will likely be another tomme, a “mid-moisture” French cheese. Hatch said he’ll be shooting for something halfway between the Rush Creek and Pleasant Ridge, aged five to six months.

"We won’t try to mimic any one of them," Hatch said of existing tomme styles in France and Switzerland. "We’ll play with our milk and see what we can coax out of it."

Hatch wouldn’t rule out bringing in milk from other herds, but only for a different cheese. The Pleasant Ridge will continue to be made from Uplands’ own grass fed cows’ milk.

High-res The Bayley Hazen moon rising over the Cellars At Jasper Hill. Yes, that’s actually a wheel of Bayley Hazen Blue, and if you look closely you’ll notice that the craters are cow-shaped. This mural is on the cow barn at Jasper Hill Farm (next door to the Cellars) in Greensboro, VT, where I had the good fortune of touring their amazing facilities yesterday (a more detailed post to come).
And btw, this mural isn’t entirely fictional: the Cellars actually sent a wheel of Bayley Hazen up into the stratosphere on a weather balloon, and then ate it afterwards. 

The Bayley Hazen moon rising over the Cellars At Jasper Hill. Yes, that’s actually a wheel of Bayley Hazen Blue, and if you look closely you’ll notice that the craters are cow-shaped. This mural is on the cow barn at Jasper Hill Farm (next door to the Cellars) in Greensboro, VT, where I had the good fortune of touring their amazing facilities yesterday (a more detailed post to come).

And btw, this mural isn’t entirely fictional: the Cellars actually sent a wheel of Bayley Hazen up into the stratosphere on a weather balloon, and then ate it afterwards. 

Suffolk Punch, hanging in the caves.
Peter Dixon alongside a variety of wheels
Vermont Herdsman and Chapman Pastures on the shelves
Stretched curds of various formats, after a good brushing.
Wheels in the caves.
Reveille Tomme West West Blue, Reveille Tomme, Vermont Shepherd and other cheeses.
Peter dips into the Fondue.
The cheese board, featuring an assortment of Parish Hill cheeses, as well as some Vito Forte originals.

A Visit To Parish Hill Creamery

A few days ago, I had some time off from the cheese house at Woodcock Farm, so I ventured over to the town of Westminster West, near Putney, VT, to visit Vermont’s newest cheese business, Parish Hill Creamery, from a legendary cheese expert, Peter Dixon, and his wife Rachel. Peter has been a longtime fixture on the Vermont cheese scene, as a cheesemaker, and as a dairy consultant, drawing on 30 years of cheesemaking experience and a deep understanding of cultures and the vagaries of the aging process to assist other producers in improving their product. He earned the nickname “cheese whisperer” due to his ability to quickly identify the source of defects and unwanted growths that his clients had spent months trying to eradicate. 

Through his company, Dairy Foods Consulting, Peter frequently travels around the country (when I visited, he was about to head off to Krebs, Oklahoma to work with Lovera’s Cheese Co.). Peter and Rachel also offer classes, on-site and off, teaching everything from the fundamentals of cheesemaking to classes focusing on a wide variety of formats and subjects (everything from Blue Cheese, Washed Rind and Affinage, to developing a HAACP plan). One of their past students, in fact, was Jos Vulto of Vulto Creamery, whose absinthe-washed Miranda has recently captured the attention of the NYC cheese world. 

Peter got his start at the Guilford Cheese Co. in Guilford, VT, in 1983, a family business. After that he spent time at Shelburne Farms and Vermont Butter & Cheese (Now Vermont Creamery), before starting his own company, Westminster Dairy, in 2000. In 2007, he closed Westminster and went to work at Consider Bardwell (he was key in developing the core line of cheeses that they carry to this day). After leaving Consider, he focused on the consulting and teaching for a few years, and ceased commercial production of his own cheeses.

Recently, however, came the exciting news that he had started a new venture — Parish Hill Creamery — and would be producing a line inspired by traditional DOP (Denominazione d’ Origine Protetta) Italian cheeses. Parish Hill sources all their milk from the farm at the nearby Putney School, where the herd of 40 cows is tended to by faculty and a crew of students with an interest in agrarian studies. 

Of particular interest to this Brooklyn-dweller, he had partnered with Benton Brown, at Crown Finish Caves in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; Parish Hill wil be producing the cheeses and Crown Finish will be affinaging and distributing them. You can read about my visit to Crown Finish here

When I arrived at the house, I was pleasantly surprised to find Vito Forte — New Jersey home cheesemaker and a past participant in the Cheese Speakeasy — already there. Turns out, he’ll be working for Peter this summer and was up in the area looking for a place to stay! 

We all piled into Vito’s car and headed off down the road to check out Peter’s operations. First stop was the cheese house. Parish Hill’s cheesemaking facility is actually located in the space formerly occupied by David Major of Vermont Shepherd, and sits on property adjacent to the Vermont Shepherd pastures. When David Major moved to a new space closer to his farm, Peter took it over. As cheese rooms go, its cozy, less than 400 square feet, with a 1200 gallon vat occupying much of the space and draining tables and shelves tucked in alongside it, but Peter is the master of efficiency, packing all of the necessaries in like a Tetris master for a smooth workflow, impressive especially considering the large format of many of his cheeses. 

Next up, we swung by the caves where Peter ages his cheeses, a bit down the road. The cave is essentially a concrete bunker, carved into the hillside, providing for a steady temperature year-round. Inside, Peter’s shelves — wooden boards cantilevered out from slotted 2x4 wall grids — are filled with the Parish Hill cheeses, and his most visually striking cheese — the gourd-shaped, Caciocavallo-style stretched-curd Suffolk Punch, hangs from the ceiling in bunches. Wheels of West West Blue, Reverie, Kashar, Suffolk Punch and a multitude of other wheels large and small stood side by side, with some wheels from past classes scattered amongst them. 

Afterwards, we went with Rachel to the secondary aging spaces, where cheeses are brought and brushed down before going to market and for additional aging. (you can see, in the two photos of the Suffolk Punch, how they look when they’re aging, with a mottled layer of white and gray mold growing on them, vs how they look once they’ve been brushed, essentially polishing them up and getting them ready for the cheesemongers. A wall of Vermont Herdsman and Chapman’s Pasture filled the space with the meaty, piquant smell one associates with the best Italian hard-aged cheeses. In the corner was the incubator in which the mother cultures for the cheeses are created and nurtured. Peter is a strong proponent of the mother culture method, using one of two for most of his cheeses. 

Upon returning to the house, we sat down for a tasting of Parish Hill’s cheeses, both on a cheese board and in a fondue, which Peter and Rachel had prepared for us. On the board were the Vermont Herdsman, Reverie (an experimental Toma, inspired by Italian alpine traditional cheeses, that won’t be available for purchase as of yet), Humble Herdsman, West West Blue, Suffolk Punch, Kashar, a smoked version of the Punch and other cheeses. Vito also had brought some of his cheeses from New Jersey, including a beautifully pungent Munster-style wheel. The fondue was made with a mix of Peter’s cheeses and was a perfect finish to the evening, accompanied by an assortment of local beers. 

Parish Hill is just getting rolling now, and hopes to have the Crown Finish caves filled within the 6 months or so, with production of around 25-30,000 pounds of cheese a year. The cheeses are already showing up at cheese counters around NYC, Boston and other locations (Star Provisions in Atlanta has them, judging by their Instagram), and they will be showing up at many more locations in the next 12 months, especially as the first generation starts to age out of Crown Finish.  

The current lineup of Parish Hill cheeses are: 

Provolone, Kashar and Suffolk Punch
These are all made from the same stretched curds, but are then shaped into different formats, from the pillars of Provolone, to the basket wheels of the Kashar, to the distinctive hanging gourds of the Suffolk Punch. This is a mild, milky cheese when young but develops more tang and a bit of peppery bite when aged. 

Humble Herdsman
A semi-soft Tomme, smooth textured, lightly eyed. Washed with a local hard cider and aged 3-5 months, the flavor is mild and nutty with fruity hints. 

West West Blue
A two-day Gorgonzola-style cheese (very similar to the True Blue from Woodcock, that I’ve posted about here), in which the curds are made over two days and then assembled, with the fresh curds on the outside and the previous day’s curds on the inside. This gives it a multi-shaded, open-textured interior with patches of ivory and hay colored paste and bluing evenly distributed. The texture is creamy and a bit crumbly with a complex, sweet, earthy flavor and vegetal and peppery notes. 

Vermont Herdsman
Made in the style of the Asiago Grasso Monte. This is a classic alpine wheel, made in the summertime from pastured cow’s milk, and aged a minimum of 9 months. Flavors are full, buttery and nutty with pineapple, hazelnut and grassy notes. 

Chapman’s Pasture
A Parmagiano-style grating cheese. None of the wheels were ready when I was there but they will be coming to market this summer. The outside is rubbed with olive oil and ash to give it a distinctive black rind.