ISSUE 41  |  Orange is the New Black

One Cheese at a Time: Jasper Hill Farm and the Rise of Vermont’s Local Food Movement

October 15, 2014 4:00 PM

BY Justine Hand

“These Cheeses Sustain Vermont’s Working Landscape.” So it says across the top of Jasper Hill Farms‘ press packet. For brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler, who founded Jasper Hill, making excellent cheese is not just about running a successful family business, it also is about revitalizing the local agrarian economy.

Central to that vision are the cheese cellars at Jasper Hill (the blueprints for which, are part of the company logo). Designed in 2006, this 22,000-foot, state-of-the-art facility features seven caves or vaults, each calibrated to produce a specific type of cheese. Here, and in their dairy and creamery, the Kehler brothers employ close to 50 locals. More broadly, they help sustain other regional dairies by providing affinage (cheese-ripening expertise), as well as marketing and distribution services. Finally, Jasper Hill plays an active role in a growing network of local craft food entrepreneurs, sustainable farmers, and educational institutions that is redefining the Northeast Kingdom as a mecca for slow food. 

Photography by Justine Hand for Gardenista.

Above: Jasper Hill Farms is in Greensboro, part of Vermont’s picturesque Northeast Kingdom, which for years was a center of dairy farming. As boys, Andy and Mateo Kehler, whose family ties to the area go back 100 years, enjoyed summers among these rolling hills. But by the time the brothers were young men, more than a third of the farms that had sustained the region were failing. In an effort to invest in the community they loved, Mateo and Andy Kehler bought Jasper Hill Farm, and began making raw-milk cheese.

Above: Clarence, the supervisor for Vault 7, works with young Alpha Tolman (R) and Bayley Hazen Blue (L). Here Clarence hand spikes and turns Jasper Hill’s signature blue cheese in order to make sure the veins are evenly distributed. 

Above: Classic Alpine cheeses such as Appenzeller inspired the recipe for the Alpha Tolman. Here 22-pound wheels of this Jasper Hill Creamery original are aged for from eight to 12 months.

Above: In the state-of-the-art rotunda that connects all the cheese vaults, steaming strips of the inner bark from local spruce trees are wrapped around wheels of Haribson. For a fascinating inside look at how Harbison is made (and enjoyed) visit the cheese section of Jasper Hill’s website.

Above: Another bark-wrapped delight, Winnimere is named for a cove on Lake Caspian where the Kehler brothers’ grandfather used to ice fish. Made in winter when the Jasper Hill cows produce the richest, hay-fed milk, this soft cheese took home the American Cheese Society 2013 Best in Show.

Above: Named for Anne Harbison, known as the grandmother of Greensboro, wheels of Harbison cure for 90 days. Personally, I can’t say enough about this rich, creamy cheese except that it is my new favorite. This woodsy cheese is wonderful spread over a soft baguette, enjoyed with an oaky white wine, or with something sweet such as dates, figs, or maple nuts.

Above: Better than Fort Knox: the gold in this vault is Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. In 2003, the doyen of Vermont cheese asked the Kehler brothers to age a special batch of Clothbound Cheddar. The result was an American Cheese Society Best in Show winner, which today is the flagship of Jasper Hill Cellars. 

Above: Made from milk sourced entirely from George Kempton’s Farm in Peacham, Vermont, young cheddars are formed at Cabot Creamery and aged at Jasper Hill. Upon arrival at the Cellars, the 32-pound wheels are coated with lard and an additional layer of cloth. They are then aged for from nine to 13 months, during which time they are continually brushed, turned, and monitored for quality.

Above: Molly Browne (a Wisconsin native and convert to Vermont cheese) is Jasper Hill’s liaison to cheesemongers; she notes that the old English tradition of wrapping cheddar in cloth allows for more airflow during the aging process. The results are less sharp than those produced by plastic or wax, creating a more complex and savory cheese.

Above: “Bright and brothy savory notes with a salt-caramel finish and crystalline texture that becomes creamy on the palate,” Cabot Clothbound cheddar is delightful when paired with apples, fruity cabernets, or “big brown” ales.

Above: Vita and her fellow Ayrshire cows graze in a pasture adjacent to the Jasper Hill Cellars. A hardy breed, Ayrshires produce milk that is especially well-suited for cheese making.

Above: Erika (Oma) and Werner (Opa) were the first von Trapps to farm the family land in Waitsfield, Vermont. Today their grandson, Sebastian von Trapp, keeps up the tradition with “Oma,” a cheese made from organic milk from his Jersey cows. Oma cheese is aged and distributed by Jasper Hill as part of the company’s active partnerships with other area dairies.

Above: “Soft and tender with a thin, earthy rind,” Oma loves to be coupled with Belgian-style ale, Grí¼ner Veltliner (Austrian, white wine), buttery crackers and fig jam, or dried fruit.

Above: Ochre Oma against the marbled concrete walls of the cheese caves proved a favorite photography subject.

Above: It’s not a competition, it’s a partnership. Eventually, Andy and Mateo hope to support even more Vermont creameries and cheesemakers under the Jasper Hill umbrella.  (You can learn about other affiliated cheesemakers here.) 

Above: Another partner: To diversify and revive their second-generation dairy farm in the White Mountains, Doug and Deb Erb developed Landaff as well as Kinsman Ridge (not pictured), which are both aged at Jasper Hill. (For a delightful break in your day, watch the video of their “cow spa” here.)

Above: Fittingly Jasper Hill Farm’s signature Bayley Hazen Blue is named for the Revoluntionary-era road that brought the first settlers to Vermont. 

Above: Pairings such as sherry, imperial stouts, and dark chocolate bring out this creamy blue’s spicy, nutty character.

Above: Like a pantheon of Vermont cheese, Jasper Hill Cellars feature seven radiating vaults around a central rotunda. Due to strict health codes, Jasper Hill is not open to the public. The cheese is readily available in the area and at gourmet cheese shops throughout the nation. You can also order it at the Jasper Hill online shop

Hungry for more cheese?