Artisan cheddar — “cult wine” of cheese

A Vermont cheddar by justly-famed makers of raw cheeses.

A Vermont cheddar by justly-famed makers of raw cheeses.

Once again another cheese report from the San Francisco Chronicle’s SF Gate website in which it’s slyly implied that the cheese under discussion is in fact raw, but they don’t come right out and say it and neither do they say it’s pasteurized. One wonders what’s behind an editorial pattern like that. Anyway, here’s a bit of what they have to say about this Vermont cloth-wrapped artisan cheddar:

“When Cabot clothbound cheddar won best of show at the American Cheese Society’s annual competition two years ago, the news electrified the audience. Vermont’s largest dairy had partnered with one of its smallest in a pioneering cheesemaking venture, and the judges had given their effort a big thumbs-up. It was as if Gallo had asked Screaming Eagle to help it make a cult Cabernet.

With about 1,400 farmer members, Cabot Creamery produces millions of pounds of waxed supermarket cheddar every year. But five years ago, the giant co-op approached the two young brothers who run the tiny Jasper Hill Farm about collaborating. The Kehlers and their wives milk about 40 Ayrshire cows and make minuscule amounts of raw-milk cheese – notably, Bayley Hazen Blue and Constant Bliss – by hand. Cabot wanted to make a traditional clothbound cheddar but didn’t have the proper environment to mature it.

Unlike Cabot’s mainstream cheddars, which are made in 40-pound rindless blocks, aged in sealed plastic bags and then cut in smaller blocks and wax-dipped before sale, the clothbound cheddar relies on mold to mature it. When they are 5 days old, the young cheesecloth-wrapped wheels are moved from Cabot to the nearby cellars at Jasper Hill, in Greensboro. There they are rubbed with lard to encourage molds to colonize the surface and set on spruce shelves. Mateo Kehler tends the cheeses for about a year, turning them, brushing them and nurturing the development of a hard, mold-covered rind. Over time, the surface molds consume the lard, so there is no trace of it on the finished cheese.

For the 35-pound clothbound cheddars, Cabot uses the milk from a single farm, a step that Kehler insisted on to maximize control of milk quality. The recipe departs from the method employed for traditional English Cheddars in several respects, including the use of pasteurized milk, but the results are similar. The slow aerobic aging yields powerful aromas of mown grass and hay, nuts, toffee and candle wax, a complex and seductive fragrance. On the tongue, the cheese is creamy yet crumbly, sometimes a little waxy, but always exceptionally mellow. The taste is sweeter than comparable English Cheddars, such as Montgomery’s, with none of the acid bite that some consumers dislike. The flavors are rich, profound and resolved.

Determined to make Jasper Hill a model of economically viable dairy farming and to promote artisan cheesemaking in their state, the Kehler brothers have recently dug extensive caves on their property. In these large underground vaults, which I visited recently, they plan to mature not only their own cheeses but those of their Vermont competitors. By investing in this expensive facility and mastering the art of affinage, or cheese aging, they are providing a service that promises to keep their state in the forefront of artisan cheesemaking….”

Read the whole story here.

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