A Taste of Vermont in California

By Emily Shartin, Epicuring

As a recent transplant to California and a lover of both cheese and beer, I’ve been excited to start learning about all of the great things this state has to offer with regard to two of my favorite fermented foods. However, I was also admittedly happy to discover recently that the Cheese School of San Francisco was welcoming two of Vermont’s finest artisan producers (ones whose products you can’t always find on the west coast): the Cellars at Jasper Hill and Hill Farmstead Brewery.

Zoe from Jasper Hill and Shaun from Hill Farmstead create cheese and beer pairings that are an authentic representation of place: the rolling hills of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. They are extremely knowledgeable about their respective crafts, and good at explaining not only why their cheeses and beers are unique, but how they work in tandem as delicious pairings.

I first became familiar with Jasper Hill while working as a cheesemonger in Massachusetts. The brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler started this cheesemaking venture in a remote corner of northeastern Vermont about 10 years ago. Their herd of Ayrshire cows (along with their talented team of cheesemakers) is responsible for such cheeses as Constant Bliss and Bayley Hazen Blue (both named for Revolutionary War figures), and the seasonal washed-rind gem Winnimere.

About four years ago, the brothers opened the Cellars at Jasper Hill, an impressive network of seven caves built into the side of a hill near their cheese house. Modeled on the European approach to cheese aging, these caves provide the perfect environment (cool, humid, and overseen by detail-oriented attendants) for young cheeses to “ripen” and become the flavorful wheels they are when we eat them. Not only is Jasper Hill ripening its own cheeses in the Cellars, they also are ripening wheels for small cheesemakers across Vermont who may not have the time or the wherewithal to take on the process themselves.

The centerpiece of the Cellars project is Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, a traditionally-styled cheddar made from the milk of a single herd of cows kept in nearby Peacham, VT. The fresh wheels of cheddar are transported to the Cellars in Greensboro, where they are wrapped in cloth (helping the cheese to breathe as it ages) and ripened for roughly one year. The result is one of the best cheddars you will ever taste: fruity, nutty and brothy with a crumbly texture and a perfect balance of characteristic cheddar “sharpness.”

Meanwhile, about a half-mile down the road from the Cellars, brewer Shaun Hill is crafting some of my favorite beers from either coast. Because his beers don’t make it too far outside of Vermont, my beer-nerd friends and I were known to make the four-hour drive from Boston to Greensboro just for a chance to fill our growlers with Edward, Abner or Ephraim, his various IPAs named for different ancestors. Shaun also makes wonderful sour beers, one of which was used to wash the rind of last year’s batch of Jasper Hill Winnimere.

The Cheese School, a cozy space owned by Kiri Fisher and Daphne Zepos, offers an array of classes, from instruction on cheese tasting to cheesemaking.

To see more of Epicuring’s favorite cheese events and classes, click here.

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