There is a kingdom just a day away from you. You will not need a passport to get there, but rather – a Subaru. Having driven through more than a foot of fast falling “Yankee dandruff” just a week ago (and experienced temperatures in single digits), I can promise you that four wheel drive is better than front wheel drive and that the kingdom is real.
Close to Canada (and rumored to be in a subarctic zone) is a sparsely populated wonderland where the cows outnumber humans. If that alone is not enough to get you packing thermals for a road trip, I was told that I just experienced the most “magical time of the year.” Yes, February in Vermont is perfect. Perfect if you are in love with artisanal cheese.
Greensboro, Vermont is home to Jasper Hill Farm and Cellars where roughly 30 dedicated people are (in their words), “Driven to be the standard bearer of quality and innovation in the artisan cheese industry while promoting a ‘regional taste of place’.” Yes, those are big statements to back up, but as I ate their cheese, drank their well water and experienced the joy of dairy barns without flies, I learned that their work at Jasper Hill is backing up their words.
When you meet Jasper Hill team members, the passion is clear, but what makes their farming, dairying and cheese so exciting? To me, it’s the connections between them. Connections at each step of the process from farming grass, grain and legumes, to the final aged cheese that are like links in a chain whose strength is measured as the success of the collective.
As I see it, each team member has a clear role with direct bearing on the overall success of the cheeses at Jasper Hill. If any part of the “chain” fails, the cheese suffers and the pigs (who eat failure with glee) win.
In this great modern world, artisanal cheese relies on science, tools and applied knowledge. Pit that against an infinite number of variables that farming, dairying, cheese making and cheese ageing can provide, and then, make adjustments. Add to that, the Jasper Hill’s team whose spoken penchant for doing the right thing frequently leads them to “choose the path of most resistance.”
Fitting for any kingdom, there is a payoff. Not only in a job well done and taste of place in their cheeses, but global recognition. Jasper Hill’s cheese lineup includes a series of World Cheese Awards and American Cheese Society blue ribbons, among many more accolades.
There is still snow on the ground in Vermont. If you are not up for a road-trip to the kingdom there, ask your local Cheesemonger to help guide you to the taste of the Northeast Kingdom. It’s a real thing and worthy of seeking out.