The story of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm is the result of a perfect storm between two ambitious brothers, Cabot Creamery Cooperative, and an award-winning wheel of cheese.
Brothers Andy and Mateo Kehler decided to start a dairy farm and creamery in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom because their family had ties to the land there for over 100 years, summering at nearby Caspian Lake. They wanted to create a sustainable agricultural business that would revive the working landscape of Vermont, which was being decimated by industrial agriculture, a type of agri-business that prizes production and output over everything else. Vermont’s small family-owned dairy farms were closing at unprecedented rates as gigantic commercial dairy farms in the midwest and arid west were taking more market share and driving the cost of milk down to below the point where small farmers can make a living. They bought ‘the old Jasper Hill Farm’ in 1998, and worked for five years to restore the barn, start a herd of Ayrshire dairy cows, and build a creamery to make cheese. They began making cheese from their own herd in 2003 and instantly met with much acclaim, but it was a call from Cabot Creamery that would change everything.
Cabot Creamery, one of the oldest and largest cheese and butter making cooperatives in the country, heard of Jasper Hill’s success in the artisan cheese world – a world that they wanted gain entry to, but were having trouble reaching due to the fact that none of their cheese aging facilities had the capacity to age a British-style bandaged cheddar. All of Cabot’s cheeses are aged in cryovac plastic bags, and are completely devoid of mold. The idea of making a natural rind, clothbound cheddar cheese that would encourage mold growth in their facility was not something they could undertake themselves.
Cabot Creamery is one of America’s most venerable dairy institutions. Begun by 94 Vermont farmers in 1919 who each contributed $5 per cow plus a cord of firewood for the boiler, they purchased the village creamery and began turning their excess milk into butter and fluid milk that could be shipped to urban centers. Over the years, the cooperative evolved, and they added cheese to their repertoire. Cabot Creamery is not a ‘fancy’ cheese manufacturer, but extremely pragmatic and effective in it’s business initiatives – today they support over 1,200 farm families throughout New England.
They shipped a few test wheels of this new cheddar to Jasper Hill Farm to be bound in cheesecloth and aged. The Kehler brothers aged the cheeses for over a year before sending a wheel to the American Cheese Society competition, an annual gathering for American cheesemakers and cheese sellers. Cabot Clothbound Cheddar won ‘Best in Show’ that year, and the Kehlers returned to the farm determined to find a way to expand the production of this newly crowned wunder-cheese.
The idea they hit upon was the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm – a 22,000 square foot aging facility with seven different temperature and humidity controlled vaults dug into the hillside next to the creamery and farm. By building the Cellars, they could age and sell infinitely more Cabot Clothbound Cheddar AND allow new artisan cheesemakers to get into the game by aging cheese for them as well. More than 70% of the labor in making cheese goes into the aging of it, and by easing that burden for cheesemakers, they allowed their partner creameries to focus on what matters most – animal health, quality milk, and great cheesemaking techniques. In addition to aging cheeses from Jasper Hill Farm and Cabot Creamery, the Cellars now ages and markets cheese from four other creameries. But according to the folks at The Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm – Cabot Clothbound Cheddar is what keeps the lights on – the company remains a powerful economic engine for cheese, dairy, and Vermont’s working landscape.
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar is cave aged for between 12 and 14 months. When the cheese first arrives at the Cellars from Cabot Creamery, each wheel is bandaged in cloth and painted with hot lard to make the cloth wrapping adhere to the surface of the cheese. As the wheels of cheese mature, they are turned and brushed several times per month, which encourages the rind to develop evenly. Jasper Hill Farm’s sensory analysis team tastes through each batch repeatedly as it is aging in order to decide when to put it out into the world for sale. Signature flavor profiles of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar include chicken broth, egg yolk, bright acidity, caramelly sweetness, fruity, and meaty/umami. Each batch is slightly different, but this wide range of flavor makes for a delicious treat every time!
By buying and serving Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, you are supporting this virtuous cycle, and eating some pretty incredible cheese!