A Utopian Creamery at Cobb Hill Cheese

Cobb Hill Cheese, the makers of Ascutney Mountain, is more than a creamery—it's an essential component of an intentional community in Hartland, Vermont, that was founded with the values of sustainability, collective governance, and "living lightly on the earth." About 50 residents, clustered in 23 houses on five acres of land, make up the community called Cobb Hill CoHousing. They get discounted access to the farm's produce, maple syrup, foraged mushrooms, firewood, compost, and Cobb Hill's delicious cheese. Sales from the creamery also help support the community. It's a beautiful union of agricultural life with the social benefits of dense housing, and the cheese is one of a kind.

Ascutney Mountain is Cobb Hill Cheese's flagship, and it tastes a bit like many of our favorite aged styles. There are Gruyere hazelnut notes, some cave-aged cheddar funk, and the complex sweetness of a rustic gouda. Pineapple and butterscotch flavors emerge as it ages for eight to ten months, and its grassy, buttery qualities and deep yellow color reflect quality milk from Cobb Hill's herd of Jersey cows.

New England has a long history of intentional communities with grand ideals. In the 19th century, dozens of utopian groups sprang up in the region with varying degrees of collective living and working. Cobb Hill is a more grounded setup than those communes. While members have some shared responsibilities, "people can participate at whatever level they want to," says resident Kerry Gawalt, who's one of the owners of the farm and creamery. "They can get 75% of their food from here if they want. There's the benefit of seeing your land cared for, and the community can benefit from using the land."

In addition to the farm, a working forest offers maple syrup, mushrooms, timber, and firewood. Cobb Hill's homes are heated by wood burning stoves, and Gawalt notes that many of the residents have tiny plots of their own "victory gardens." Residents carry out shared responsibilities like feeding the furnaces, shoveling snow, or moving firewood. "We try to do everything by consensus," Gawalt says. "There are a lot of committees."

Lisa Marchetti is the new cheesemaker at Cobb Hill, who in March 2023 took over for longtime maker and resident Jeanine Kilbride after she retired. Over 15 years, Marchetti has worked on homesteads and at farmstead creameries from California to Massachusetts. "I had an awakening to fresh food and being connected to where it comes from," she says of her time working and living on farms, "and felt the stark contrast of being disconnected from my sources of food and water when I lived in New York." For Marchetti, "Cobb Hill embodies a lot of the realistic possibilities of what living off the land can be."

Marchetti says there's something special about making cheese just footsteps from where the cows graze. "I see animals every day through the milking parlor while making cheese," she says. "I want to support whole systems, and working here feels like being a part of a complete system. It means a lot to me to be a part of this process of making such a great product from such a great place."

In addition to Ascutney Mountain, Cobb Hill also produces a range of cheddar, gouda, havarti, and caerphilly, a Welsh style of crumbly cheese similar to cheddar. Marchetti has been experimenting with new cultures and techniques to "accentuate the flavor and quality of each of the cheeses' natural rinds." She's also tried out some flavorings, including a dill-flecked havarti and an Ascutney studded with caraway seeds.

Marchetti hadn't tried Cobb Hill's flagship cheese before she interviewed with Gawalt onsite. "I was blown away when I first tasted Ascutney Mountain," she says. "I especially like getting to taste it at different levels of aging, now that I get to holds its hand as it grows to maturity."

Saxelby Cheesemongers is happy to offer a new arrival for us: an extra aged version of Ascutney Mountain that's matured for a few months beyond the usual eight to ten months. Additional time in Cobb Hill's cave affords the cheese a flaky, parmesan-like texture and concentrated sage and thyme flavor. We're excited to see how it continues to develop, as well as and Cobb Hill's community, which completed construction of its homes 22 years ago. Good cheese—and communities—take time, and at Cobb Hill, the future looks bright for both.

Try Ascutney Mountain and Ascutney Mountain Reserve from Cobb Hill Cheese!

Farm photos courtesy of Cobb Hill Cheese.

Follow @saxelbycheese

© 2024 Saxelby Cheesemongers | Art Direction by Alexandra Hammond