Over the course of the fifteen years, Jasper Hill Farm has experienced propitious success as an artisan cheesemaker. From its humble roots in the picturesque climes of Northern Vermont, where the company’s founders, Andy and Mateo Kehler, established their cheesemaking roots, the company has extended its reach, growing to become a burgeoning specialty cheese operation.
Jasper Hill Farm has, in the last ten years, gone from its first experiments in aging cheese to producing some of the world’s best aged cheeses, supplying iconic cheeses like Harbison, a perennial award-winner at many of the nation’s most prestigious cheese contests. I recently had the opportunity to correspond with Zoe Brickley, Director of Marketing, to learn more about Jasper Hill Farm, the challenges and rewards of scaling up its artisan cheese operations, and the qualities that make the company’s cheeses so sought after.
Q: Can you tell me, briefly, about the history of Jasper Hill Farm? When and how did the company come about? Who founded Jasper Hill?
Zoe Brickley: Brothers Andy and Mateo Kehler sold their first piece of artisan cheese in 2003. Their goal was to realize the greatest value of the milk from a rocky hillside farm in Greensboro, Vermont. An early cave-aging collaboration with the region's Cabot Cooperative created an opportunity to invest in a piece of infrastructure that would help others lower the barriers of entry to cave-aged cheesemaking.
Today the Cellars at Jasper Hill marks its tenth year of ripening and representing a line of cheese that supports a working landscape. Jasper Hill has started a second creamery and purchased a second dairy farm in addition to building an innovative cropping center, all dedicated to creating cheese that reflects a taste of place. More here.
Q: What would you say is the ethos behind the company?
ZB: Jasper Hill Farm's mission is to be the standard bearer of quality and innovation in the artisan cheese industry. The team of herdsmen, cheesemakers, and affineurs tends to choose the 'path of more resistance'; quality is prioritized over efficiency. Raw milk cheese is at the heart of the mission; its place-based complexity creates the most value and integrity in the finished product.
Q: Tell me a little bit about Jasper Hill’s recent victory at ACS: Can you describe the experience of taking home top honors at the Judging & Competition?
ZB: It is a huge honor. Every year the quality of cheeses entered gets better and better. To be recognized for keeping pace with this trend in quality is a meaningful recognition for us. It feels great to have a team that is all tuned-up and crushing their (challenging) jobs with energy and curiosity.
Q: Would it be fair to call Jasper Hill “a cheesemaker’s cheesemaker?" To what do you attribute the company’s prodigious success with ACS’s tremendously well-qualified judges?
ZB: Our medium scale has allowed us to cultivate staff that can specialize and focus all along the production process. From the cropping team through to the sensory team we've been able to develop our collective expertise in the direction of place-based deliciousness. Our commitment to raw milk cheese makes this focus necessary in order to make cheese safely that works in today's dynamic specialty market.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about Harbison in particular? What makes Harbison such a unique fixture on the American cheesemaking scene?
ZB: Harbison really tastes like something. The moisture and pH is the perfect canvas for our culture blend to bloom into big, interesting flavors. The resulting texture from this type of soft-ripening is very soft, which makes for a dramatic presentation when the top is sliced and the paste is scooped out from the 'dish' created by a band of locally harvested spruce bark. The spruce also adds woodsy depth to the mushroom, garlic, and roasted green vegetable flavors. In short, its beautiful looking, extremely tasty, and fun to serve and eat.
Q: How is Jasper Hill building on its successes now that the company is reaching a kind of “maturity”? What is in the works in terms of increased production, distribution, product assortment?
ZB: Though Jasper Hill does things the hard way, if it leads to deliciousness, the company also uses new technology for the sake of increasing complexity, when possible, or to eliminate the tedious and costly aspects of production that don't directly contribute to quality. Jasper Hill has an onsite lab dedicating to studying and leveraging indigenous microflora with a goal of reducing dependence on commercial cultures.
The Cropping Center is scaled to a point where it can feed more of the cows that keep the landscape vibrant with year-round local forage. We hope to transition more farms in the area to cheese milk production, and incubate new creameries to support them. We expect that this means focusing on continuing to develop quality and customization with our existing cheese line, while gradually developing new cheeses that capture the most possible value from the milk.
For more on exceptional companies in the dairy, deli, bakery, and specialty food space, keep reading Deli Market News.