What the Stanley Cup is to hockey, the Best in Show award from the American Cheese Society is to cheesemakers. And this year it went to Jasper Hill Farm for its Winnimere cheese. A rich creamy creation wrapped in cambium from spruce tree bark, found on the farm.
"This is wrapped around the cheese basically when the cheese is a day old. It helps the cheese keep its shape and also adds an interesting depth of flavor to the cheese, so you get this woodsy, dynamic flavor that you would never get from milk," said Vince Razionale of Jasper Hill Farm.
The creamy consistency is what sets this kind of cheese apart from its more dense cousins. Every batch made tastes a bit different.
"Some are more hammy and savory, some are more fruity and sweet, others are more oniony and garlicky-- a dynamic difference from day to day," Razionale said.
And that is because of the whole milk used from cows right here on the farm. What they eat also factors into the cheese. The Winnimere cheese is only made in the winter from milk from these 45 cows. The flavor of the cheese comes from the hay. The dry grass gives the milk a special note not present in green spring or summer grass.
Andy Kehler and his brother, Mateo, started Jasper Hill Farm 10 years ago. Along with this most recent award, Jasper Hill Farm's Bailey Hazen Blue cheese was recently served at a state dinner at the White House. Andy Kehler says the national recognition has been fantastic.
"I spend most of my days looking right up against the day to day activities, so winning an award like we did with the Winnimere was a validation for the work we put in day after day after day to not just make a good product but to create the kind of company that is based on continual improvement," he said.
And he says this cheese has three big things going for it.
"A unique cheese in the marketplace leaves a lasting impression and is hard to get," Kehler said.
The goal for Jasper Hill Farm is to build on their successes, and continue to make better cheeses, year after year.
Each wheel of Winnimere cheese weighs about 1.25-1.5 lbs. and sells for $20-$30 at specialty stores across the country.
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