Notes from our Jasper Hill Cheese Camp Correspondent

Last week, we sent some of our mongers on a journey into chilly Greensboro, Vermont to attend Cheese Camp at Jasper Hill Farm. This long weekend intensive is an amazing opportunity for mongers to see the cheese making and aging process first hand from the knowledgeable staff at one of America’s most dynamic and successful cheese operations. Ian Pearson, Head Monger at Murray’s Cheese Bar, was part of the Murray’s group who attended Cheese Camp. He snapped some photos throughout the weekend and wrote about the experience.

Snowy and chilled on the outside, but filled with warming, delicious cheese on the inside. This is how I spent most of Cheese Camp at Jasper Hill Farm. There were a dozen of us, cheesemongers from all over, braving Vermont’s biggest snowstorm in years to learn what we could from this cutting-edge American creamery. The experience was admittedly nerdy, but the kind of nerdiness you should expect from your cheesemonger— a voracious appetite for not only the crème de la crème of cultured curd, but also the knowledge of how it’s made.

Needless to say, like the protein clumping in a cheese’s make, instant bonds were formed. Over morning cups of coffee and evening beers, as we shoveled each other’s cars out, before shuffling into Jasper Hill’s classroom, where conversations about cheese flowed over one another.  They seemed to only ever abide when one of our instructors spoke.

Most mornings, Zoe Brickley, Jasper Hill’s Education Wizard (title mine), loaded us with awe-inspiring presentations— spanning everywhere from milk theory and herd management to successful pairing, with large doses of microbiology and good practices thrown in for measure. She readily answered our most obtuse questions: like how the enzymatic make-up of various types of rennet could potentially alter flavor (quite a bit) or where a specific species’ identifiable flavor comes from (it’s in the fat). I told you this got nerdy.

For the cheesemaking itself, we ambled on down to the Vermont Food Venture Center, where Matt Spiegler and his crew were whipping up a beautiful batch of Harbison. Unfortunately, cameras weren’t allowed here or in the caves for safety reasons, but believe you me, as vats of fresh-cut curd were poured into their molds and the whey expelled, there wasn’t a mouth in the room that wasn’t salivating. Matt thankfully recognized this and handed out milky-sweet bits for us to taste.

The caves, seven of them jutting into the namesake hill from the creamery’s central axis, are a place of cheese worship. Affineur Adam Smith ushered us through each one, where rows of Moses Sleeper are doted on and countless wheels of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar age into the best versions of themselves, as music is piped in from mobile soundsystems to encourage happy ripening.  This is where I belong, I thought to myself, and I quietly cried a little with joy.

On our final day, after waving goodbye to the cows and whispering promises to one-day return, we made our way to Vermont Creamery. There, Sam Hooper, son of co-founder Allison, led us through the sprawling facilities that continue to grow since their inception in 1984, remaining true to the mission of providing gorgeous dairy products and supporting local family farms. We filled up on cultured buttered and chevre to sustain us through the journey home, with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the cheese and makers that continue to inspire us everyday.

To shop through our selection of Jasper Hill cheeses follow this link, and find all our favorite Vermont Creamery treats here! Also, stop by Murray’s Cheese Bar in the West Village sometime to experience Ian’s cheese plate mastery.

 

Science Has Decided: Wine & Cheese are Meant to Be

Once again, science has proven something we already know: cheese makes wine taste better! We’ve been pushing wine and cheese pairings for basically forever, but now we’ve got some cold hard facts about how and why wine and cheese were meant to be. 

 

Thanks to the Journal of Food Science, we learned about a study where locals from the wine-loving town of Dijon, France snacked on cheese and wine over five days, then gave some feedback about what they experienced and tasted. The wine contenders: Pancherenc, Sancerre, Bourgogne, and Madiran. The cheeses: Epoisses, Comte, Roquefort, and Crottin de Chavignol. Each of the wines were tasted with and without cheese, and low and behold – no one disliked any of the wines paired with the cheeses. Actually, the participants reported that the wine tasted even BETTER when it was being munched on with some cheese.

The cheese increased the aroma of the wine for the better, and decreased the duration of the acidity of the red wines – basically, the wine smelled better and tasted less bitter. The cheese had no negative impact on the wines, which should make all of you cheeselovers happy. Science says pair your wine with any cheese you like, and who are we to argue? While we love perfecting wine and cheese pairings, you can’t go wrong with no matter what wine or cheese you pick.

Want more info on how to pair wine and cheese together? Take our Wine & Cheese 101 class! 

Diamonds are a Cheese’s Best Friend

Have you ever seen a piece of Parm, waiting in your local cheese shop, like a sparkling diamond? Wait, is it actually sparkling? You’re probably wondering what those little crystals, sprinkled over the paste of your cheese are. Or maybe you’ve bitten into a super aged cheddar, only to have a bit of crispy crunch break in. Maybe you love that little crunch – asking your monger for the “crunchies” whenever you visit the shop. Those little cheese diamonds, they’re a cheese lover’s best friend. They’re also known as tyrosine crystals. But how do they get there? Are they a flaw in the cheese or a sign of cheese mastery? We’ll lay it out for you.

The word tyrosine comes from the Greek word ‘tyros’, which, of course, means cheese. These crunchy clusters only appear on well-aged cheeses – that’s because they form over time, as cheese ages and the proteins start breaking down. If you want the more scientific answer, stay with us for a sec:

Cheese is made up of fats and proteins that are trapped in a matrix of proteins (think of it as a big spider web of protein molecules). As cheese ages, the chains of proteins break down, creating these small, crunchy amino acid clusters that are left behind. This shouldn’t be confused with the salty crunch left on the outside of washed rind cheeses – that’s residual salt left over from a brine wash. These tyrosine crystals stay on the paste, adding a delightful crunch to cheeses with a normally smooth paste.

Now, we’re talking about these little gemstones like they’re good things. But are they something cheesemakers are going for or are they a mistake in the process? Well, it depends on who you ask. For a long time, especially in the United States, these little crystals were seen as a defect – because of the appearance of tyrosine crystals, big cheese factories worried that the cheese would look moldy and get tossed in the trash. But nowadays, more people are seeing these cheese diamonds as the sign of a well-aged, delicious cheese that is full-flavored and complex. Our mongers hardly go a day without having someone ask for “crunchy cheese”.

From a delightful aged Gouda like Roomano, to the King of Cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, you’ll find crunchy crystallization of all kinds. Since Valentine’s Day is on the way, let’s forgo the diamonds and sub them out for cheese diamonds. Your cheeseloving lovers will go crazy for them.