The Challerhocker Label: An Investigation, Part II

Welcome back to our continuing investigation into the true nature of Challerhocker Boy, he of alarmingly intense eye contact and smiling-but-in-an-unsettling-way mouthparts. Here’s where we left things: after many sleepless nights and dog-chewed pants legs, we received our first legitimate lead in the case. This came in the form of Columbia Cheese’s Glenn Hills, the US importer of Challerhocker and also, therefore, of the likeness of its terrifying Boy. Glenn agreed to speak with me and provide any help he could. Did he have answers? In short, yes. But that doesn’t solve anything.

Upon first hearing of Glenn Hills, I was taken by his wonderful name. As we all know, glenn is the Gaelic term for a narrow, gently sloping valley, typically one with a romantic run of water moving through it. By virtue of being valleys, glenns converge downward. In other words, they are the direct opposite of hills, which rise and converge upward. How can two such concepts be reconciled within one man? What powers must he have? What other paradoxes might he contain? Suddenly I had many more questions to ask.

“Hello, this is Glenn” he said when I called him.

“Glenn, are you able to chew on cotton candy before it dissolves?” I asked.

“Excuse me?”

“What is it like? I must know.”

“Oh, right. I get this question a lot. Imagine, if you can, a perfectly medium-rare steak with the flavor of bubble gum. It’s kind of like that.”

“Magnificent,” I whispered.

“I’d also like to note,” Glenn said, “for the record, that this part of the conversation never actually happened and that you are completely fabricating it due having an overactive imagination within a mind that has difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. Please put that in whatever it is you are writing.”

“We’ll let the readers draw their own conclusions, Glenn.”

Upon speaking further, it became clear that Glenn is a fantastically kind and helpful individual, and so thoroughly decent that I would be remiss if I did not myself state that no questions were in fact asked about cotton candy and none of the heretofore conversation took place. I vow to henceforth maintain my journalistic and investigative integrity and not bring in blatantly false or misleading lines of narrative.

Instead, I will tell you what Glenn told me about Challerhocker and the Boy. First, lets discuss the name. Challerhocker does indeed roughly translate to sitting in the cellar. Or, if you want to mimic the sound of the name, we can say that it means Cellar Dweller. In that translation, the word can be thought of with a slightly pejorative connotation. “Imagine,” Glenn said (actually, this time), “someone in their parents’ basement playing World of Warcraft. That can be a Challerhocker.”

This, perhaps, is our first inroad into the psyche of Boy. He may indeed be a World of Warcraft gamer, so thoroughly and enthusiastically so that it appears he’s begun to channel the spirit of a troll from within the game. He’s a child whose imagination is active and unboundedly alive.

But how is it that Challerhocker even acquired its name in the first place? According to Glenn, it was but one of the potential candidates that Walter Rass dreamed up for his cheese. In total, he developed fifteen options. Then he took those names to the town architect. The architect liked Challerhocker for a name, and it was he who then conceived of the label. Boy is an architectural design.

“To them,” Glenn told me, the boy is just smiling. He’s coming out of the cellar to announce the cheese is ready. End of story.”

But the end of the story is really only the beginning of the mystery. Who is this architect, and why did he draw his Boy to look as though he’s finished feeding on the cheese and is now breaking through a prison wall to hunt for brains? In short, though we now know who created the Challerhocker Boy, the greater question remains: why does he interpret happiness to look like this?

That is the question I put to Glenn, who confessed that he could not say. What he could do, however, is put me in touch with his Swiss counterpart, the man who exports Challerhocker to the United States. So, reader, our investigation continues. Can you smell it? That is the scent of progress. We are on our way. Boy has so fully consumed me that I imagine I’d be having nightmares in which he comes for me. Perhaps one upside of losing so much sleep over this is avoiding such terror. Please stay tuned as we continue charging onward.

A Special Dispatch from Jasper Hill Farm

Editor’s note: A few weeks ago, we posted about our recent visit to Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlet, Vermont. After our visit, we made our way north to Greensboro, home of Jasper Hill Farm. We were going to do a write up on that too, but a young lady at Jasper Hill asked if we’d post something she wrote. So instead, we will be featuring her as a guest blogger. Her post is below.


My name is Maple, and I like you. A lot. Please pet me.

I am, how do you humans say? Ah yes, The Best. And the prettiest. And the humblest too. Also, I am very young. Just six months! It’s so lovely to be young and pretty, isn’t it? It can easily go to your head. At least I’d imagine. I’m too humble for that. Tee hee!

I am the first heifer to be raised at Jasper Hill. It’s a great place to grow up! If you’d allow, I would like to give you a tour of my home.


This is where I live:

Beautiful, no? I spend most of my time hanging out in the open space between the two barns. Well, it’s much more than just hanging out; I suppose I was being humble again. Really I spend most of my time in that open space studying. I want to learn to make the best cheese possible, and I take my duties very seriously. And I’d probably be much more productive if I didn’t share the space with a pair of frenetic goats. There’s always kidding around. That was a pun. They are teaching me a little how to joke. Ha ha!

Most of my mentors live in the blue barn. My goal is to one day grow up to provide milk as rich and flavorful as theirs. And I tell ya, the folks at Jasper are doing a real good job turning it into incredible cheese. Just look at what’s happening in their caves!


Such wonder in those cellars! That’s Bayley Hazen right when it’s pierced, and then as it’s getting its blue on. And then stacks on stacks of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. And finally, my pal Joe wrapping green Harbisons in spruce cambium. When you walk into his cellar, there’s soothing folk music bouncing off the walls, with the most pleasing acoustics. I certainly do not take for granted that I get to live at one of the most state-of-the-art, innovative, standard bearing artisanal cheese facilities in the whole country. I’m a real lucky duck. Joking again! As you know, I’m actually a cow.

At the very end of January, some humans from Murray’s came up to visit. They were tasting through all that Cabot Clothbound, selecting the batches that they want to sell. One of the things I’ve learned in my studies is that we here at Jasper actually have four distinct flavor profiles for our Cabot Clothbound. For example, one profile is Umami & Roasted, and it has a spidergraph that looks like this:

You can, in fact, read all about those flavor profiles here.

Murray’s, however, hand-selects their own wheels, not based on our profiles but rather on their own. They look for a deep, caramelized, almost candied sweetness. And they come up to the farm every quarter to do just that. Which is exciting for me, because everyone who visited was so great! Especially the copywriter, who is so cool and fun and has toned muscles.

I’d love to tell you more, but I want to hit the books some more before the sun goes down. Better get a moo’ve on. Ha ha! I had a lot of fun writing this letter to all you fine people and hope to get invited to do another one soon. Thanks for reading!


Remebering Robert Berthaut

Sad news out of France this week: Robert Berthaut—the man responsible for reviving the iconic washed rind cheese Epoisses—passed away on Monday, at the age of 94. For sixty year, Berthaut’s family farm has been the world’s leading Epoisses producer, and the man himself was instrumental in getting the cheese protected designation of origin status in 1991.

Epossies was first created in the early 1500s, and it enjoyed rarefied status in France for centuries after. Napoleon was partial to it. It was dubbed the “king of all cheeses” by none other than Brillat-Savarin himself. Such superlatives go on and on.

But by the end of World War II, production of the cheese had all but ceased. The war had a particularly detrimental effect on the cheese’s namesake village, where the population dropped significantly. It wasn’t but fifty years earlier that more than 300 farms had been producing the Epoisses, and now none did.

Then, in 1956, Berthaut and his wife, Simone, decided to make a few wheels in the cellar of their home. They got the recipe from his aunt. The idea was that they’d use milk from their own cows and just have the cheese for themselves. But it turned out well—really well—and they began selling it in the small grocery they ran. It developed a reputation in town, and then word spread as tourists coming to visit the Epoisses castle would discover the cheese and tell tale of it back home. It wasn’t long until Robert and Simone shifted the focus of their lives to the production of Epoisses, and, thanks to them, the cheese was rescued from obsolescence and has since regained its status as one of France’s most celebrated wheels.

And well it should—Epoisses is straight up delicious. It is washed in a local brandy, marc de Bourgogne, and made according to very exacting milk standards and make processes. What results is a runny, smeary, custardy paste contained within a sticky orange rind, which is itself housed in a cylindrical wooden shell, so as to encourage the gooey cheese to maintain its shape. Pop the lid off and you’re going to get smells to roasted peanut skin. Cut back some rind, go right in with a spoon, and you’ll get flavors of rich lardo and salty, yeasty, slightly fermented bread. It’s hard to argue against Brillat-Savarin’s assessment.

And after 60 years, Fromagerie Berthaut remains far and away the world’s primary Epoisses producer. Our hearts go out to the town of Epoisses and the Berthaut family. We’ll be thinking of them this week and celebrating Robert by popping open one of his signature wooden cylinders.

The Challerhocker Label: An Investigation, Part I

Every day for the last three weeks, my evening routine has been the same: I get home from work, pet my bichon for five minutes in complete silence, and open up my computer to continue cracking away at a mystery that has been eating at me. At the center of the mystery is a Swiss man named Walter Räss, and I am determined to find him.

Walter is a cheesemaker. He lives in northeast Switzerland, in the small village of Tufertschwil, where he runs a cheese dairy. Walter began by producing Appenzeller, some 25 years ago, and he got very, very good at it. One day, his brother-in-law imported a herd of Jersey cows to Switzerland, as brothers-in-law are wont to do, and Walter was asked to produce a cheese with their milk. This was tricky. Jerseys produce milk that is higher in fat content than the Brown Swiss breed native to the Alps. Appenzeller is made by skimming the lower-fat Brown Swiss milk. Instead, Walter left the Jersey milk unskimmed and added rennet that he made himself, along with some yogurt-based cultures developed by his wife Annelies. Once formed into wheels, he left his cheese to sit in the cellar.

As the cheese aged, its flavor moved from ‘eh’ to ‘hot-diggity-dog.’ It had the aroma of cooked custard, the flavor of butterscotch and slowly roasted hazelnuts, and a lingering, almost fruity finish. He called this cheese Challerhocker, which translates roughly to “sitting in the cellar,” just as the cheese itself did.

Imagine yourself as a child again, reader. You are young and hungry, and you are also Swiss now, so you’re probably doing something like abstaining from war or becoming multilingual. Your town cheesemaker has been aging a new cheese, something he promises to be wonderfully tasty, as he’s using the milk of a cow that’s never seen this type of country before. You’ve been waiting patiently for the cheese to mature, and now you’ve gone to check on it and found it has fully done so. “Hooray,” you exclaim. Or, “Urrà,” in Italian, because you can. And then you run to the window of the cellar to proclaim to your town, which has never sent someone off to a combat zone, that the day has arrived. Imagine how happy and beaming you must be. You live in peace, sometimes you dream in Portuguese, which is probably pretty cool, and now your cheese is ready. What glory might you be radiating? What pure joy and glee might be evident upon your face for all your fellow citizens to see?

You are invited to close your eyes and picture that scene.

Go on.

Does it, perchance, look something like this?

challerhocker alpine cheese boy label

For me, the answer is no. When I was a happy child, I looked quite precious. I bet you did too. I did not look like I was rapt in demonic possession or blood lust. But apparently I have been reading this child all wrong, because the only thing he’s possessed by is the wonder of cheese and the only thing he’s lusting for is a slice of nutty, roasty Challerhocker. That is the story behind this child, known as Challerhocker Boy, who appears on the label of the cheese.

And that is what has kept me up each night, the dog nipping at my pants leg, the groceries remaining uncooked. What is this supposed version of happiness? Who does it belong to? How can what is claimed to be such glee in fact look like such terror? Each night I comb the internet for answers until I fall asleep on my keyboard, sending out a stream of zeroes into infinity. And each morning I wake up exhausted, confused, and no closer to the answer.

And then yesterday, one of my coworkers could not keep from commenting.

“Hey pal, you’ve been looking a little rough lately,” she said. “Everything okay?”

I told her about Challer Boy and my fraying pant legs and how I am no closer to any answer and, therefore, to any sleep.

At which point she said, “Well you should talk to Glenn Hills at Columbia Cheese. They import Challerhocker exclusively and Glenn knows Walter really well. He might have some answers.”

There is an obvious question, and you may be asking it yourself right now: After so many evenings of research, did it not ever occur to you to get in touch with the supplier?

Reader, the answer is no. I am tenacious, and determined, and a tried and true turophile. But I don’t critical think real good. Nevertheless, I am scheduled to speak with Glenn this weekend. Progress, it seems, will finally begin to be made. Stay tuned next week,  as we continue this investigation into the inner life of the Challer Boy. We will find out what is happening behind those eyes, behind that tomato-shaped face, behind what are unequivocally the most unadorable dimples I have ever seen. And we will get there together.

Notes from the Caves: Preamble

This is a cheese we call Preamble:

murray's cheese caves preamble

This is also Preamble:

murray's cheese caves preamble cheese

Here, too, is Preamble:

murray's cheese caves preamble

And this as well is Preamble:

not preamble

Okay, that last one is musician and producer Pharrell Williams, who is not a cheese. But you see the thread: none of these things look like the others. So how can all of them be Preambles (except, again, for Pharrell, who, so far as we are aware, is not made of coagulated milk)? The answer is that Preamble is not a cheese. It is an idea.


Have a seat. If you need, take a moment to put the contents of your mind back together. We promise it all makes sense. Let us explain.

Our flagship store is on Bleecker Street in the West Village of Manhattan, but our offices are across the East River in Long Island City. This is also where we have our cheese caves, a network of custom-built, highly-controlled aging rooms, each one designed for the a certain type of cheese. We have a room for alpine cheese. We have a room for bloomy cheese. We have a natural rind room. We have one for washed rinds. And we have a drying room as well. That’s a decent amount of real estate and a whole host of unique climates, which allows our Caves team, lead by Cavemaster Peter Jenkelunas, to play around with different types of aging. When we are doing R&D on a new cheese, we need a way to classify it. So, how do you categorize a cheese that is not yet a cheese? We use the word Preamble.

That first photo? That’s Preamble 1.0. The others are Preamble 2.0, Preamble 3.0, and Preamble Pharrell.0. When PJ and team hit on a creation they like, we make it available as a limited-release test batch. Perhaps you’ve gotten a few emails in the past month for these releases. When you do, it’s always worth striking while the iron is hot, because Preamble cheeses have a way of proverbially flying off the shelf.

You may have noticed that the non-Pharrell cheeses are all of similar shape and size. That’s because those three all began as the same cheese: Little Hosmer from Jasper Hill Farm. They sent us down a batch and said, “Go wild.” And so PJ & Co. did. Version 1.0 is dressed in flowers and hops. 2.0 is washed in mead. 3.0 is soaked in mead and then wrapped in grape leaves. While they naturally share similar properties, each of these Preambles is distinct and unique.

Will every Preamble begin as a Little Hosmer? Hardly. We’re just getting started with this program—you can expect to see Preambles of all different shapes, sizes, textures, oversized felt hats, and so on. So be sure to keep an eye out. In fact, we have a release lined up for Monday that you can get your hands on if you act with conviction and swiftness.

We’ll be bringing you more notes from the caves here each month, so stay tuned.

Til then, keep calm and remain

pharrell is still not a cheese