When brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler started Jasper Hill Farm in 2003, the people from the surrounding area, they say, "stood by to watch the train wreck." But the train never wrecked. A decade later, the Kehler brothers can proudly take their place as leaders of a booming artisanal cheesemaking movement in northeastern Vermont. The brothers had spent their childhood summers in and around Greensboro, an idyllic rural village along the shores of secluded, sparkling Caspian Lake. Now they'd returned to find meaningful work in a place they love.
Today, The Cellars At Jasper Hill is a 22,000-square-foot labyrinth of vaults that sits beneath the pastures where the Kehler brothers raise their herd of Ayrshire cows. These are their cheese caves, temperature and humidity controlled, where they produce some of the tastiest and most in-demand new American farmstead cheeses. Although, this vast cheese kingdom wasn't created overnight.
After buying the farm in 1998, Mateo says, "We worked 14-hour days for 168 days in a row to start." A lot of that involved clearing the land of rubble so they could have a suitable place for cows to graze. They had to learn what the cows wanted to eat, and when, and how to herd them. Then there was the cheese-education process, trying to figure out which types of cheese needed which types of milk. Cheese is as intricate as wine and making it requires an elaborate dance between art and science -- what Mateo calls "the biochemical cascade of ripening cheese."
Their products include Harbison, a delicious bloomy-rind cheese wrapped in the bark of trees from the woods on the Jasper Hill property; Moses Sleeper, a complex cheese from a recipe developed by Mateo himself; and Winnimere, an amazingly creamy number made from protein-rich winter cow's milk and washed in beer. They are remarkable products borne from a true labor of love.
Jasper Hill Farm also uses a fascinating "Green Machine," an integrated biological waste and energy recovery system put together with the help of numerous government grants. The farm covers 100 acres of pasture and 160 acres of woodland, leading to a lot of potential for waste. But the Kehler brothers have developed a "whole system" approach to waste management, combining manure and liquid whey into compost using an anaerobic digester, which is then combined with excess methane in a rigorous and intricate set of processes.
"The implementation of this system has allowed us to better understand the nutrient and energy pathways on our farm, and to harness and repurpose those resources," their website reads. "As a pasture-based dairy farm, the health of our land and cows are integral to the health of the business as a whole. The new facility affords us more control over the elements that assure quality soil, grass and cows, so that we can continue to produce the best milk possible for our award-winning cheeses."
For these brothers, Jasper Hill is about "much more than making cheese," Mateo says. It's about respecting land, history, family and the environment. The cheese is just a wonderful bonus.
This video from Dark Rye was produced by Clyde Burley and edited by Marc Andonian.