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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jasper Hill Farm's sexy, stinky Winnimere

Cheese, much like produce, changes according to the season. In winter months, due to the change in diet from grass to hay and less exercise, dairy cows produce a milk that is richer and higher in fat. This change in milk makes it perfect for making soft, creamy cheeses. One of my favorite seasonal creamy cheeses is Winnimere from Jasper Hill Farm.

High up in the northwest kingdom of Vermont, in the small idyllic town of Greensboro, lies Jasper Hill Farm. Started early this century by Andy and Mateo Kehler, Jasper Hill has become a model for up-and-coming producers.

I first came to know Mateo and Jasper Hill cheese in 2003 while working at Murray's cheese counter. I quickly became a fan of Mateo's cheeses, and have been fortunate enough to visit the farm on occasion and develop a friendship with the cheese makers. Jasper Hill has produced many favorites that have become staples at cheese counters around the nation.

Cheeses produced on the farm are Constant Bliss, Moses Sleeper and Bayley Hazen Blue. Each cheese's name has a tie to farm history: Constant Bliss and Moses Sleeper were a pair of Revolutionary soldiers that were killed on Bayley Hazen Road, which cuts through the middle of the farm.

In 2008, Jasper Hill started an aging center called the Cellars at Jasper Hill. The Cellars age cheeses from around Vermont until they reach perfection. Shipping all of the cheeses from one location cuts down on shipping expenses for retail stores and makes small Vermont artisan cheeses more available.

One of the latest creations from Jasper Hill is Winnimere. Winnimere is a seasonal washed-rind cow's milk cheese that begins production in late December, is ready for release in mid-February and is available until early summer. Winnimere is made from the milk of Jasper Hill's small herd of Ayrshire cows. It's washed with a special wash named Winni-beer, which is made at the nearby Hill Farmstead Brewery, and bound with a band of spruce that's harvested on the farm.

Washing a cheese during aging encourages the bacteria growth that breaks down the cheese, making it soft and creamy. Washed-rind cheeses have a pinkish or red rind and usually give off a pungent aroma (often known as the "stinky cheeses"). Other examples of washed-rind cheeses are Vacherin Mont d'Or (which was the influence for Winnimere), Époisses, Taleggio and Grayson.

Winnimere gives off a sweet, earthy aroma and has a complex flavor profile that includes fresh milk, nuts and a finish of smoky bacon.

Winnimere only appears for a few months and will disappear around early May. It's not cheap; the cheese usually retails for around $34 per pound, but I promise it's worth it. To taste it is to sample one of the greatest examples of artisan cheese making anywhere.

Tim is a former cop who now hangs out behind the cheese counter at Star Provisions, where he's the cheese & specialty buyer.

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