The Cellars at Jasper Hill, in Vermont, built its considerable reputation on the power of the cow. Its cheeses have won dozens of awards and its products are like a greatest hits of American cheese plates: Harbison, Bayley Hazen Blue, the almighty Cabot Clothbound cheddar. These are the kinds of cheeses that even cheese skeptics will concede are simply too good to resist. The Cellars at Jasper Hill is, in other words, one of the most respected names in American cheesemaking, and so it is a very big deal (in certain circles) that, for the first time in the farm’s two-decade history, they’re venturing into goat cheese.
Called Eligo, and named for a lake near Jasper Hill, the first cheese, which is popping up at specialty cheese stores now, is a washed-rind double-whammy of goat’s milk and cow’s milk. The earthy flavor and creamy texture may tempt cheesemongers to compare it to Taleggio, and the nuanced, snack-able nature may tempt your average cheese-eater to compare it to their favorite cheeses ever.
Mateo Kehler, the co-owner of Jasper Hill, says the expansion into goats isn’t really about the animal itself, or even the cheese. It’s about working with farmers who are as passionate about cheese as he is. “It’s about people,” he shrugs.
In fact, the new cheeses are a 50-50 venture between Jasper Hill and celebrated California goat farmers Ryan Andrus and Annie Rowden. In 2018, Jasper Hill was able to purchase some land, the operations of a local dairy called Oak Knoll, and 550 or so goats, then began expanding its own operation to accommodate the new type of milk. Last fall, Andrus and his family moved to Bridgman Hill Farm, as they named the new operation. “This is their farm,” Kehler says. “They brought capital and expertise and a commitment to plug in to the community at large here, which is what we’re really building.”
As Andrus and Bridgman Hill’s goats adjusted to their new relationship, Kehler’s team began developing a line of three new cheeses. They played with creating goat-milk versions of favorites like Willoughby and Bayley Hazen but knew that they needed to create unique new cheeses to entice customers to buy “more cheese, not the same amount of different cheeses,” Kehler explains.
Alas, cheesemaking R&D is not exactly glamorous. “We had bitter and astringent and salty and gross,” Kehler laughs. “There are so many things that need to come together for a cheese to be delicious and only a couple things that need to go wrong for a cheese to be nasty.”
In addition to the Eligo, Jasper Hill will release two more cheeses in its goat lineup in the next six months or so at select shops like Saxelby in New York City, Formaggio Kitchen in Boston, and Antonelli’s in Austin, Texas. Next up is Bridgman Blue, which you’ll start to find in September and October, an entirely different kind of blue cheese than the creamery’s well-known Bayley Hazen, with a distinct flavor of goat’s milk. Then, Highlander, which will release in January, is a semi-hard raclette with fantastic melting qualities and a long texture.
For his part, Andrus says he’s particularly proud of the cheeses that are made with his goats’ milk. “The cheeses showcase all of these things farmers put forth every day but often are lost,” he says. “Quality, community, intention.”