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Grafton Village Cheese - Bear Hill

February 1, 2017

If the team at Grafton Village Cheese need to change, update or check in on their sheep's milk order, it’s not as simple as a call or an email. “Well, we usually email a neighbor down the street who delivers the message to the farm and then they borrow her phone to call us back in the next day or two.” Vince Razionale, Grafton’s Cave Program and Sensory Analysis Director, explained the unorthodox process. The farm that produces the pristine sheep’s milk used for award winning Bear Hill Cheese is an Amish community in upstate New York. They don’t use phones or computers, their farm operates completely on man and animal power and all the sheep are milked by hand. Deliveries happen weekly by another neighbor named Frank – luckily, Frank has a phone.  

Bear Hill Cheese is a washed-rind alpine style cave-aged cheese made from 100% sheep’s milk – an unusual choice for the style. Bear Hill has been sweeping competitions, winning categories at the 2016 International Cheese Awards, World Cheese Awards and the Big E Gold Medal Cheese Competition. Most recently, Bear Hill won the top honor at the Good Food Awards in California this past month. “This award was unique,” Vince shared, “the judges takes a hard look at animal husbandry and sustainability along with taste.” A long application is submitted by the cheesemaker and details are then verified by the award committee. They look at animal welfare, hormone and GMO feed usage, repurposing of byproduct and other sustainability criteria. The committee verification proved slightly challenging for Vince with the farm communication hurdles, but the team was able to get the information they needed to deem Bear Hill Cheese a competition winner!

Why haven’t we seen this prize-winning cheese at our favorite shops? The Bear Hill recipe has been made at Grafton for years, but unfortunately, it hasn’t been available commercially for some time. The cheese was on hiatus for a couple of years due to inconsistent milk supplies. Now that their sheep farm partners can send milk regularly, Bear Hill will hopefully be available this spring! Right now, the Grafton Cheese Caves are working their magic. Bear Hill is normally aged for 6-10 months, but the wheel that won the most recent honor was 17 months and “had a perfect balance of all complexities – nutty and sweet, with vegetal artichoke notes,” according to Vince. Will they age this next batch longer to try to recreate that result? “Maybe,” Vince divulged, “there’s a complex array of reasons why a cheese ages the way it does. There’s a certain element of un-predictability and surprise in cheesemaking. That’s the magic.” 

Vermont swept the New England Cheese category this year at the Good Food Awards! Congratulations to the 3 winners - Grafton Village Cheese's Bear Hill, Vermont Creamery's Bonne Bouche, and Farms for City Kid's Reading.

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