During the month of May, in celebration of American Cheese Month, we’re spotlighting a few of our local cheesemakers. These small producers keep our cheese case well-stocked with their unique, handcrafted cheeses. Each one has a unique story and a true passion for the craft of cheesemaking.
A big thanks to our first cheesemaker interviewee of the month, Jeannine Kilbride. She is a partner, administrator, and head cheesemaker at Cobb Hill Farm in Hartland, Vermont. It’s always a busy time of year at the creamery! So we appreciate her taking the time to share with us the history of the farm and what makes their cheeses unique.
Q. What can you tell us about the history of the farm/community?
A. Cobb Hill Cheese began in 2000. When Cobb Hill was being built, farmers Kerry Gawalt and Stephen Leslie brought their cows with them when they moved to the Cobb Hill. Together with a few other community members, they decided to start making cheese with the milk.
Q. When and how did Cobb Hill first get into the cheese-making business?
A. Cobb Hill Cheese has been handcrafting artisan cheese on the farm in Hartland for over 20 years. We started out with our award-winning Ascutney Mountain Cheese, then developed Caerphilly, a Welsh-style cheddar, also an award winner, suited to the rich milk from our Jersey cows. In 2016 we branched out into making a farmhouse-style Gouda. Then we had our young Gouda smoked at Grafton Village Cheese. Eight months later we had our first aged smoked Gouda for sale. Every batch of cheese is made from fresh milk every other day. Our cheesemakers follow the age-old process of heating milk, adding lactic bacteria and vegetable rennet, hand stirring the curd, hooping, and pressing.
Q. What makes your product unique or special?
A. What makes our cheese unique is the rich creamy Jersey cow milk. The high butter fat gives our cheese its unique flavor.
Q. Who is your head cheesemaker and where did that person learn their craft?
A. I am head cheesemaker. I started making cheese in 2008. I learned from the small group of women who started the business. I have a culinary degree and background. When I joined the business we made two cheeses. Now we make seven varieties. Partner Kerry Gawalt and I developed our Gouda and Havarti recipes.
Q. How did the Covid-19 crisis impact your business?
A. The early days of the pandemic presented us with sales and inventory management issues. We took advantage of everything the American Rescue Plan had to offer. Not knowing how long the situation was going to last was most difficult. We plan into the future with cow births and milk production. Uncertainty about future production and sales can be stressful.
Q. Anything new or exciting coming up at the farm?
A. Cobb Hill Cheese received the Working Lands Grant this year. We are very excited to be able to use the grant to create a dedicated space to be used as a vacuum sealing room.
Q. Do you have a desert island cheese?
A. Our dessert cheese, Four Corners.