For more than a century, Grafton Village Cheese has embraced the old-style cheddaring process that has long been forgotten by many of today’s larger cheddar companies. The result—Grafton Village Cheddar, whether it is aged from one to three years—is a line of award-winning cheddars with unique flavor profiles that recall the pace and life of Vermont family farms.
It’s the Milk
Fresh from the farm, raw milk is delivered to Grafton Village Cheese every day for its daily “makes” of cheese. The milk comes from local farms that raise primarily Jersey cows, a rich milk known for its high protein and high butterfat components.
A sample is taken from each milk load and tested for antibiotics prior to being pumped into the large storage tanks. All milk used for Grafton cheddar is all natural and free of rBST hormones.
Cheese making starts when the milk undergoes a heat treatment to prepare for cheddaring. From there, it is moved into the vat where culture is added. Upon filling the vat, a vegetarian-approved rennet (a coagulant) is added to the milk.
Curds & Whey
After approximately 30 minutes, the consistency of the milk is similar to custard. Curd is then cut with wire knives. The knives are frames with stainless steel wires, one having horizontal wires, the other vertical wires. They are pulled up and down, and side to side of the vat, which separates the curd from the whey.
The curd is slowly agitated by large paddles and cooks for approximately one hour.
At the end of the cooking period, whey is drained and pumped into a tank truck. The whey is distributed to local farms where it is used for animal feed and also for land fertilizer. Meanwhile, the cheese maker “banks” the curd to the sides of the vat, making a trench down the middle.
Cheddar is a Verb
After the vat is drained, cheese curd is cut into slabs. The slabs are turned over three-to-four times in a period of two-to-three hours. This is the cheddaring process. While slabs are being turned, samples of whey are taken. The test checks the acidity level of the whey that is still draining from the cheese slabs. When the acidity has reached the correct reading, the slabs are stacked on the side of the vat.
Slabs are put through a milling machine, which dices them into pieces. During this operation, smaller paddles are used to keep the curd from sticking together. After the cheese slabs have been through the milling process, salt is added.
Cheese curd is shoveled into hoops that have been prepared with a disposable nylon liner. These hoops are weighed, covered and are placed on a press where they remain overnight.
The next morning, cheese is removed from the hoops and wrapped and sealed into cardboard cartons. They are moved to an aging cooler where the boxes of cheese age.
Flavored cheddars are generally aged at a minimum of two months. The remaining cheddars are aged from one to three years, each year delivering a more sophisticated and pronounced flavor. Grafton’s Clothbound Cave Aged cheddar is aged in Grafton’s caves for up to one year.
Grafton cheddar isn’t white and isn’t orange. Rather, it’s a light yellowish color, thanks to the Jersey cow milk. No coloring is added.
From start to finish, the entire process of making cheddar the Grafton Cheese way takes about five to six hours. On a yearly basis, the company produces approximately 1 million pounds of cheese, using 10 million pounds of milk in the process. It takes 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of Grafton cheddar.
Grafton Village Cheese is part of the nonprofit Windham Foundation, whose mission is to promote Vermont’s rural communities. The day-to-day life at Grafton Cheese always has this mission in mind. From purchasing milk from local dairy farms, to producing award-winning Vermont products, to participating in community events, the mission is part of the culture of Grafton Cheese.