Cave Aged Cheese: Carrying on the Tradition at Grafton Village Cheese

For centuries, cheesemakers have been using natural caves to age cheese. The cool, humid conditions allow the caved aged cheeses to develop complex flavors and textures over time. While there are still some cheeses, mostly in Europe, that are aged in actual caves, most of today’s cheesemakers age their cheeses in man-made facilities, built to replicate that damp, cool environment. Grafton Village Cheese is one of those cheesemakers, carrying on the age-old tradition in a modern way in its own caves right here in Grafton, VT. Our line of cave aged cheese includes our award-winning Clothbound Cheddar, Shepsog—made from a blend of raw sheep’s and cow’s milk—and our 100% sheep’s milk cheeses, Bear Hill and Storyteller.

What is Cave Aged Cheese?

Cave aged cheese is stored inside natural or man-made caves to age. The caves provide steady cool temperatures around 55 degrees Fahrenheit along with humidity levels over 90 percent – ideal conditions for aging cheese. As the cheese ages, natural microflora like molds, yeasts, and bacteria grow on the rind and slowly work their way inward. This helps break down proteins and fats in the cheese, intensifying flavors and creating appealing textures.

Aging cheese is a time consuming, laborious process. Depending on the cheese, it may involve brining, wrapping, pressing, turning, weighing, tasting…multiple times a month. It takes patience and enthusiasm for detail. Mariano Gonzalez and his team of cheesemakers have both in abundance.

Our Cave Aged Cheeses

We are proud to carry on the tradition of cave aging cheese at our small Vermont creamery. All our cave aged cheeses are handcrafted in small batches. To truly savor the taste of these deeply complex cheeses, we think less is more. Let them take center stage and keep supporting cast to a minimum. Cave aged cheeses do cost more, but because of the flavor they pack, they’re a big bang for your buck. We encourage you to taste the difference for yourself with one (or all) of our cave aged cheeses.

Our signature Clothbound Cheddar is aged for a minimum of 7 months. The cool underground environment provides ideal conditions for beneficial microflora to grow, slowly ripening the cheese from the outside in. As a result, our Clothbound Cheddar has rich, earthy aroma, and flavors similar to traditional English cheddars: grassy, nutty notes dominate with some lemony accents. It has a robust finish.

Naming Shepsog for the Algonquin word for sheep is Grafton’s nod to history and place. With its dusty gray and white mottled rind, it makes us think of all the sheep that covered Vermont’s hillsides during the time of the Algonquin. This mixed milk cheese—unpasteurized sheep and cow—is aged for at least 7 months, it has a firm texture and a decidedly buttery aroma with bright flavors both lemony and sweet, with notes of caramel and a clean, nutty finish.

Bear Hill, named for the bluff that overlooks the village of Grafton, this 100% unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese is a crowd pleaser. It has the characteristic sweet and nutty flavors of traditional alpine cheeses, and like those cheeses is a great melter. Its rustic, tan color rind is stone-like in appearance. It has a firm yet pliant texture and boasts aromas and flavors that are both nutty and buttery.

Bear Hill is a traditional wash-rind cheese. After sitting in brine for a day, the cheese is removed, left to dry, then sprayed with a mixture of yeast, mold and water to develop the rind. The cheese is placed back in the brine and left for three days, being turned by hand every 12 hours. Bear Hill is finished by washing with a yeast/mold solution using a towel and brush every other day for three weeks. The wheels are then aged for a minimum of 7 months.

Storyteller, the newest cheese in our cave, is a Pyrenees-style, 100% sheep’s milk cheese. It’s also a love letter to history. It’s named for Daisy Turner, the daughter of an escaped slave and one of Grafton’s most renowned community members. She was a storyteller extraordinaire. Made with 100% unpasteurized sheep’s milk, Storyteller is aged in traditional basket-weave molds and aged for at least six months in our caves. Its creamy paste, earthy aroma, balance of nutty and grassy flavors, and a lingering/long finish, make it an ideal representation of sheep’s milk cheese.