9 Best Artisan Cheesemakers in the U.S.
Whether it’s aged in a cave or made fresh that day, making cheese is an art form. And just like any craft, there are plenty of artisans out there who have dedicated their careers to perfecting it. Celebrate this year’s National Cheesemaker’s Day (June 18th) by sampling some of the finest fromage our country has to offer.
1. JASPER HILL FARM
Brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler bought what locals called "the old Jasper Hill farm" in 1998. The land was located in the same quiet, Vermont town where they had spent summers with their family as kids. They moved there looking to start a new chapter of their lives, and by 2003 their dairy business was ready to take off. The dozen varieties of cheese made in the cellars beneath Jasper Hill Farm can take anywhere from four weeks to 14 months to mature. Their Bayley Hazen Blue is one of the most sought-after blues made on U.S. soil, and their runny Winnimere—best scooped up with a spoon—is an American classic.
2. CYPRESS GROVE CHÈVRE
A few decades ago, the American cheese scene consisted of orange squares wrapped in plastic and not much else. Mary Keehn helped spark an artisan cheese revolution when she founded Cypress Grove Chèvre in the 1970s. She originally chose goats as her dairy source out of convenience, and today they’re still making goat cheese better than most everyone in the country. The product they’re most famous for is their Humboldt Fog, named for the Northern California county they're based in. Even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of goat cheese, one bite of this stuff may make you a convert.
3. OLD CHATHAM SHEEPHERDING CREAMERY
Old Chatham Sheepherding Creamery began as 600 acres of empty lands when Tom and Nancy Clark purchased it in 1993. The Old Chatham, New York farm is now home to thousands of sheep whose milk is used to make Kinderhook Creek, Ewe’s Blue, and Nancy's Hudson Valley Camembert. In addition to their cheeses, Old Chatham Sheepherding company also produces a line of sheep’s milk yogurt.
4. COWGIRL CREAMERY
Sue Conley and Peggy Smith founded Cowgirl Creamery less than 20 years ago, and they’ve since become superstars in the cheese world. The coastal California creamery produces a variety of award-winning cheeses, including their sumptuous Red Hawk and buttery Mt Tam. Their cultured creations can be found in restaurants, supermarkets, and independent cheese shops around the country.
5. GRAFTON VILLAGE CHEESE COMPANY
The Grafton Village Cheese Company, based in the Vermont town that shares its name, is best known for its aged cheddar. They produce several different varieties that range in age from one to four years, and sometimes even older. Their offerings also include a handful of flavored cheddars like smoked chili and truffle.
6. VERMONT CREAMERY
The first collaboration between Allison Hooper and Bob Reese came out of a dinner celebrating Vermont agriculture in 1984. Looking for locally made goat cheese to complete one of the dishes on the menu, Reese reached out to Hooper, who was working at a dairy lab at the time. Hooper’s homemade cheese was a success and a decades-long partnership was born. Goat’s milk cheeses—both aged and fresh—are still the Vermont Creamery’s forte. They also create fresh dairy products made from cow’s milk like crème fraȋche, cultured butter, mascarpone, and quark.
7. UPLANDS CHEESE COMPANY
Many creameries are family-run operations. At Uplands Cheese Company, there are two families calling the shots. Andy Hatch and Scott Mericka served as apprentices under the farm’s original founders before purchasing the property together with their wives, Caitlin and Liana, in 2014. The owners may be new, but the two cheeses that made the Wisconsin farm famous haven’t gone anywhere. Their Alpine-style Pleasant Ridge Reserve is America’s most awarded cheese, being the only one to win both the U.S. Cheese Championships and the American Cheese Society’s top prize. Upland’s creamy Rush Creek Reserve is also highly coveted, and only available in late fall.
8. ROGUE CREAMERY
Unlike many entries on this list, Rogue Creamery has a history that spans the greater half of the last century. It was founded by Tom Vella when he arrived in Oregon’s Rogue River Valley during the 1930s. After decades of producing some of the first and finest blue cheese to come out of the West Coast, the Vella family sold the creamery in 2003. The new owners, David Gremmels and Cary Bryant, committed to upholding the operation to its original high standards. Since then their blue cheese has won numerous accolades, and it was the first U.S. cheese awarded World's Best Blue Cheese at the 2003 World Cheese Awards.
9. VERMONT SHEPHERD CHEESE
Vermont Shepherd’s 250-acre farm in Westminster, Vermont is home to up to 700 sheep depending on the time of year. All that sheep’s milk is used to make only two cheeses: a summer cheese called Verano and a winter cheese called Invierno, which is also mixed with cow’s milk. Their small-batch productions and seasonal schedule makes Vermont Shepherd cheese notoriously hard to obtain.