Before a recent batch of the Cellars at Jasper Hill's Bayley Hazen Blue cheese was finished aging, before it was ready to sell, and before it would be crowned – or rinded? – "World's Best Unpasteurized Cheese" at the World Cheese Awards in London, its makers knew they had something special.
"I'm not lying when I say we were excited about it at a young age," Vince Razionale, sales and inventory manager for Jasper Hill, said by phone Monday. "We tasted it on day 50, and this particular batch was one that we thought was really on point." (So on point, they thought, that it merited an Instagram post.)
The more than 250 international cheese experts who judged the 26th annual World Cheese Awards this weekend agreed. Bayley Hazen Blue was selected from more than 2,600 cheeses, first winning a Super Gold award and then its "World's Best" award.
It isn't the only superlative Vermont can add to its list of aged-milk achievements; Grafton Village Cheese also earned two Super Golds, for its Shepsog and Bismark cheeses, while Vermont Creamery took home one gold for its Bijou goat's milk cheese, and seven bronzes.
Six other cheeses by Jasper Hill also won awards, including gold medals for its Cabot Clothbound and Moses Sleeper.
Vermont cheese has certainly made a notable debut on the domestic stage. Vermont's Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross recently noted that cheeses made here have been named "Best In Show" at the American Cheese Society Conference for the past two years: Jasper Hill's Winnimere in 2013, and the Farms for City Kids Foundation's Tarentaise Reserve this year.
But Razionale says the international acclaim shows how far cheese making, in the U.S. in general and Vermont in particular, has come.
"Ten years ago, American cheese was something to be laughed at in England. Now, collectively, we're a force to be reckoned with."