The Grafton Village Cheese Company was founded in 1892 as the Grafton Cooperative Cheese Company, which converted surplus milk from local dairy farmers into cheese. Years later, a fire destroyed the original factory. When the nonprofit Windham Foundation restored the company in the mid 1960s, a new era for the town was born. Today, Grafton Cheese handcrafts artisanal, aged cheddar and specialty cheeses that are recognized for quality and taste on a worldwide scale. Proceeds from the sale of these cheeses support the Windham Foundation’s charitable efforts.
Named for the bluff overlooking Grafton Village’s cheesemaking headquarters in Vermont, Bear Hill is truly an American original – just as cheesemaker Dane Huebner wanted it. “When I create new cheeses,” he explains, “I look for holes in the marketplace. If a cheese doesn’t exist, I try to come up with something that can fill that spot. Mixed milk, mold-ripened cheese...there’s not a lot of that out there, as well as hard...[cheeses] from sheep.”
Loosely following the make processes of continental cheeses like Emmentaler and Gouda, Bear Hill begins with 100% sheep’s milk – but the similarities end when the fresh cheese is taken out of the hoop, dry-salted, and washed with a bacteria and yeast solution. As Bear Hill ages over 5 months, washings occur less and less, while the flavor grows more and more complex.
The cheese is mild as far as washed rinds go, but that’s not to say this cheese doesn’t do a lot of talking. Milky, fruity, and nutty, Bear Hill delivers the sweetness of sheep’s milk without any barnyard aromas.