Smoked Chili Cheddar (Grafton)
Located in Vermont, the Grafton Cooperative Cheese Company was originally founded in 1892 with the purpose of converting surplus milk from local dairy farmers into cheese. Years later, a fire destroyed the original factory.
The factory and the company were restored in the mid-1960s by The Windham Foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports the rural community surrounding Grafton via educational and practical means. Today Grafton Cheese handcrafts artisanal, aged cheddar and specialty cheeses. Proceeds from the sale of these cheeses support the Windham Foundation’s charitable efforts.
This aged and smoked cheddar contains speckles of three types of chili peppers, which are incorporated into the curd before molding. Grafton’s cheese artisan Dane Huebner had been experimenting with many different chili combinations before finally deciding on a mix of habañeros, jalapeños and pasillas. He wanted to differentiate this cheddar from the many other mild pepper versions on the market by using more heat and smoke, creating a flavorful product geared towards fans of truly spicy cheese. Blocks are aged for at least 90 days before being smoked using maple wood chips.
The final product is marbled white and orange in color, with a firm, slightly flaky texture and noticeable chunks of pepper. Scent is smoky and meaty, reminiscent of a barbeque or of smoked sausage. Initially robust in flavor, the spice accelerates gradually into a heat that’s stronger than in most other pepper cheeses, but which is still nicely balanced by the young cheddar flavor.
Pair it with a pilsner, a Belgian style ale, a hard cider, a sauvignon blanc or a sparkling rosé.