Vermont Shepherd is the creation of David Major of Major Farms, near Putney in Vermont. Having originally bought the farm from his parents, David was among the first small-scale cheesemakers in the United States to begin producing sheep's milk cheese in 1990.
Because there was no template or model, the early days were not easy, and in David's own words he discarded a great deal of cheese. However, after a visit to the French Pyrenées he became inspired to make sheep's milk cheese along the lines of those made in the Pyrenées.
Major Farm was also among the first to dig their own maturing caves, which are built into the side of the hill at their farm. They make two types of aged cheese; their original cheese Vermont Shepherd made form sheep's milk. and a new creation called Queso del Invierno (meaning Winter Cheese), made from a blend of sheep and cow milk.
Both types are shaped almost like a flying saucer which is a result of the colanders that are used for pressing.
For production, David Major uses a blend of 80% Jersey cow's milk, sourced from the small herd at Ranney Ridge Farm located about 3 miles away together with 20% Major Farms sheeps milk. Due to seasonal milking, during the winter time, frozen sheeps milk is used.
Milk is heated, starter cultures and rennet are added and, after coagulation, the curds are cut. The whey is drained off and the remaining curd is packed into colander shaped molds, that give the cheese its distinctive shape. The cheeses are pressed and drained for 2-4 hours before being brined. They are then transferred to the underground aging caves and matured for between 4-5 months before release.
The texture of Queso del Invierno is firm and slightly flaky without being brittle. The interior paste is a pale golden yellow because of the Jersey cow's milk. The rind is close knit and brown-gray in color.
Flavors are very rich, earthy and mushroomy with hints of butter, cream and salt.