Saturday August 24, 2013

GRAFTON -- Pardon the pun, but a local business is becoming more and more of a big cheese in its industry.

Grafton Village Cheese, founded in 1892 and now owned by the non-profit Windham Foundation, was named second best in show and was honored with other prizes at the 30th Annual American Cheese Society (ACS) Awards held in Madison, Wis., on Aug. 2. It is the highest the business has ever ranked in the international competition.

Grafton Village Cheese took second-place overall for its Bear Hill product, an Alpine-style cheese made from sheep's milk and is in the same family as Swiss cheese. Its flavor is described as fruity and nutty with a smooth feel.

Grafton Village also took first place in the Marinated Sheep's Milk Cheese category for its Eweden Apple Pie and second in the Cheddar Wrapped in Cloth category with its Vermont Clothbound Cheddar. Bear Hill also won the Open Sheep's Milk Washed Rind Cheeses category.

Meri Spicer, Grafton Village Cheese's director of sales and marketing for more than three years, told the Reformer the cheese with the highest number of points in a category automatically qualified to be judged for the title of best in show. She said each cheese was rated by a team of judges, which awarded points that determined which rank the product would fall in.

"Since it was the American Cheese Society, you could say we have the second-best cheese in the country," said Spicer, who attended the competition earlier this month. "I can't even describe (the feeling). It was one of most exhilarating experiences. ... There are some extraordinary cheesemakers in Vermont and the country.

"To rank this high is very humbling," she added, "and it's an amazing honor."

First Place Best in Show went to fellow-Vermont company Cellars at Jasper Hill for its Winnimere and third was awarded to Bleu Mont Dairy of Wisconsin in a tie for its Bandaged Cheddar and Big Sky Grana. Spicer said it was wonderful to share the podium with another company from the Green Mountain State and it helps prove the greatness of Vermont cheese.

The competition was the largest in ACS history, with 257 companies submitting 1,794 products.

Grafton Village Cheese describes Vermont Clothbound Cheddar as a classic milled curd cow's milk cheddar wrapped in cheesecloth while it ages in Grafton's own caves for a minimum of six months. Eweden is a sheep and cow cheese spiced with cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg, then marinated in Eden Ice Cider from West Charleston. The clothbound cheddar is available now and Bear Hill and Eweden Apple Pie will appear in the fall.

Grafton Village Cheese produces handmade aged cheddar and specialty cheeses, with the proceeds supporting the Windham Foundation charitable efforts.

The company also grabbed seven awards at the 116th Annual International Cheese Show in England at the end of July. Among Grafton's awards was the National Sheep Association Trophy for Bear Hill, designating it as one of the world's best sheep's milk cheeses. The competition featured 27 countries with a total of 4,286 entries.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.