This week, today actually, we should be getting Winnimere, which we haven’t had in forever! It is a soft, raw cow’s milk cheese from Jasper Hill Cellars that is made only during the winter when their cows are giving the richest milk. This to me seemed counterintuitive because I thought cows would give their fattiest milk in the summer when they are eating new green grass. However, hay is more fiber-rich than fresh grass, so when it is the main source of food for the cows during the arctic Vermont winter, their milk becomes luscious and fatty. The quality is especially important for raw milk cheeses like Winnimere because we can taste the characteristics of the milk in the finished product. Thus, the lovely richness and sweetness in the milk is passed on to Winnimere.
The spruce bark in which the cheese is wrapped is also lovingly handled. To be technical about it and why not, it’s actually wrapped in spruce cambium, the flexible inner layer of bark on a tree. Where does Jasper Hill find such a particular product? Well, from a guy named Ron Hall who happens to be one of two guys in the whole country who strips bark for cheese. In the summer, Ron works in the woods of Vermont, cutting down spruce trees, scraping off the outer bark and then peeling away the cambium in large rectangular sheets. He then cuts the sheets into the small pieces you see wrapped around the cheese. Although this video is about Harbison, fast forward to minute 2:05 to see Ron at work – it is EXTREMELY satisfying. He makes it look so easy when in fact I’m sure it takes serious finesse and skill. I obviously want to try my hand at cambium stripping and I’d probably fail spectacularly, but I’ll let you know how it goes. Cross your fingers! The spruce bark not only helps Winnimere keep its shape, but also adds a bacony, woodsy flavor to the gooey cheese. Cut off the top rind and dip crusty bread, a cracker, a pickle, or a piece of salami into the creamy paste and it’s one of the most flavorful and easiest fondues you’ll ever make!
For the love of cheese and milk and spruce cambium,
P.S. This would make an awesome Super Bowl snack, but be ready if you’re eating it with a crowd because it’ll disappear before the first down…