For years, Alex’s grandmother lived in Marion, Massachusetts near Buzzard’s Bay. When visiting, Alex and his family always admired the Great Hill estate around the corner from her house. About 10 years ago, Great Hill began producing artisan blue cheese.
When I knew we were coming to Marion to visit, I contacted the good folks at Great Hill. Though they don’t have regular tours, Tim, the owner, invited me to see the cheese making operation.
We entered through the lower bay of the barn. Stacks of empty cheese boxes line the doorway. Tim was out running errands, so Madeline offered to take us around.
Great Hill Blue cheese begins as raw unhomogenized milk collected from a few local dairies. Two retired jersey cows live on the Great Hill estate, which used to house more milkers but focuses on cheese making now.
The raw milk is heated and broken with rennet. Bacterial culture is added. It is machine stirred in a big tank and simultaneously hand stirred by one of two master cheese makers.
After a time, the whey is drained and the curds are poured into molds. They are hand turned up to six times to allow the weight of the curds to compact into a wheel.
Released from the mold, the cheese is now salted and pricked to allow the blue cheese culture to breathe. The room where the fresh cheese were processed smelled like a sweet cream butter, in a word, amazing!
After a few weeks the culture starts to take hold. The cheese wheels are moved between a few rooms to age for a total of 90 – 120 days. The cheese makers sample regularly and are constantly honing their recipe to make a more consistent blue cheese.
Finally the cheese is packaged and sent all over the country. “Bad boy” wheels are cleaned up with Tim’s wedding cake cuter. Great Hill really does every little thing by hand!
Great Hill sells directly to consumers online, but not at their dairy. Madeline was nice enough to send us home with a gratis sample.
We enjoyed some of our cheese with crackers. The flavor develops and is more well rounded when warm. Great Hill is milder than some blue cheese, but still tangy. If I weren’t on vacation I would be making some into sauce, dressing, maybe even pasta. But as it is, the cheese is disappearing quickly in afternoon cheese and wine plates.
Columbus-ites can pick up Great Hill blue cheese at Whole Foods and Hills Market.