October 20, 2017

Greg Hall Talks About Mateo Kehler and Jasper Hill

Greg Hall mentioned that a high school career aptitude test said that he should become a farmer  So we asked Hall, “Is this new venture more than just about just about cider for you? 

I don’t know how they knew with that test in high school, but I’m closer to farmers than I ever thought I’d be.

Really, the bigger idea is to add value to other people’s agricultural products. We’re starting off with cider. We hope to get into cheese and protein in the future. My inspiration there is Mateo Kehler who started the Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont with his brother maybe ten years ago.

It turns out the Kehler brothers were having issues with the cost of shipping their cheeses outside of rural Vermont. And to their great fortune, Cabot cheese came to them with a plea for help.

Cabot wanted to get its cheeses into smaller shops, the way the Cellars at Jasper Hill had done, but the small stores wanted nothing to do with mass produced Cabot. So the Kehler brothers agreed to help Cabot under two conditions: 1. that Cabot buy milk from one local farm and 2. that the Cellars at Jasper Hill would age and sell the cheese. Cabot agreed, and with Jasper Hill at the helm, they made Cabot Clothbound Cheddar.

Around the same time,  the Kehlers met with other local cheesemakers who were having a hard time with the cost of transportation. So the Kehlers said to the local cheesemakers, let’s form a co-op. You make the cheese, we’ll buy it from you, age it in our caves and put the finished cheese on one of our trucks that go to New York and elsewhere. The Kehlers eliminated the excessive transit costs and it worked.

About half mile from our farm in Michigan where we’re going to make cider is Evergreen Lane Dairy. It’s a little goat cheese producer. Great stuff, you can get it in about six restaurants in the area and in the Holland Farmer’s Market until about Christmas. Or you can go to the farm and honk and hope someone comes out— so basically you can’t get it.

They’ve got one hundred and forty goats. They could certainly mind four or five hundred goats, they just wouldn’t have anywhere to sell the cheese. I’m thinking that I already know all the big cheese people here in Chicago. I know the cheese guys in San Francisco and Portland because I’ve been doing beer and cheese pairings for years.

I would like to eventually do something like Mateo has done.  I don’t want to make cheese, but I want to buy cheese from little cheese farms, put it in a cave.

Eventually we’re going to have a cider cave, a cheese cave and a pork cave. I’m thinking, boy, if I can go to apple groves and pay them more for their apples, then I can go to little dairies and pay them more for their cheese. I can go to big farmers and say, listen: stop growing big, fat, pink things in a shed.

You get seventy-five cents a pound for those. Instead, start growing some rarer breeds and raise them outside.  I’ll buy them at a higher rate and I will find someone to come up and make hams and sausage. And then we can kind of help create a new agricultural economy.

To return the Greg Hall story about cider, click: Greg Hall Sees a Higher Calling for Cider