Last week at the American Cheese Society's annual awards—the "Oscars of cheese"—a sheep's milk called Bull Hill from Vermont's Grafton Village won one of the top prizes. And the only place in the country you can find it? Righteous Cheese in Union Market.
Owner Carolyn Stromberg met the cheesemaker while attending the Dairy Sheep Association of North America's symposium in Reston just as she was opening her shop two years ago. "I'd never heard of it before. No one in cheese that I know had ever heard of it," Stromberg says of the conference. "There were no other people from cheese shops there... It really was only for farmers." The only reason she happened to be there was because another local cheesemaker didn't want to drive to D.C. to let Stromberg taste her cheese, and the symposium was a halfway meeting point. Stromberg ended up not carrying anything from that local cheesemaker, but she did try Bull Hill from Grafton Village. The Vermont producer is better known for its cheddars, Stromberg says, but they also make some super small-batch sheep's milk cheeses.
"I was like, 'Oh my god. I have to have this cheese in my shop,'" she recalls. She describes Bull Hill as a little bit nutty and caramelized sweet with some floral notes to it "in a grassy kind of way." But the cheesemaker told her they only had 20 wheels and that they didn't sell it outside of their farm. But she had to have it. "So I tracked down different reps and basically forced them to let me buy it," Stromberg says. She eventually got the cheese last year.
After that, Grafton Village changed the recipe of Bull Hill ever so slightly to create Bear Hill, which was entered in last year's American Cheese Society awards and ended up winning second place among hundreds of entrants in the "best in show" category. When Stromberg placed another order, the cheesemaker assumed she wanted the same cheese she got the first time, not the award-winning variation, so he produced a new batch specifically for Righteous Cheese.
Ultimately, though, that was a fortuitous thing. Fast forward to last week when both variations of the cheese were entered in the annual awards, and Bull Hill (the one made just for Righteous Cheese) outperformed Bear Hill (last year's winner) in the washed rind sheep's milk category. The former came in second, while the latter came in third. But while Bear Hill is available elsewhere, "we are really the only cheese shop in the world now to have Bull Hill," Stromberg says.
If you want to try it, be prepared to part with some serious cheddar. Bull Hill is Righteous Cheese's most expensive product at $40 per pound.
Photo courtesy Carolyn Stromberg