Harbison: a singular, somewhat stinky, spoonable cheese from Jasper Hill Farm. This week’s email tells the story of this one little cheese with a big idea behind it.
Jasper Hill Farm has always been dedicated to the idea of terroir, but in a deeper way it is usually described by wine and food enthusiasts. Terroir’s literal translation means ‘taste of place’, but the folks up at Jasper Hill believe there’s much more to it than the usual equation of cows + soil + grass = cheese that tastes like Vermont.
To Jasper Hill, terroir encompases the land, the animals, the weather, and the mircoflora that give a cheese its inherent flavor. But it also encompasses the people who work, use their knowledge (their tête-oir as my fiancé Patrick likes to say) earn their living from the land, build a working landscape, and last but not least, eat and thrive off its bounty.
So let’s start with the name. Anne Harbison is a resident of Greensboro Vermont, home to Jasper Hill Farm. According to the folks up at Jasper Hill, Anne is a bit of a living legend, the embodiment of the spirit of the town. All of their previous cheeses (Moses Sleeper, Constant Bliss anyone?) had also been named after famed Greensboro-ans, but ones that kicked the bucket back in the Washington (yes, that would be George Washington) administration. They figured if they were to celebrate the area for what it is now and how it is being transformed by food production, they ought to name their newest cheese after a member of the community.
And how about that gorgeous pine bark girdle that each wheel of cheese sports around its middle? This tradition originated in France, with lauded cheeses like Vacherin Mont d’or and L’Edel de Cleron. After importing the bark from Europe for a while, Mateo and Andy Kehler, owners of Jasper Hill, began to look for a more local solution. Now the bark comes from the surrounding forest, and is sliced into thin strips by a local woodsman who this year had a special tool custom manufactured for him by a metal smith in nearby Morrisville. The bark gives Harbison a particular smokey, meaty flavor, and gives off aromatics that smack of mustard seed and pine resin.
Finally, the cheese itself. Harbison is made from the milk of the Kehler’s Ayrshire cows, the curds crafted by young cheesemakers under the tutelage of Mateo, and aged by the burgeoning affineurs who work in the Cellars, the cheese caves adjacent to Jasper Hill Farm. We, the ones at the end of the cheese chain, are the most lucky… being able to scoop out a spoonful, schmear it on some freshly baked bread, and savor all that terroir in one delicious bite.
If you haven’t tried Harbison, get thee to Saxelby Cheesemongers for a taste! And if you’re extra curious, check out this amazing video
by Jasper Hill about the production of Harbison. If you’re like me, it’ll leave you drooling.
Happy Monday from Saxelby Cheesemongers, and a cheesy week to you all!
This week on Cutting the Curd
, we’ll talk with Robert Aguilera, a returning guest to the show and expert on sourcing hard-to-find supplies for cheese makers and retailers. You asked for this show, and we’re giving it to you! Tune in today from 4:30 to 5:00 pm and learn all about the wild world of specialized cheese equipment.