Harbison is certainly at the top of the list of the many cheeses that I can describe as really extra special, festive, made for that perfect occasion and so forth. It’s the cheese to go with that vintage bottle of wine you’ve been storing in your cellar. It reminds me of Vacherin, a cheese made in Switzerland and France that’s only available certain times of the year. It too comes with a unique package surrounded by bark. This bark not only adds to the flavor but it helps keep it shape. When served at room temperature the cheese gets very soft and would run like honey. The best serving suggestion is to leave the cheese in the bark, peel back the top skin and scoop out the cheese like a perfect fondue. That’s festive to me.
Harbison is a soft ripening cheese with a bloomy rind. It’s made from pasteurized cow’s milk and is available all year long. The bark comes from local Spruce trees which go through a process of peeling, drying, cutting, and boiling before it can be used. The bark is processed all year long so you may notice a slight difference in taste from summer bark versus winter bark. The cheese has a delicate, slightly woodsy aroma with a fresh sweet cream taste. It ends with a mushroom finish with a fresh hay aroma. The cheeses are aged approximately six to eight weeks before they are ready to eat.
Jasper Hill Farms
In order to appreciate the cheese it helps to know a little about the maker. Harbison is made at Jasper Hill Farms located in Greensboro Vermont. They are not your typical small artisan cheese manufacturer. In addition to making great cheese they are also known as one of the best affinage facilities in the country. They are the first of their kind in the United States. In case you were wondering, affinage is the practice of storing and ripening cheese properly so they can be sold and consumed in perfect condition. In addition to proper age, there are many other factors to consider. This includes washing, flipping, brushing, patting and spritzing. The process becomes more involved when you realize that different cheeses require different ripening techniques. Some cheeses require moist conditions while others may need dry. Some need colder, others warmer. As a result Jasper Hill has seven different caves all calibrated with different temperature and humidity levels. They have 22,000 square feet of caves and what’s more amazing is they are actually underground. The farm’s forty five Ayrshire cows graze on top of this facility. This mission has to be done with special timing to ensure all cheeses are sold at their peak condition.
Jasper Hill Farms is owned by the Kehler family. The farm started in 2003 in the town of Greensboro near the Caspian Lake. The farm was a means for the family to work in a place they loved. The farm has several facets to its credit. In addition to producing and ripening cheese they also serve as a distributor and marketing company for several other local cheese producers. Many you might know.
The Jasper Hill Farms Collection:
Harbison, a pasteurized cow milk, soft ripening bark wrapped similar to Vacherin
Moses Sleeper, a bloomy rind pasteurized cow milk cheese
Bayley Hazen Blue, a natural rind cow milk blue, penicilium roquefort
Winnimere, raw Ayrshire cow milk, washed rind, also wrapped in spruce bark
Constant Bliss, pasteurized soft ripening triple creme
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, pasteurized cow milk, wrapped in cloth similar to old English style cheeses, aged 10-14 months
Landoff, raw Holstein cow milk, gruyere, tomme style cheese
Von Trapp Family
Oma, organic raw cow milk, washed rind
Hartwell, pasteurized Ayrshire cow milk, soft ripening, earthy mushroom taste
Scholten Family Farm
Weubridge, pasteurized organic Dutch belt cow milk, soft ripening
All of the above local cheeses come packaged after proper ripening with the Jasper Hill Farm logo paper. There is usually a smaller additional label place on the cheese naming the actual farm that produced it. This joint effort really provides us with a terrific product in perfect condition. Be sure to taste before you buy to make sure the cheese lives up to this goal. If kept under adverse conditions even these wonderful cheeses can be ruined. Beware of dried out or over ripe cheese.
By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook