Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jasper Hill Harbison

Every now and then I stumble upon a cheese that everyone loves. There's no controversy around it. It's unique in its field, and people can happily agree that the taste, texture and appearance are exceptional. Such is the case with Jasper Hill's Harbison.

Vermont pasture.

Jasper Hill farm is located in Greensboro,Vermont. An underground aging facility hosts cheeses made on the premises as well as some made by other producers in the area. The milk used in Jasper Hill cheeses is gathered from pasture-raised Ayrshire cows that feed primarily on fresh grasses during the warm months and hay supplemented with a little bit of grain during the colder months. There are almost as many staff members on the farm as there are cows, and quality and cleanliness are of the utmost importance to the Jasper Hill team. Although the company is mostly known for its exceptional cheeses, it has implemented a sustainable whey-fed pork program using leftover whey from the cheese-making process to feed a small drove of pigs raised for eating purposes.

On a recent shopping trip, I became distracted by the beautiful cheeses on display at Whole Foods Market in Boulder. As I was browsing, one of the ladies working behind the counter asked me if I had tried Harbison. Another employee had mentioned this cheese to me a few weeks earlier, so it was already on my rapidly growing list of cheeses to try. I was intrigued and asked her to describe it. Even though she had trouble putting together a vivid description, her eyes lit up when she mentioned how good it is, so much so that I felt compelled to buy some based solely on her facial expressions and overall excitement. I could see that this was a cheese that had impressed her and put a smile on her face. I had high expectations, but I wasn't sure what to expect. All I knew was that it was bound to be good.

Young Harbison holds its shape but still oozes slightly at room temperature when not constrained. 

It was. It blew me away. Did Christmas just explode in my mouth?

I can see why describing this cheese is difficult. It stands alone in a unique category. While it's described as a semi soft cheese, it's much smoother than most other semi soft cheeses, more like a creamy savory pudding that melts on your tongue. If you heat it, the cheese oozes into a rich pool of heavenly liquid. Any heat softens its more pungent notes. If you were granted a wish that any cheese could magically flow out of a fountain, this is the one you would want to choose.

According to the Jasper Hill website, "Harbison is named for Anne Harbison, affectionately known as the grandmother of Greensboro."

Unwrapping the elegant little wheel is much like uncovering a small treasure. The outer surface of the cheese is like Brie with a bloomy rind, but Harbison is artfully wrapped with strips of wood from spruce cambium, the inner bark of the tree, on the sides. Inside the spongy white exterior and firm rind sits a super soft ivory-colored paste. Grab a spoon and dig right in!

The flavor of this exquisite little gem evolves, each new taste distinct and different from the last. The mushroomy and earthy flavors of the rind give way to delicate straw and sweet citrus flavors not unlike a Camembert's, but more complex. Herb, juniper and pine flavors quickly follow, and a lovely pine-nut essence lingers on the palate long after the last bite.

Harbison can be served as is. You can also serve it with crusty bread, mini pretzels, delicate crackers or fruit, or on toasted rye bread.

Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.

Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

Harbison is a very complex, full flavored cheese so the wine should be rather big but not clash. I think reds would just not work because of the creaminess of this cheese. Whites of choice would be an off dry Riesling such as Kung Fu Girl, at $9.99 and I also think that those racy Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand would work well, with the citrusy acidity and the grassiness of the nose would mingle nicely with the earthy citrusy notes of the cheese. Try Ana ($11.99) or the sophisticated Dog Point which sells for $18.99. I would also try a flavorful and minerally Southern Franch white like Little Jame’s Basket Press from St Cosme ($16.99) or Moulin de Gassac’s Guilhem Blanc for only $10.99. Cheers!

Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with the complexity of Harbison. 

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