Cheese Chronicles: Jasper Hill Harbison

With this cheese, make sure you eat the rind

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By David Hammond

“This is the season for this cheese,” says, Lydia Burns, cheese buyer at Marion Street Cheese Market, holding a gooey hunk of Jasper Hill Harbison, a washed rind cheese that’s “close to a camembert in style.”

“It’s actually wrapped in spruce,” said Burns. “The wood has favorable flavor qualities. Wrapping in wood is a tradition with winter cheeses in the Jura style. The spruce wrapping gives the cheese this herbaceous, rosemary and savory flavor. I like bold flavors, and this cheese is a good representation of bloomy style cheese. The rind is about as perfect as it gets.”

Burns and I ate a few pieces of the Harbison, rind and all. I remarked that it’s not at all uncommon to see people scoop the cheese out of the rind and leave the rind behind, like an unwanted wrapper, waste. I mentioned that to Burns.

“It’s a pet peeve of mine when people discard the rind. But it’s understandable, because many times people’s experiences with rinds are with stabilized bries [the kind found in most supermarkets] that have really thick cardboard rinds. With those cheeses, the rinds probably are not worth eating. But with a cheese like this, it’s really a waste to cut the rind away.”

“The rind is stiff enough to have its own presence, but it doesn’t take over. It’s not overly bitter or ammoniated in aroma or flavor. It’s just a fantastically constructed rind, not too thin or thick.”

“What’s most mysterious and compelling to me about this cheese,” Burns explains, cutting us another slice, “is the delicate herb flavor.” There are no herbs added to this cheese. The flavor is just coming from the milk and the spruce bark.”

“The Harbison is distinct. You might see it and think, ‘Oh, another brie.’ But it is not. I’ve never tasted a cheese like this.”

The Harbison is not an inexpensive cheese. It’s about $28.99/pound. But you don’t need to buy a whole bunch of it; I went home with about 2 oz. It was an excellent little snack, and in this period of resolutions held less resolutely by the day, just the right size.

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David Hammond  

Posted: June 4th, 2012 3:08 PM

"A wow in the mouth." I will steal that line (smile).

Francesca Rose from Chicago  

Posted: June 2nd, 2012 9:44 PM

Experiencing this cheese is like discovering the difference between real fresh picked tomatoes or wild strawberries are to commercially raised produce. It really is a wow in the mouth, and quite exciting to discover a cheese that has so many note nuances. These must be very happy cows, with a lovely diet. I agree with the author - I love the rind, to me, it is like eating the skin on an apple. Incredible!

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