I’m back from the American Cheese Society conference in Pittsburgh and while I’m still coming off my lactic buzz, it’s time to give a hearty round of applause to our friends at Jasper Hill Farm. Not only did they take their third Best of Show title in the farm’s 15-year history, but they achieved the unprecedented feat of placing both first and second place at this year’s competition. The Best of Show honor went to Harbison, the darling of the cheese world that just capped off a four-year run on the winner’s podium, finally taking 1st after placing 3rd best of show in 2015, and 2017; in the interim year, 2016, a washed-rind version of it produced in collaboration with Murray’s Cheese, called Greensward, took a turn in the 3rd place berth.

Harbison, Best of Show 2018 | cheeseandchampagne.com

Jasper Hill Farm credits their early success in establishing a dairy empire in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom to their Cabot Clothbound Cheddar best of show win in 2006, but the farm’s win for raw-milk Winnimere in 2013 launched demand for their cheeses into the stratosphere. Unfortunately for fans, their commitment to only using the high-fat winter’s milk to make Winni keeps it a seasonal cheese, although that season has crept incrementally longer over the past few years and these days you can still find a few lingering wheels at cheese counters into June. Meanwhile, co-founder and cheesemaker Mateo Kehler was playing around with their bloomy rind Moses Sleeper recipe and made a higher-moisture batch that he quickly realized was too soft to hold its shape. He slipped one of those spruce bark wraps from Winnimere on it, and Harbison was born. By adding the spruce bark to a bloomy-rind cheese, they produced a unique cheese that’s rich in cauliflower and butterfat notes typical of the style but with an added woodsy aroma infused by the bark. It’s a special cheese, indeed, and if you follow many cheesegrammers you’ve likely seen more than a few shots of the goopy cheese dripping seductively from spoons.

Harbison | Jasper Hill Farm | cheeseandchampagne.com

What made this year’s competition batch even better than the rest? As the farm’s Zoe Brickley explained, it’s all in the timing. Harbison is shipped off the farm several weeks before it hits that perfectly ripe point, and only rigorous quality control and taste-testing gives the cheesemakers confidence to know when that sweet spot will hit. If you’re picking up Harbison in the store, ask your cheesemonger to help you identify a wheel that’s ready to eat — it should feel a little soft to the touch — and while you’ve heard us say this countless times, you really must let it come to room temperature before peeling off that top rind.

Calderwood | Jasper Hill Farm | cheeseandchampagne.com

Calderwood, not to be overshadowed, is a brand new cheese developed in collaboration with Anne Saxelby, the shepherdess of American artisan cheese based in New York. One of Jasper Hill’s more recent innovations was the installation of a hay dryer to allow them to put up the farm’s own hay to feed their cows through the long Vermont winter; this is part of their commitment to cultivating the perfect microbial environment for the cheeses they make. Calderwood begins as Alpha Tolman, their raw-milk, alpine-style cheese. After washing in brine for six months, the cheese’s rind is at peak stickiness and a layer of the farm’s hay is applied. It’s then vacuum sealed and left to stew in that earthy grass for another four months or so, then unwrapped and again left to ripen in the caves to allow bloomy white molds to form over the hay. This process is unique from those hay or flower-coated cheeses from Europe we’ve reviewed in the past, where the cheeses’ flavors are fully developed and the plant coatings added more as a visual enhancement than a flavor input.

Calderwood hay cheese | cheeseandchampagne.com

Calderwood has the hearty mustard and meaty flavor of Alpha Tolman with a sweet hay aroma and more tropical fruit hints. The cheese is currently only available through Saxelby Cheese; you can get it via mail order — though best move fast!

Bayley Hazen blue | Jasper Hill Farm | cheeseandchampagne.com

It’s hard not to gush over these cheeses, but we’re not even done yet. Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen blue — which holds a special place in my heart as the very first cheese I ever reviewed here — was also best in its class. When the cheeses are judged, each category’s top-scored winner is then re-considered by the judges for consideration as best of show, which means Jasper Hill actually had three cheeses in contention. As I noted above, the farm is celebrating their fifteenth anniversary this year. Averaging a Best of Show win once every five years isn’t a bad way to build a legacy. We’re looking forward to seeing what’s in store in the next fifteen years.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

The American Cheese Society Conference & Competition returns to the east coast this year, taking place July 25-28 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Its concluding Festival of Cheese on Saturday, July 28th, is open to the public and gives attendees a chance to sample some of the 2,000+ cheeses entered in the annual cheese competition. (Sometimes the only chance many will have to taste the year’s Best of Show, which can be hard to catch in stores after the big win.) Get your tickets here.

If you’re attending ACS — or just local to the area — don’t miss the Thursday, July 26th joint fundraiser for cheese education and the Pennsylvania Cheese Guild at Southern Tier Brewing Co. Ticket proceeds benefit the Guild, Oldways Cheese Coalition and Daphne Zepos Teaching Award. Claim your spot here.

Next month, the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival celebrates its 10th year on Sunday, August 12, at Shelburne Farms outside Burlington. I am finding it hard to believe that it’s been an entire decade since I heard about the first ever festival, bought a couple tickets, and road tripped with a toddler and my sister–in-law (who was willing to babysit for cheese, bless her heart) to see if this Vermont cheese thing was going places.

curd kid at vermont cheesemakers festival 2009

Since that first festival, Vermont cheese has placed in the top 3 ACS Best of Show seven of those ten years — some of the cheesemakers we met that first year have moved on, but the festival just keeps getting bigger and better. (One of my early favorites, Willoughby, is now made by Jasper Hill Farm.) This annual family reunion of cheese is still my favorite cheese event, full of friendly cheesemakers and delicious accompaniments (cider, beer, jams and so much more) to nosh on as you graze your way through the historic and stunningly gorgeous barn and grounds of Shelburne Farm. Get more details about this year’s festival here or go straight to the ticket page here.

vermont cheesemakers festival 2013 | cheeseandchampagne.com

If you’re in the northeast, you can keep the cheese love rolling right into September with the Maine Cheese Festival on September 9, 2018, in Freeport, Maine: tickets and info here.

And if all these events are leaving you with a major case of FOMO, here’s an option for you west coasters:

The 4th annual San Francisco Cheese Festival takes place September 15-16 with seminars at the Cheese School of SF and a cheese bash on the 15th. Details here.

Where will you get your cheese on this summer?

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

World Cup of Cheese: Team Comté or Team Paški Sir?

July 14, 2018

Any football-loving cheese fans out there? While we would’ve loved to see a South American team in the final, the all-Euro final four do make it a little easier to find cheeses to represent each nation. Yes, even Croatia! Here’s our pick for the final four du fromage. Of course it’s no easy feat to […]

Read the full article →

Northwest Dreaming: A Cascadia Creamery Trio

June 15, 2018

As we may have mentioned here once or twice before, I grew up in Oregon. Sadly, I left home right around the time Portland became a foodie mecca (yes, pre-Portlandia even). Now that I know what I’m missing out on, I try to pack as many food stops into my visits home as possible. On […]

Read the full article →

Lemon Mint Whipped Chèvre Spring Crostini

May 5, 2018

Have you had your fill of adorable baby goat pics on Instagram yet? Okay, that may not be possible … but the even better news is that all that kidding around has led us to this moment: the beginning of fresh chèvre season! I had to give up my daily chèvre toast for Passover — […]

Read the full article →

Rollright with Neal’s Yard Dairy

April 18, 2018

Last spring, at cheese club, we were treated to a visit from London’s revered Neal’s Yard Dairy. More than just a cheese shop, the NYD team seeks out, ages and exports some of England’s best cheeses. I think of them as the ambassadors of British deliciousness. And we’re not just talking about cheddar, either. On […]

Read the full article →

Springtime in the Alps: Alp Blossom, Austria

March 30, 2018

Speaking of spring blooms, how about a cheese that’s literally covered in flowers? I once was told by a cheesemonger that a cheese was yellow because of the buttercups the cows feasted on; while a lovely story, that’s not exactly how that works — the rich yellow of certain cheeses’ paste is due to beta […]

Read the full article →

Little Hosmer, Jasper Hill Farm

March 18, 2018

With spring in the air we’ve got spring blooms on the mind … and bloomy cheeses on the cheeseboard, naturally. A newish cheese from Jasper Hill Farm, Little Hosmer is the perfect specimen to pop into your picnic basket this spring. At a slight four ounces, it’s the ideal cheese for a snack for two, […]

Read the full article →

Tarentaise Reserve, Best in Show 2017

July 28, 2017

Nope, this isn’t a flashback Friday post — Tarentaise Reserve of Spring Brook Farm, Vermont, is a repeat Best of Show winner at the American Cheese Society Competition in Denver this week. Also a repeat on the winner’s podium, St. Malachi Reserve from The Farm at Doe Run, Pennsylvania, took second place and Harbison from […]

Read the full article →

The Greatest Mongers in the World

June 10, 2017

I’m sure I’m not the only one who keeps the Hamilton soundtrack on on repeat to escape from fatigue of current events in the world, right? Well here in our little cheese world, we have plenty of reason to be proud of the USA: for the first time, not one, not two, but three American […]

Read the full article →