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.

Previous post: