“Do you want to participate in the Conundrum Project?” I usually say no to “a difficult problem or question.” As a small retailer, we have loads of Conundrums of our own. But this is a cheese problem and I couldn’t say no.
Jasper Hill Farms, a great Vermont cheesemaker, built the Cellars at Jasper Hill several years ago. The 22,000 square foot Cellars is the premiere aging facility in the United States. While many US cheesemakers practice the art of affinage, or cheese aging, themselves, much of Europe’s cheese production is split into 3 tiers – Milk production/animal husbandry, cheesemaking, and affinage (aging). The difficult task of cheesemaking is part science and part art. Aging cheeses also requires another skill set. Jasper Hill built the Cellars as a way to not only age their own cheeses, but to help a host of Vermont Dairy folk to take their unsustainable milk dairy and to help them become sustainable cheesemakers. By dropping their young cheeses off at the Cellars at Jasper Hill to be aged and distributed, these new cheesemakers can focus on just the cheesemaking aspect.
So what is this new Conundrum? A small group of retailers have been selected around the country to receive new experimental cheeses. The mongers chosen spend time tasting, evaluating, and giving invaluable feedback. We are also charged with selling the cheeses we receive and getting feedback from our guests. There is no regular schedule as to when and what cheeses will arrive or how long the project will continue. Some of the cheese may not even have a name. In the end, the feedback we provide will determine which cheeses will be put into greater production and which cheeses need more experimentation.
The first cheese in the project has arrived and it is amazing! Already named, Harbison, made by Jasper Hill Farm, could be described as a cross between two of their other cheeses, Moses Sleeper and Winnimere.
What follows is a mild earthiness with notes of crème friache and a slightly sweet finish that is reminiscent of brown sugar
Moses Sleeper is similar to a Camembert. The rind is bloomy with loads more complexity than you might find in a Brie. While flavors like cauliflower, crème fraîche, bacon, and toasted nuts hit your palette, the flavors are in balance and not as overpowering as more traditional Camemberts. The finish is bright and acidic.
Winnimere was modeled after the European Classics Vacherin Mont d’Or and Försterkäse. Like the European classics, Winnimere is wrapped in spruce bark from trees located on the farm to help the cheese keep its shape. The cheese is also washed with a locally made beer. Winnimere has a pungent smell, but the flavor is smooth and sweet.
That brings us back to our conundrum, Harbison. This cheese is made with 100% pasteurized Ayrshire cow’s milk from the 40 head herd at Jasper Hill. The cheesemakers use traditional animal rennet and the cheese is aged for 4-6 weeks.
The rind has light colored mold, the exterior is wrapped in spruce. The nose is a little eggy, not pungent like Winnimere. To pop this beauty open, just run a knife along the top and pull the rind back to reveal a smooth paste.
Harbison coats the tongue with its weighty, silky texture. The first wave of flavor comes from the spruce wrapping with a subtle herbal character. What follows is a mild earthiness with notes of crème friache and a slightly sweet finish that is reminiscent of brown sugar.
Overall Harbison is an approachable cheese and extremely delicious. Using a spoon is optional.
Rich Rogers is a cheesemonger and proprietor of Scardello located on Oak Lawn in Dallas, Texas.