Home Food Harbison Cheese Is Creamy, Rustic, and Perfect for Snacking

Harbison Cheese Is Creamy, Rustic, and Perfect for Snacking

by TopBusinessView

This is Highly Recommend, a column dedicated to what people in the food industry are obsessed with eating, drinking, and buying right now. Here, Hannah Howard waxes poetic on the cheese that’s been with her in every ebb and flow of life. 

It’s cruel to ask a cheese professional about their favorite cheese—it’s like asking a parent to name their favorite child. So instead, when I worked as a cheesemonger, my colleagues and I would inquire about each other’s desert island cheese. If you could only choose one right at this moment, what wheel/slice/sliver/chunk would you bring with you? Sometimes, the question would elicit a long pause, careful deliberation, hemming and hawing. Not for me. I always knew right away: I’ll take Harbison.

Made by Jasper Hill Farm, the artisan cheesemaker in Greensboro, Vermont, it’s a soft-ripened cheese (a cheese that ripens from the outside in, like Brie) with a rustic, bloomy rind, and it’s aged in a 22,000 square-foot vault for two to three months. Each wheel is cinched with a strip of spruce harvested from the cheesemaker’s own land. This technique is genius: The spruce gives the small wheels of cheese structure as the interior softens to a pudding-like gooeyness as it ripens. It also imparts subtle but unmistakable flavor and terroir—close your eyes when trying this and it’s like you’re inhaling a forest after a rainstorm. There are also notes of sweet cream, as well as a mustardy tang and a gentle funk. The delicious depth and creamy lushness is satisfying on a soul level.  

A bite of Harbison transports me back to Casellula, the New York cheese and wine bar I worked at in my early 20s. Previously, I’d spent time at old-school Picholine (RIP) with its striking cheese cart and in the cheese caves at the Artisanal Cheese Center (also RIP) where I sprayed, spritzed, flipped, and massaged wheels until my fingers went numb from the cold.  But it was at “The Lula,” with its antique dresser repurposed as a cheese case,  where I tasted my first bite of Harbison cheese. The fromager was scooping out a puddly spoonful. “Have you tried it?” she asked.

I hadn’t. At the time, it was a new cheese. She gave me the serving spoon to taste from. It was silky and had a deep, dark profundity. I had tasted a lot of cheeses, but this one pulled at me. This one I remembered. 

Since that first taste, I’ve shared Harbison in times of exhaustion, despair, and utter joy. I left New York, came back, fell in love, got married, had babies, and took my husband to Casellula, where we shared a bottle of cava and Harbison. At dinner parties, I serve Harbison. I bring the little wheel to room temp, about an hour out of the fridge, and leave the bark intact so guests can spoon out portions from the top with a slice of crusty baguette. Sometimes I present Harbison with garlicky pickles or cherry jam; other times I let the wheel shine on its own as a self-contained fondue. It always disappears almost immediately. A wheel of Harbison remains in my fridge whenever I can find it—a solace and a delight in the proverbial “desert island” of my home. It reminds me of forest and city, glamor and promise, of why I’ll never stop loving cheese.

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