Jasper Hill Farm – Harbison
When I first started working in cheese, one of the first cheeses I fell in love with was L’edel de Cleron. It’s a soft-ripened cheese, wrapped in bark. It’s in the class of cheese known (at least back then) as “faux Vacherin” because it’s based on the Vacherin Mont D’or, one of the world’s greatest cheeses. The L’edel was not a raw milk cheese and was produced year round on a much larger scale than the seasonal Vacherin but to me it was a revelation. Seventeen years ago I hadn’t tried the real thing and had no idea that soft cheeses could have more flavor than rich and luscious. It may be hard for newer cheese folks to understand this, but there just weren’t as many options back then.
When I wrote my book and credited Antique Gruyere with being the cheese that provoked my cheese love, and that was true. But L’edel was close behind. The reason that I decided not to write about L’edel, however, is that it tastes nothing like it once did. I don’t remember what year – but it was definitely the one where I pre-ordered like 20 cases for the holidays – the cheese began coming in completely stripped of any original flavor. True, the big problem with the old L’edel was that it went bitter very quickly and it was an oft-returned cheese. But it was so good, when it was good, that we kept buying it.
The year the L’edel went bland was very sad. Not only did we have to slog through all those cases when 4 out of 5 of us preferred the Fromager D’affinois (at half the price) but we had lost one of our favorite go-to cheeses. Sure, we’d get real Vacherin or a closer facsimile from time to time, but the L’edel had its own customer too: people who wanted complex flavor in a soft-ripened cheese, but who didn’t want to get too close to the edge.
I had forgotten how much I loved the L’edel until I tried the new cheese from Jasper Hill Cellars called Harbison. In a mini wheel wrapped with bark it is the same size as the L’edel minis. This cheese is hard to come by and I fear even by mentioning it I am making things harder on myself. I recently made a facebook comment about how nice it is that the cheese business is largely bereft of (human) rock stars*, but this cheese is a rock star for sure. Elusive on the West Coast, it may be even harder to get after the positive reviews come out. Harbison will be too busy hanging out with Beyonce at the Grammys to come to a store near you.
But man, it is AWESOME. While not getting as intense as the real Vacherin Mont D’or, it certainly surpasses L’edel, old and new. Rich, oozy, earthy, meaty, mustardy, and just plain old satisfying. How oozy? You cut off the top and spoon it out, that’s how oozy. Buy it if you see it. Seriously. This is the best new cheese to come to market in the US in years.
You thought I was exaggerating about this cheese being a rock star but look, it has its own music video!