Very few things in life are as magically delicious as a bloomy rind soft-ripened cheese with its rich and creamy, gooey center encased in its velvety, cloudy soft shell. No other kind of cheese awakens our intrinsic desire for mother's milk like this one. This is the epitome of comfort food.
In the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont in a town called Greensboro, the Kehler brothers produce an amazing American cheese influenced by the French Vacherin Mont D'Or. Its name is Harbison and it's safe to say its predecessor has nothing on him. This cheese is rich and unctuous with a complexity of flavors that can only happen when you live the unique life of Harbison.
Named after Anne Harbison, who is endearingly known as the grandmother of Greensboro. Like the cheeses from the Jasper Hill Farm and Cellars, this one gets its most interesting attributes from the love it receives in the vaults. The milk is sourced directly from the farm's Ayrshire cows and from Andersonville Farm in Glover, Vermont. The cheese is made at the creamery on the farm's property.
After the creamery, Harbison arrives fresh and naked at the cellars where it gets hand-wrapped in the Spruce Cambium wood strips sourced from the farm's woodlot. This technique adds a woodsy nuance to the ripening cheese, while providing structure as the interior softens to a gooey texture when fully ripe.
For approximately the next 4-6 weeks, Harbison will live in a vault in the Cellars that is temperature and humidity controlled. This allows the bloomy rind molds to thrive as well as promote the ripening process that makes this cheese amazingly rich and gooey. Periodically, the wheels will get patted down to remove excess mold and develop its characteristic snowy and velvety rind. The wheels also get flipped periodically several times a week to maintain the milk structure and shape.
This attention to Harbison's development makes a beautifully complex cheese that continues to change throughout its life at the cheese counter and your fridge at home. When it's young, Harbison is buttery, unctuous with mild earthy and sweet cream flavors. As it matures, the sweetness turns into more woodsy, mustardy and mushroom flavors with a runny and gooey texture.
You can find Harbison at most Whole Foods Markets and Murray's cheese around the country. Any worthy cheesemonger should be able to source it. And if you have a hard time finding it, Jasper Hill has a great online ordering program.
WHAT GOES WITH MY CHEESE
I love serving Harbison at the beginning of a meal for guests at home. Cut the rind off at the top and just dig in with a spoon or a spreader. Simply spread it on crusty baguette and fall in love with the nuances in all its flavors and aromas. Harbison needs no frills. Its beauty speaks for itself. Serve this cheese with a French cider like Etienne Dupont Cidre Bouche Brut de Normandie. This cider is yeasty, dry and crisp with a lot of tart and mildly sweet apple flavors. This complexity holds up beautifully to Harbison's charm.
If you rather try this with a beer, go for an IPA. The body and bitterness of an IPA holds up well to the woodsy flavors and richness of Harbison.
If you prefer wine, go for a mildly oakey Chardonnay. A Pouilly Fuisse is the prefect complement. The wood nuances in both the cheese and wine are a winning combination. The complexities also go hand in hand.