Jasper Hill Harbison: So Earth-Friendly the Tree Hugs the CHEESE

Cheesemonger Sean Kelly gives us the scoop (pun intended) on this gooey Earth Day pick.

We really never hear about cheese when talking about Earth Day. It sounds like a bit of a stretch to discuss cheese on a day that’s supposed to be focused on environmental conservation, awareness and activism.  But why not? Really, it makes perfect sense for cheese and cheese farming to enter into the topics of discussion for Earth Day. When done right and responsibly, cheese can represent a certain closeness to our food sources. Cheese comes from milk, milk comes from cows, cows eat plants; how many things does the average American consume on a daily basis that can have their genealogy traced so clearly and with so few steps? Indeed, it seems as if the best cheese almost always comes from the smallest, most traditional and most natural sources.

A perfect (and delicious) example of just how well cheese can fit in on Earth Day is Jasper Hill Farms’ compact and beautiful creation, Harbison. Harbison, in production, flavor, and concept, is the definition of terroir and brings a true taste of place to anyone fortunate enough to dive into its creamy and buttery paste. The cheese, named for Greensboro resident Anne Harbison, is produced at Jasper Hill Farms from their small herd of Ayrshire cattle. The farm itself is a picture of sustainability, maintaining a small herd and closely monitoring the health and well -being of the animals, as well as finishing up a project that will recycle manure solids from the cows and wastewater and whey from the cheesemaking process to help power their facilities. Once this project is completed, the farm will produce almost zero waste.

Harbison sets itself apart from its other bloomy-rinded cousins not just by way of its noble upbringing, but also by its outfit choice. The small wheels each come wrapped in a small girdle of spruce bark obtained from trees on the farm, which are naturally composted to enrich the soil after the bark has been harvested. The bark wrapping affects the flavor of the cheese in an interesting way; the flavors that shine through in a wheel of Harbison don’t simply remind one of the plants and scents of the woods, but rather are evocative of the forest as a whole. Herbal flavor notes (mustard, fennel, and tarragon, to name a few) dominate the start, while the finish highlights the buttery and rich milk produced by the Ayrshire cows. These flavors yearn to be paired with a crisp sparkling white, or a bright, hoppy IPA to match the powerful herbal notes. Cured meats and dry salamis are enlivened by the creamy spoonable wonder and bring a new depth of flavor to a ripe Harbison.

So, this Earth Day, show your love for Mother Nature by enjoying cheese the way nature intended. Grab a wheel of Harbison, peel off the delicate top rind and let your cheese plate proclaim your love for the Earth.

Prairie Fruits Angel Food: A Taste of Heaven on Earth (Day)

Robin Minkoff tells us why Prairie Fruits Farm makes the perfect cheese for Earth Day.

Back-to-the-landers Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband started Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign Urbana, Illinois in 2003, sowing buckwheat and modern farming ideals. To start, they planted hundreds of fruit trees and berry plants, and obtained three Nubian goat does and one buck.  Nine years later, they produce up to thirteen different cheeses, mostly from the milk of their goatherd.  The farm takes on many roles to achieve an admirable goal:  educate the local community about the connection between food production and consumption.  Cheeses like the young bloomy rind Angel Food are the delectable delivery system of their message. Organic growing practices ensure that the, ahem, fruits of their labors are tasty (Wordplay: rhymes with Earth Day!).

In keeping with the tenets of sustainability and small-scale, diversified farming systems, Jarrell and Cooperband run a pasture-based, seasonal dairy.  These farmers take the greatest care with their animals, using rotational grazing methods to keep them on fresh pasture during the growing season, and feeding them alfalfa hay and locally grown grain during the winter.  Chickens partner with the goatherd to manage pest control in the goat barn, helping to maintain sanitary conditions and healthy milkers.  Because of the careful attention to their animals’ health and quality of life, they are certified as Animal-Welfare Approved.

The orchard and berry patch are similarly cared for, deterring pests, weeds and disease through ecological and biological controls rather than conventional herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.  Flowering plants grow in the orchard to attract beneficial insects, especially honeybees.  As a testament to their sustainable agriculture vision, nothing goes to waste at Prairie Fruits Farm: food waste and manure gets turned into compost for the fields, and even excess whey produced during cheesemaking finds purpose as fertilizer and as livestock feed for other farms.  Like the cheeses, orchard and berry fruits are sold at local farmers’ markets.

One standout cheese, Angel Food, is a soft-ripened goat cheese made in the style of a French Coulommier.  Similar to a Camembert, this interpretation is aged two weeks.  Beneath the downy white rind lies a gooey creamline and a fluffy paste that melts into a silky, flowing mess of deliciousness as the cheese ages.   To make this sensational treat, the curds are hand-ladled into round molds.  A ripe wheel of Angel Food can substitute for the Brie you’re planning to serve at your next gathering.  But it’s spring – pack it in a picnic basket with a bubbly beverage and some fresh fruit as a part of your outdoor Earth Day celebrations.  Sarah, of Prairie Fruits Farm, recommends a Normandy Apple Cider to wash it down.  Bring it all together with berries like those you’d find growing near where the goats pasture. Prairie Fruits Farms’ intent is to help connect in their patrons’ minds food production and consumption; be at one with the pure terroir of Angel Food; free of unnatural elements and fresh from the prairie.  Angel Food, you make me feel like a natural woman.