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.

For Your Consideration: A Cheese for Earth Day

Caitlin Griffith offers food for thought this Earth Day with her pick: Consider Bardwell Rupert.

What does Earth Day mean to you? To me it translates into the perfect opportunity to introduce you to some favorite cheeses, made in sustainable and earth-friendly ways. Take Consider Bardwell’s yellow-hued, whale stamped alpine tomme, Rupert, for example. This 25-pound beauty hails from the area straddling Vermont’s pristine Champlain Valley and New York state’s easternmost Washington County.  Originally a cheese-making co-op way back in the mid-1800’s, the Consider Bardwell Farm was neglected for years, but fortunately for us, a couple of cheese visionaries stepped in to revitalize its cheese-making history!

Rupert’s sweet, almond-nutty deliciousness starts in the field with all of the great grassy diversity inherent in local foraging and fresh pasture eating. Since Consider Bardwell Farm only raises goats on the property, the farm partners with three neighboring dairy farms to source their milk, effectively breathing economic vitality back into the struggling Vermont community. Previously, the dairies were non-working or raised their cows in the conventional way, but with the loving support of Consider Bardwell Farm, these dairies now pasture their animals in the summer, utilizing rotational grazing practices, and feed the cows dry hay from Consider Bardwell in the winters.

The farm also keeps its pastures pesticide and fertilizer free, and has recently joined the USDA Grassland Reserve Program, or GRP. According to the USDA, the GRP consists of voluntary conservation membership which emphasizes biodiversity of local flora and fauna, as well as protection of grassland. With all of this natural diversity in their diets, coupled with sunshine and fresh air, the happy cows who graciously provide their milk for Rupert stay healthy without the use of antibiotics and added hormones.

If you’re not already sold on this cheese just take a look at its trophy case! In both 2010 and 2011, Rupert was an American Cheese Society winner, and in 2011 it took home awards at the U.S. Cheese Championship . Try it! On its own this smooth, rich alpine beauty makes a phenomenal midday snack. It is equally delicious grated in a bright spring vegetable tart in place of Gruyere (the ramps have arrived!).  But since Earth Day is all about loving our planet, why not pack a picnic and get outside to enjoy the sunshine and nature that Consider Bardwell Farm is working to preserve!