A conundrum of mountainous proportions, Jasper Hill style!
Tasting a new cheese from Jasper Hill is like test driving a new Ferrari, so when I had the opportunity to be involved with this, I jumped at the chance. Roughly 2 years ago Jasper Hill had a similar idea called the "Conundrum Project" which gave birth to the blooming blessing known as Harbison, if that is any indication of where the "Birth of a cheese " project is going, I am definitely coming along for the ride. Many thanks to Will and Jasper Hill for thinking I might have something intelligent to say about it too!
My name is Ezekial and I have been slingin' cheese for about the last 9 years of my life. Every year has been more interesting, rewarding and enlightening than the previous. One of the big career highlights for me was a week long visit to Jasper Hill Farm and getting to witness firsthand the incredible cheeses and other foods that are being made in the North East Kingdom.
When the box emblazoned with the Hill logo showed up my heart beat faster, when I opened the box and sniffed I got a great whiff of aging room which is a fine start. On unwrapping the cheeses I couldn't help but notice that they were mere babes in the world of alpine cheeses, 4 months to 6 months old or so? I'm sure I'm not the only taster out there who sighed a little knowing the thing we were tasting from the Hill and it's world renowned team of affineurs would be under developed ( one of my first written comments was " I want to see it aged more! " ) But I stepped back and looked at it in a different light and got my nose in there for a good sniff!
Visually the 3 cheeses were very similar, one had a fair amount of eyes and had almost none, one had a slightly stickier rind and one was almost dry. The real differences started to show on a good smell. 120125 smelled like red wine vinegar, totally fermenty and acidic, the other candidate with a great smell was 111215 which reminded me of decaying grass or silage. The textures while having different breaks were all reminiscent of underaged, crummy gruyere, 111228 being my favorite for having the longest presence. The flavors were all spot on for this style, lots of peanut butter, fresh milk and a satisfying meaty broth flavor. The outstanding wedge here was easily 120125 which reminded me of a very butter rich pastry crust, mmm, pastry crust!
As far as marketability goes, if it says Jasper Hill on it, I know I can sell it, just not yet. The market is full of great alpine cheeses right now, domestic and imported. Pleasant Ridge, Challerhocker, Scharfe Maxx and Ascutney Mountain just to name a few. But every good Gruyere(ish) cheese has its own unique charm, and there is always more room in our shop for a good one. Having eaten almost a pound of this mystery cheese to my head last night I know this will be one of the best, I just can't wait to try it closer to prime time. As it stands I am having some burly, alpine grilled cheese sammies for dinner tonight! Suggestion, with a great name like "Hogback " ( a mountain in Vermont, get it? ) it will be unforgettable on the sales counter too!