First Impressions: Jasper Hill's New Cheese Not Ready for Prime Time
Hello, everyone. My name is Anne, and I’m a freelance writer based in Chicago. I’ve been writing about food and wine, restaurants, performing arts, culture, and travel for longer than I care to admit.
For some time, I’ve been trying to convince the Food Snob, who lives in France, that American artisan cheeses have come a long way since Laura Chanel started distributing little logs of fresh goat cheese. When he visited recently, I took him to Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine, one of the country’s foremost cheese shops, to taste Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which I think is one of best Alpine-style cheeses currently being made in the U.S. He was cautiously optimistic but unconvinced that domestic cheeses could ever approach their European counterparts. So, besides being extremely honored to be chosen for this panel, I was excited at the prospect of finding another cheese that might convert the Food Snob and that I could love. When the package from Jasper Hill Farm arrived on Thursday, I was tearing off the brown-paper wrappings and tasting the three room-temperature samples--labeled #111215, #111228, and #120125 with no other information--within an hour.
Alas, my enthusiasm began to dim even before #111215 made it into my mouth. The beige-ish rind was tacky to the touch and had a faint aroma of baby poop, while the smooth yellowish-ivory paste dotted with tiny holes (in the manner of Appenzeller, the model for the cheese according to the Jasper Hill video) looked a little like mass-produced. The texture was slightly gelatinous-rubbery, mirroring the appearance. And the flavor, what there was of it, was mostly of salt--that got more pronounced the longer the cheese was on my tongue. The paste was more interesting closer to the rind, but not by much.
#111228, a fatter wedge more appropriate to the size of the wheel from which it came, was a little dryer, not quite as salty, and had a tangy tartness that made it my favorite of the three (which isn’t saying much, because all seemed way too young). Despite having a rubbery-gummy texture, #120125 was more complex than the others, but a pronounced whiff of ammonia from the very sticky rind overwhelmed the paste and conjured up sweaty sox (not in a good way). This cheese also left an unpleasant aftertaste.
None of the samples yet had the depth or nuttiness of flavor that I expect from an Alpine-style cheese. I immediately wondered if the cheese was made with raw milk (like Swiss mountain cheeses) or pasteurized; though another panel member has suggested raw milk, I’m not so sure.
Later on, I tried #111228 in a sandwich with smoked pork butt that I happened to have around and wild arugula from my garden. The combination worked well, but then arugula and good mustard improve almost anything. As I beverage, I think hard cider would be a match, but I didn’t have any to test that hypothesis.
When I opened the envelope and read the Jasper Hill evaluator’s comments (sent to us for comparison purposes, I gather), I was shocked. Under “suggested retail value per pound,” he’d listed $16 to $25. My projected price point: $5.99 to $9.99. In all honesty, if I paid his price for the cheese at this stage, I’d be outraged, and even if I paid mine, I’d only buy it once. It put me in mind of the Époisses I misguidedly (if hopefully) bought at Trader Joe’s: It wasn’t terrible, but it was a pale shadow of the real cheese in Dijon.
fork image via kevin dooley