The #1 Cheese In the US Was Just Announced (It’s the Creamiest)

The best part? It might just be at your local grocery store.

The Spruce Eats / Sabrina Tan
The Spruce Eats / Sabrina Tan

You can now add “cheese taster” to your list of dream jobs. Over the weekend while you were apple picking, sleeping in, or making a Trader Joe’s run to pick up your favorite fall snacks, a panel of cheese experts was hard at work tasting 4,502 cheeses from around the world.

What is the World Cheese Awards?

The World Cheese Awards is an annual gathering, currently in its 35th year, where cheese experts from around the globe taste and recognize the best cheeses being made in each country. Ultimately, one cheese is awarded with the lofty title of the world’s best.

This year’s award ceremony took place in Trondheim, Norway, where over 40 countries threw their best wheels into the ring for judging. The judging process involved 264 cheese experts, ranging from cheesemongers to cheese buyers to chefs, representing 38 nations.

The Winning Cheeses

The winner of the World Cheese Awards this year was a blue cheese from Norway called Nidelven Blå by cheesemaker Gangstad Gårdsysteri. But each country goes home with a trophy in honor of their best cheese.

While the United States isn’t widely recognized for its cheese in the same way that, say, France is, it is home to a large and vibrant community of talented cheesemakers producing world class cheeses. Among them is Cellars at Jasper Hill of Greensboro, Vermont. Known for its exceptional affinage (ripening) program and a slate of flawless cheeses, Jasper Hill took this year’s Best American Cheese award with a cheese called Harbison.

<p>Guild of Fine Food (Berre/Haakon Borgen)</p>

Guild of Fine Food (Berre/Haakon Borgen)

Jasper Hill’s Director of Education and Events, Zoe Brickley, said that the award was “nice timing because we’re gearing up for holiday sales, so all the Harbison that’s going to be enjoyed is getting made and cared for” by workers who were buoyed by the news during a busy season for the Cellars.

This isn’t the first win for the Cellars at Jasper Hill. Several of their cheeses, from the Brie-inspired Moses Sleeper to the alpine-style Alpha Tolman, have received gold at the World Cheese Awards. Harbison also took the trophy for Best American Cheese in 2015, 2016, and 2018.

What Is Soft Ripened Cheese?

Tell Me More About Harbison

Harbison is a cow’s milk cheese with a bloomy rind: a soft, edible white rind that develops on cheeses like Brie and Camembert, ripening them from the outside in. The cheese is wrapped in spruce bark (according to Brickley, Jasper Hill is the only cheesemaker in the US sustainably harvesting their own local spruce bark), which lends subtle woodsy notes to the flavor profile but also helps hold Harbison together as it ripens.

The cheese’s flavor profile is modeled after the funky raw milk Camemberts that are beloved in France but nearly impossible to get in the US due to regulations prohibiting the sale and import of raw milk cheeses aged for under 60 days (Camembert ripens in about half that time).

“A lot of American bloomies are cautious in flavor profile,” says Brickley, so while Harbison is a pasteurized cheese, Jasper Hill cheesemakers have tweaked the cheesemaking process and the cultures used to inoculate the milk to yield flavors more in line with full-flavored raw Camembert. Brickley describes those flavors as “roasted cauliflower and mustard” in the fully ripened Harbison, and “sweet cream and raspberry” in younger wheels.

Where To Buy Harbison and How To Enjoy It

You can find Harbison at many specialty cheese shops, such as Murray’s, which has outposts in some Kroger stores. Described by Murray’s as “the perfect mini fondue,” Harbison is technically sliceable when it is younger, but if you wait for it to ripen (this is the move) its interior becomes thick and custardy.

The best way to eat a ripe Harbison is to let it sit at room temperature for at least a couple hours, though Brickley leaves hers out all day. Leave the spruce bark intact and slice off the top rind (but don’t throw it away!) to reveal the creamy interior. Brickley recommends serving Harbison with freshly baked crusty bread in order to taste the nuance of the cheese, as crackers can be too salty.

If you don’t manage to eat your entire Harbison in one go, it may be time to reconsider your priorities. But if you absolutely must store this cheese after digging in, place its rind “hat” back on top and wrap it in specially made cheese paper.

Barring that, a piece of wax paper or even parchment paper is preferable to plastic wrap. Cheese is a living thing and needs to “breathe.” Plastic wrap can cause cheese to spoil faster, which is not befitting of any cheese, especially an award-winning masterpiece like Harbison.

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Read the original article on The Spruce Eats.