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The American Artisan Cheese Movement: A Symphony of Passion, Grit, and Persistence

The American artisan cheese movement traces its roots to the 1970s, a period marked by the desire for culinary diversity and a return to traditional methods of food production. Much of the inspiration came from Europe's tradition of cheese-making, with pioneers of the movement learning from their European counterparts while infusing an American spirit. These early American cheese entrepreneurs were embodiments of the national ideal of rugged individualism.

Through their grit and persistence, figures like Laura Chenel, who started crafting goat cheese in California, and Allison Hooper, co-founder of Vermont Creamery, etched a path that many others would follow. Notably, the movement opened doors for many women to become influential cheese artisans, shaping the industry while defying traditional gender roles.

As industry pioneers, Chenel and Hooper faced the daunting task of introducing a largely unknown product to the average American consumer. In the 1970s, many Americans were accustomed to processed cheese, making the introduction of hand-crafted, artisanal variants an uphill battle. Additionally, the process of crafting these unique, high-quality cheeses required a wealth of knowledge and expertise. Chenel and Hooper pursued this know-how by studying from European masters and integrating their teachings into an American context.

Today, the American artisan cheese industry enjoys recognition on a global scale, its distinctive flavors and quality rivalling those of the classic European cheese powerhouses. This feat is a testament to the determination of these cheese entrepreneurs who worked tirelessly to perfect their craft, becoming keepers of the rich heritage of cheese-making.

Jasper Hill Farm, established in Greensboro, Vermont in 2003 by brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler, holds a significant place in the American artisan cheese movement. Jasper Hill brought innovation, particularly through the creation of the Cellars at Jasper Hill, an underground cheese aging facility that supports smaller cheesemakers by offering affinage services. Producing a variety of acclaimed cheeses, including the award-winning Harbison, Jasper Hill epitomizes the spirit of the movement with its commitment to quality, sustainable farming, and community support.

In the grand oeuvre of the American cheese story, Jasper Hill's “Campfire” Harbison holds a special place. Wrapped in smoked spruce bark, this soft-ripened cheese offers an exquisite balance of sweet, smoky, and woodsy flavors, reminiscent of summertime bonfires and the great outdoors. As we celebrate American Independence Day, what better way to do so than by savoring this acclaimed cheese? Campfire Harbison, much like the American artisan cheese movement itself, embodies the spirit of passion, resilience, and innovation that define America and its people.

(Order Jasper Hill's "Campfire" Harbison online.)