Huck and the Creamy Camembert: A Love Story

Cheese is milk’s complicated way of telling a story. It takes hard work, dedication and constant tinkering for fresh milk to reach the mature status of a perfectly ripened wheel. In a way, our resident cheese expert and dairy guru, Jason Huck, is much like a good cheese: a smart and affable man whose honest character has just a hint of funk from his days at groovy UV (University of Vermont).

Huck, as he’s belovedly known, didn’t grow up on a farm, but his family did own land. Halfway through his college career, his father purchased an abandoned hill farm near Burlington where he gladly spent his weekends helping with chores. The land was special. It couldn’t grow much but good pasture and being steep, was perfect for raising high milk-yielding sheep - like the herd of East Fresians - his family kept and sold to cheesemakers and NYC restauranteurs.

After graduating from the University of Vermont, Huck went full farm and spent the next six years loving every minute of it. Whether he was hauling, mending fences, plinking cans in the woods with his .22 or just cutting hay, he did it with a smile. In his spare time, he made fresh cheese the Lithuanian way to honor his roots and traditions before reading every word ever written about dairy - because he’s a curious fellow. With the mind of a scientist, he began experiment with cheese at home and grew ever curious about artisanal mongering at scale and the relationship between the farmer and customer (a foretelling interest). So he took a job at Crowley Cheese a landmark, in both place and memory, for the people of Healdville in southwestern Vermont as,

It’s the very stuff of small town living because sooner or later, everybody works there. When it was my turn, I did everything. I prepped the cheese room for production, helped with waxing and cutting before doing little chores like dishes, there’s always dishes to do because good sanitation equals good tasting cheese for sure. It was great experience and my first foray into cheese making on a larger scale. It was then and there I decided to go back to school to learn more about the science behind my favorite food, cheese.

He was hooked.

To pursue his love of cheese and his now fiancé, April, Huck moved to Durham, NC in the spring of 2003 where a chance meeting at the farmers market landed him a six-month work stint with Flo and Portia, the proud owners of Chapel Hill Creamery. They’re a small pastured jersey cow operation that was (and is) producing high-quality pastured cow’s milk cheese on good land just outside the Research Triangle’s major metropolitan area.

Huck was intrigued and sponged up Flo’s willingness to share the art and science behind cheese making in exchange for his help. Over the next several months, he arrived early to clean and sanitize the cheese room, much like his Crowley days, getting everything ready to heat and culture the milk, cut and scoop the curds and completing the daily batch sheet, which tells the scientific story of cheese i.e. start-stop time, acidity of milk, temperature at the time of adding rennet, etc before...you guessed it, more dishes.

By summer’s end, Huck and April moved north to Ithaca, NY where he attended Cornell University on a scholarship to pursue his Master’s in Dairy Microbiology and sponged some more.
 

The weekend I graduated, Flo sent me a wheel of Carolina Moon as a gift of congratulations. To this day, it’s still my favorite camembert. Before heading out for the night to celebrate I brought the cheese out to come up to temperature and April and I had it for dessert. I sliced it and it was perfectly ripe, the cheese first melting upon itself on the cutting board before melting in your mouth. It was buttery, creamy and bloomy. No bread, no wine, just good cheese spread on a board between two people.

 

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[Huck’s rules for tasting cheese]

“First rule, never eat cheese straight out of the fridge. Let it come to temperature because there are certain flavor compounds that only come out at room temperature or somewhere around there, it depends. I’m not an affineur and I don’t recommend you stick a thermometer in your cheese, there’s no reason for that.”