Jasper Hill Round 2: Alpha Tolman not a knock-out
Sunday, August 26, 2012; 1:40 p.m. I’ve been thinking about Jasper Hill’s new cheese off and on ever since my two samples arrived on Friday around noon. They were eagerly anticipated both because of the delays-in-sending and because I hoped they’d arrive before I went out for the afternoon, so they wouldn’t have to sit on my porch in the 90-degree heat.They did but had to be deposited in the fridge till Saturday morning, when I followed the instructions on the emailed “Round 2” form and let them warm up to room temperature for a couple of hours.
It was nice to get an explanation of the numbering system this time around, and I also noticed the cheese now had a name--Alpha Tolman--printed in rather small letters between bars on the round blue stick-on tag.
Alpha Tolman? I wondered what it meant. Was the cheese named for its alpha male (or female) maker? “Tolman” also made me think of a bank or investment company, for some reason. It certainly didn’t conjure up cheese, much less an Alpine variety. Ah, well, on to the tasting.
My fellow taster this time was the Food Snob, who just happened to be visiting from France. He proved himself to be worthy of his moniker and, after trying #120109 and #120125 plain and on pumpernickel, declared them to be perfect examples of why American cheese is just no good. He pronounced the flavor unpleasant and lacking in dimension. He refused to participate in the “appearance” and “aroma” portions of the exercise, saying that to do so would be like treating the look and smell of Kraft American Singles seriously. He did choose #120125 as the lesser of two evils for an omelette, but more about that later. #120125, of course, was one of the three samples we got in the first round, and it was useful to know it was produced on January 25, 2012.
It also was encouraging to find that its bloomy salmon-toned rind no longer was sticky or ammoniated, though the slightly funky aroma reminded me of a wet towel on which someone had wiped their feet briefly, and a certain of sourness called to mind milk spit up by a baby. The flavor: tart, not too salty with undertones of gym sox. I thought the part nearest the rind had the most complexity of character. The other sample, #120109, was almost velvety on the tongue with a faint aroma of earth right after a rainfall. The straw-colored paste with a few of the tiniest flaws was mellow with a hint of grassiness, a dash more salt than #120125, and less funk. I preferred it by a hair, but still missed that rich nuttiness of a wonderful Alpine cheese. I also missed #111228--my favorite from Round 1.
Now the omelette, which is how #120125 showed best. This cheese melts really well, and the heat brought out its flavor. So did the cherry tomatoes and basil plucked from my garden a few minutes before. And cage free organic brown eggs, their color selected to remind the Food Snob of France. Hard cider still seems like a good match for the cheese. Or a Belgian ale. Or a fairly light red wine, perhaps. Coffee: only so-so. What’s bothering me at this point, however, is the suspicion that Alpha Tolman may never become a cheese I want to buy. Even if it does, it would have to have a better--read “more descriptive, less pretentious-sounding“--name. -- Anne