Alpha Tolman we knew ye when...
It’s been a crazy week around here and trying to do our best to fit in a timely tasting was hit or miss – first with the cheese, then with the tasters.
Happily the stars aligned and it turned out to be an actual par-tay. With beer. Very, very interesting homebrew. And homegrown music... let’s just say we had fun with our cheese, thank you very much.
Somehow in my race to rip into the cheese I missed this tidbit of information – the tiny words Alpha Tolman on the label sealing the wrapping on the wedges. I’m assuming it’s a hat tip to another ruggedly unique Vermontian named Alpha Tolman.
While without context the name reminds me more of computers than artisan cheese, I’m not prepared to pass judgement yay or nay – I assume our man has a story that will bring it all home when the time is right for the big reveal.
I’ll admit to a bit of Alpha Tolman googling and found this fascinating snippet of amateur fiction. It only makes me that much more intrigued... you may not agree, but the fictional Alpha Tolman is much more dark and slimy than our mild-mannered creamster.
If you pressed me to decide about the name today, I would agree with Chris and drop the Alpha and keep the Tolman. Tolman honors the place and life of the man without adding the confusion of the Alpha to a national audience.
Last time, we had three cheeses to consider. And the wedge of 120125 was an especially generous wedge to boot. This time, the only returning cheese is 120125, or as we named it in the most loving way, Cat Butt.
At our first meeting, Cat Butt had an unpleasant rind – bright salmon color, wet, sticky texture and powerful aroma strongly reminiscent of cat pee – hence the name. While it was not our favorite cheese at the time, we all agreed it was the cheese that offered glimpses of greatness and I’m not a bit surprised to see Cat Butt again.
The second cheese, 120109, is new to us. To me, the two cheeses seem very closely related and share similarities of texture, aroma and flavor. The new cheese is slightly less creamy in texture and has a steamier diaper-ish aroma. Meanwhile, 120125 has mellowed with age and the rind is very appealing this time.
There’s a tangy aroma to both that we are still struggling to nail with a single definitive – is it straw? Maybe damp gym clothes? Baby boy diaper? Dirt floor basement? Walnut? Wet cardboard box? Either I’m not sophisticated enough or not pretentious enough to feel no doubts about labeling this scent, but damp is the descriptive that comes up most often.
120125 has the more prominent cultured milk/buttery scent and flavor. It is less sharp with a nutty, smooth, rich and mildly tangy flavor. Interestingly, as an eating cheese 120125 was less sharp and salty, but as a cooking cheese, the flavor was a bit more potent.
There was plenty of sniffing and sampling and after much agonizing we ended up with a tie for a favorite. Three preferred 120125, the other three 120109. So, you see we had no choice. We needed a tie-breaker. It’s an important job, but we had the perfect man for it: you remember Rudy don’t you?
Rudy cast his vote for Cat Butt (120125). I can’t be sure but I don’t think the name had any influence...
Last time, I did some cooking with the cheeses and the flavor was very mild. While too gentle to be the star of the dish, the presence of the cheese was definitely a winner in the best supporting ingredient category. The cheese added richness and depth and offered great promise.
This time, I was inspired by this elegant, pure Parmesan Flan recipe Culture shared the other day. The recipe offers no crutches – Alpha Tolman will either carry the recipe, or it won’t.
How did it do? The texture definitely held up – since alpine cheeses are not grating cheeses like Parmesan, I was wondering if the additional moisture would affect the outcome. Fear not, they performed beautifully. I loved this recipe and I forsee this becoming a regular around here.
You’ll have to knock off a few points for presentation – I didn’t have the proper molds for flan and I wasn’t able to get them to slide out properly so sliced them on a platter. I made two batches, one using 120125 and the other with 120109.
While very similar, 120125 was my favorite. We’re splitting hairs really, but 120125 delivered a tiny bit more flavor. I think still the cheeses are both more support than star – a dab of grainy mustard really made a big difference. But, I feel confident that once the perfect aging time has been discovered, this cheese will stand up and own those flans.
Once again, I have to admire the pristine creamy richness of the milk and now the evolution of the rinds. I really enjoyed seeing Cat Butt’s rind evolve from that tacky salmon-y state of nastiness to the tender, dry, coral-tinted earthiness it sports today.
This cheese is headed towards becoming a rich, nuanced, versatile gateway cheese and I cannot wait to see the next batch. Thanks again Jasper Hill for sharing your cheese with us – we’re definitely fans.
-Jackie @Auburn Meadow Farm
Visit us anytime at www.AuburnMeadowFarm.com