Trippin' on Alpha Tolman
I took a 3-week trip to Florida and North Carolina in July and August, but got back to Chicago in time for the second shipment of samples in Culture's Birth of a Cheese Project 2012. New information has emerged, too, about the cheese we are birthin.'
The cheesemakers at the Cellars at Jasper Hill labeled the samples Alpha Tolman--named after another historical figure in Vermont, perhaps. The panelists were asked what we thought of the name, so it may still be a working title. Some reports are that the prototypes are made in 20-lb. wheels, and that they now have 7 months of age on them. Makes sense to me. Those same reports indicate that (if all goes as planned) the finished cheese will be released near the end of the year. Now I know what I want for Christmas! The assumption is that these are further-aged samples of one or two of the cheeses that emerged from the taste tests back in May. Another assumption is that this is a washed rind, Alpine style cheese similar to other excellent American made cheeses like Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Tarentaise.
So on a Saturday morning, late in August, I sat down at the kitchen island with two wedges, my camera and a notebook. The two new samples looked fairly similar to those three we sampled back in May—a large disc shape, with a coral colored rind and a butter colored paste; quite firm. The first cheese (120109) I tasted was very nice. I found pineapple and earthy aromas, along with flavors of artichoke and roast meat. The texture was a bit less complex than I had hoped for. The second sample (120125) had more noticeable fissures in the paste, a winey/tropical fruit/fresh bread aroma and more complex flavors—I was getting pineapple again, but also walnut, pistachio and sweet milk. The salt balance seemed better than with the first sample, and the texture was a bit more complex.
I really enjoyed the cheeses and shared some of the left overs with friends. At Cheese and Cheers we like to enjoy artisan cheese with craft beer, so I poured a glass of the award-winning Angry Birds Belgian pale from Chicago's Haymarket Brewery and Pub, and I found that it made for a very nice pairing with the more complex cheese. For posterity, it should be noted that musical accompaniment was provide by Esquivel, His Piano and his Orchestra (Reprise 1982) in the digital format.
Visiting family in the Southeast on a working vacation was really wonderful and my Facebook friends were invited along for the ride. But I am glad I got back from that trip in time to help birth the next Jasper Hill cheese. I think there is something excellent in the works here. David Phillips lives in Chicago and writes about craft beer and artisan cheese at www.cheeseandcheers.com, which is temporarily parked due to technical issues.