Alpha Tolman Needs Further Beta Testing
It's been a long wait!
Chris here from Wedge in the Round. Almost four months ago, I wrote the first review of a new cheese in development by Jasper Hill. Those of us around the country participating in the 2012 Birth of a Cheese study with Culture magazine were sent three differing samples of baby cheese. We can't say that our feedback influenced the recipe, as the cheese sent for round two were made in January.
Last week, those cheeses, about 7-8 months aged, arrived.
- Two samples this time, one made on January 9th, the other January 25th. The cheese from the 25th we've seen before.
- Both identical in size; appears they've settled on the size of the cheese, a medium-small round
- Rinds appeared largely identical
- The cheese has a name! It's "Alpha Tolman" - more on that in a moment.
- Even after warming up, both cheese are quite faint on the nose (though 125 still had a fair amount of ammonia - maybe from its cross-country travel) and palate
- Not ready for prime time
From what I've read about the cheeses appearance at the recent American Cheese Society conference in Raleigh-Durham, the cheese is aiming for a release around Christmas, with about a ear of age on it. If true, I hope that the last four months of age bring some life to it. Both are still rather nondescript. 109, after several tastings, is my preference. While still too mild, it is also the better balanced of the two. 125 the nose still shows characteristics of fresh corn (oddly), and that ammonia. It also still smells of buttercream frosting; it's an odd vanilla sweetness I don't care for in cheese. 109 is lightly acidic, a bit non-descript, very mild from center to rind. Certainly is becoming sharper. Could stand to be saltier. I can sense where this is headed and it gives me hope for another few months age. 125 is a tad sweeter ala toasted marshmallow and a little more salt.
The texture of 109 is ever-so-slightly more dense, and there's a fine silt to it. No silt in 125, which is less densely packed, you can see the curds distinctly and it gets a bit crumbly when at room temperature. All in all, Alpha Tolman is not ready for prime time. It's too generic at the moment, too uninteresting. And if it comes in around a typical $20-30lb on the market, as a future shop owner, I'd be challenged to want it on the shelf versus other American originals. Say, Ascutney Mountain or Tarentaise.
And on that name... Alpha Tolman - I get the sense of place but wonder if the name is a bit... arcane. On "Alpha Tolman" I did some digging, and while Jasper Hill hasn't told us, I suspect the name comes from a successful 19th Century farmer and philanthropist from the Greensboro area where Jasper is located- perhaps they're on the same land? "According to the Greensboro History, Alpha Tolman farm was a local showplace for many years. Also, Tolman was a benefactor of the town and donated the library and health center buildings."Geographic names can work... but if it is so specific to a place, does it matter elsewhere? And with a word like "alpha" meaning so much else, is that confusing? Why not call it "Tolman"? Now that sounds like a cheese. -Chris