The same friend who got me a piece of her family’s cheese from La Capilla de Guadalupe in Mexico gave me a riddle in the form of a cheese from Teocaltiche in the state of Jalisco – about an hour and a half to the northeast of La Capilla. It has a pale ivory color, a fine grainy texture – you can see it looks a bit like dough where I cut it – and a fresh, sour taste. It smells exactly like European yoghurt, and these were my clues. Her family is divided on the cheese, as much as they are united in the Queso Fresco from La Capilla. it grew on me after a few bites but it is probably better as an ingredient in a dish that requires queso than as a ‘stand-alone’. I did some web research and found the Cheese Underground description of a cheese called Adobera, so named because it comes in a shape that looks like an adobe brick. It fits what I am eating very neatly, so I think this is what we’re dealing with. It is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and another website lumps it in with the quesos frescos. The problem with that is that it doesn’t tell you a lot, because there is a wide variety of these and one queso fresco is not like another. so for the time being, I’ll settle on Adobera.
I also visited the Cheesemongers of Sherman Oaks this week, and picked up 3 American cheeses. From the Indiana farm of Jacobs and Brichford Cheese I had a piece of Everton – think Gruyère, but sharper. Nice big mouthful but not for the fainthearted – it really packs a punch. I had the Adair from the same creamery a few weeks ago, so now I will want to try more of their cheeses – that one was also very good.
The Everton is definitely my cheese of the week, although the other two, the Kinsman Ridge from the Landaff creamery – a bloomy rind cheese with big mushroomy and grassy flavors – and the Twig Farm – a stinker with a washed rind with a really interesting taste made from a combo of goat and cow milk – were also very, very good.
One of the best things about shopping at the Cheesemongers is the love of cheese that permeates everything that they do. “What the heck does that mean?”, I hear you think. For starters, the cheese-monger-in-chief’s face lights up when she speaks about cheese. Then, they enjoy advising you and letting you taste and finally: look at how carefully and lovingly they wrap their cheeses in the best-designed cheese paper I have ever seen, and tagged with little tags so that I remember what I am eating as I am munching away, trying to figure out which of this week’s four new flavors will be cheese of the week – a labor of love itself.
Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont is not just this big old cellar that ages and promotes Vermont cheese to a grateful nation (and grateful that nation is!), it also makes its own cheese. Alpha Tolman for instance, named after local dairy farmer and philanthropist Henry Stanley Tolman who gave the town of Greensboro a building for its library back in 1900. Tolman was the grandson of one of Greensboro’s settlers and an all-around upstanding citizen and the name of the cheese is altogether befitting, because this is one fine cheese. I disagree a bit with the comparison to Swiss Appenzeller that Jasper Hill makes, because Alpha Tolman is easier on the palate than Appenzeller. It is robust and flavorful, and it can hold its own among the Swiss originals, for sure, but it lacks sharp edges and the taste doesn’t linger in your mouth as much. Perhaps I will need to get a more aged piece at some stage, and sooner or later I will need to travel to the dairy wonderland of Jasper Hill.
Brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler started Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro in the summer of 2002. They had some Ayrshire cows, Scottish doppelgangers of the red Holsteins, and began cranking out cheeses. Big fat success soon followed and after a few years and lots of preparation and study, they built the Cellars at Jasper Hill and got into the affinage business. The art of ripening the cheese has always been a vital ingredient in French cheese culture to a point where quite a few cheeses are known by the brand name of the affineur rather than by the creamery where they originally came from. Jasper Hill works a little differently in that they promote the farms and the people behind the cheeses they ripen to perfection and then market. So far, I have found three of their cheeses – each of them a testament to the dedication of the folks that produce them and the Kehlers, master affineurs from Vermont.
Yes, indeed, there is a connection between the cheese and the von Trapp’s of Sound of Music fame. The great-grandfather of the two cheesemakers, brothers Sebastian and Dan von Trapp was that famous von Trapp, played by Christopher Plummer in the wildly successful movie that took enough liberties with the actual family’s story to leave several von Trapps somewhat irritated with it. At any rate, the cheese makers, above claiming cheap and easy fame instead present themselves as the third generation of dairy farmers from Vermont. Grandfather Werner bought the farm with wife Erika in 1959, and here is where the name of this cheese comes in. ‘Oma’ is the informal address for one’s grandmother in German – in English the cheese would have to be named Grandma. The milk for Oma comes from a herd that is largely made up of Jersey cows, with some other races mixed in. the Farm’s website features some of these happy girls
The semi-soft cheese comes as a small wheel, about 6 inches in diameter. It is aged and washed in brine at the Cellars at Jasper Hill, the affineur that also ripens the Landaff cheese of Week 7 fame. After 60-90 days, the cheese has developed a pale orange rind, a decent smell and a very balanced flavor. As washed-rind cheeses go, Oma is relatively mild and creamy, while full-flavored – perfect if you want a little adventure without completely stinking up your refrigerator. And: it’s made of raw milk, which means the flavor is brought to you in cooperation with the natural bacteria in the milk, not just those added in the cheese making process. Therefore: more flavor, more goodness.
I found my piece of Oma at the DTLA Cheese shop in Downtown L.A.’s Grand Central Market, where they do more than just sell cheese. They also serve a mean mac and cheese and their grilled cheese sandwiches are guaranteed to leave you with strands of melted cheese dangling from your chin. They are so good, you will not care. DTLA is the second venture of cheese sisters Lydia and Marnie Clarke, their first being the Cheese Cave in Claremont.
Being back in Southern California this week meant we would look for a Southland cheesemonger who would bring us something new and exciting. We found one surprisingly close to my place of work and after braving the congestion of the Los Angeles freeways for a bit we walked through the door of the Cheesemongers of Sherman Oaks and met Chaz, who cuts a dapper figure at the cheese and cured meats counter with a fabulous moustache and a crisp striped apron. The shop is airy, well-lit and clean-looking. The cheeses and the meats and the cutting boards made of olivewood or slate and the meticulously written signs in the cases make the place a delight to behold, and it does make you want to try if not buy, well, pretty much everything they have on offer. We settled for a piece of Bolivian chocolate that seemed a steal at something like $7, some incredibly flavorful cured meats and a piece of Landaff cheese.
Landaff is a town of a little over 400 souls in New Hampshire and if you google it, you can see that the Landaff Creamery is the most important business in town. The New Hampshire cheesemakers, knowing that their town’s name comes from the eponymous town in Wales, found their inspiration across the Atlantic and used a recipe from there. Our cheese had a beautiful clean natural rind and a buttery yellow color with a little white mottle. The cheese itself reminded me vaguely of cheddar, but it was more flavorful and complex. Despite the fact that it is a raw milk cheese the flavor doesn’t linger much in your mouth – it is a clean dismount, if you will. Charlie went to school one day with a turkey & cheese sandwich with a lot of Landaff and he was a very happy camper. I ate most of it in thick slices as an evening snack. It is a cheese that plays well with others, and it can go with pretty much anything, although I would not combine it with heavy red wines. In fact, I will have a beer with my next chunk of Landaff.