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.