By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook
One of the top ten cheeses highlighted in my July, 2015 column in Ink Magazine was Oma. This cheese has been so popular I thought a little more information might be in order.
Oma has unique characteristics worth mentioning. First, Oma means “Grandmother” in German. Also, this cheese is made by the von Trapp family in Vermont, and yes, they are the original “Hills are Alive” family that the famous Sound of Music film is based from. Oma is made from raw milk that comes mostly from Jersey cows, and it is also organic. It has a smooth, silky texture with a buttery and earthy flavor. Most importantly, this cheese is delightful. That’s why it’s in my Top Ten List this year.
Oma is a washed rind cheese, but much milder in taste and aroma then the more well-known pungent washed rind cheeses like limburger and stinking Bishop. So have no fear of this one. To review, the washed rind method gets its name from its production process. Instead of the white mold often used in soft-ripening cheeses, a smear bacterial solution is applied. This briny solution, washed over the outside of the cheese, promotes good bacteria and fungi while halting the growth of undesirable molds. The technique also gives the cheese a very subtle orange or pinkish color. You might also expect to see small areas of white mold on Oma, similar to what you will find on Brie. Of course, the briny solution is perfectly safe and only adds to the flavor.
Jasper Hill Farm
Oma is produced on the von Trapp Farmstead in the Green Mountains of Vermont. But most notable is that after this cheese is made, it ripens in the affinage cellars at Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont. This facility is one of the best in the country and the first of its kind in the United States. In case you were wondering, affinage is the practice of storing and ripening cheese properly so it can be sold and consumed in perfect condition. This mission has to be done with special timing to ensure all cheeses are sold at their peak condition.
In addition to proper aging, there are several other factors to consider, like washing, flipping, brushing, patting and spritzing. The process becomes more involved when you realize that different cheeses require different ripening techniques. For example, some cheeses require moist conditions, while others may need dry. Some need colder climes; others require warmer ones. As a result, Jasper Hill maintains seven different affinage cellars totaling 22,000 square feet, each one calibrated with different temperature and humidity levels. Even more amazing is that they are all actually located underground. The farm’s 45 Ayrshire cows graze on the land above these impressive caves.
Like all cheese, Oma is best served at room temperature. Depending on the ripeness of the cheese, it can become so soft that it actually runs a little. There is no need to remove the edible rind as it superbly adds to the rich flavor. I like it best spread on a baguette with a thin slice of a mild, sweet onion like Vidalia. Oma also works well on a cheese plate and partners nicely with cheeses from other families.
Since this is a young-aged cheese – around three months old, by the time it reaches four months it can become a little overripe. I’m sure you have heard me say “try before you buy” many times, but there is good reason for it. Cheeses like this, and others in the soft-ripening families, have short life spans where they remain in perfect condition. Just a few days’ time can dramatically change the condition of this cheese. A cheese might look nice, but it may not taste right. So, try before you buy.
If you are looking for a nice getaway, consider the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, featuring Austrian architecture and spectacular views. We recently enjoyed a stay at this unique luxury mountain resort during warm weather. Morning coffee on the porch overlooking the beautiful mountains gives new meaning to the term “coffee break.”
By the way, rumor has it that many of those who were lucky enough to actually find and eat Oma discovered a noticeable improvement in their ability to sing. I did, and I’m singing its praises all the time.