Alexandria, VA Do you shop at the Del Ray Farmer’s Market? Four Mile Run? West End Market? Then you probably know Tom Tompkins, the Cheese Man. Known for his gravelly voice and sense of humor, he brought a delightful presence to everyone he met. Tom was one of the first vendors to sell his wares at the all of these markets. He drove down from Peach Bottom, PA every Saturday and Sunday for over 20 years to make sure he was there for all of his loyal customers. His quirky personality, humor, and ability to intelligently discuss almost any subject made him a favorite. Tom turned 80 years old this year, but he will not make 81 as he has a recurrence of lung cancer that has spread throughout his body.
Tom was born in New York and travelled around the country over the years. He wore many hats in his lifetime including being a line cook and chef. He settled down in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania many years ago with his wife of 41 years, Barbara, and quickly became fast friends with his Amish neighbors. He partnered with them to make use of their many products including their rich milk while teaching them some new ways to make cheese.
Tom helped them dig a cave which they then sterilized the interior. They inoculated the interior with the appropriate cheese cultures and a new age of cheese making began. Tom helped them make two cave aged cheeses known as Bouche’, a delicious cave-aged cheddar, and Smethe, a European curd style aged cheese. People would stand in line to get his amazing line of cheeses. Tom relished his nickname of Stinky Tom. (Rumor has it he started the name himself).
In the beginning, Tom would pack up his van with Amish goods and travel to Alexandria twice a week, leaving Lancaster at 2 am and returning home around 8 pm. He would load up more inventory and repeat the trip each weekend.
Over the years, Tom added products to his offerings including some of the best whole milk yogurts, fresh free-range eggs, and Amish baked goods you can buy. Holidays would bring his containers of home-made macaroni and cheese made with an assortment of his cheeses. It also meant you had the opportunity to order one of his hand made goat cheese cheesecakes. Tom could barely keep up with the orders.
Several years ago, Tom was diagnosed with lung cancer. He managed to beat the disease and continued selling his wares each week. Tom was so busy taking care of customers, he neglected to plan and take care of himself and Barbara. As he got older, he got needed help and support from many of his friends. A few months ago, the cancer returned. Chemo didn’t work and he is now terminally ill. It’s not known how long he has but he is under hospice care at this time.
Tom’s friends have established a Go Fund Me page to help defray his bills and fix up the trailer he and his wife live in to make his end of days easier. Please visit https://gofund.me/1940d011 if you would like to help.