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Archive for the ‘French Cheese’ Category

Grand Cheese Tasting

Posted by fromagebob on November 18, 2010

The Tasting Table

I visited New York over the weekend of November 5th, and attended my third Murray’s Cheese Boot Camp. This time I went to work – I signed on as an intern to get a better idea of how behind the scenes of an intensive cheese class would go. I did get educated! More on that in another post.

As always, I hauled back a bunch of cheeses – 13 of them, this time, and gathered fellow wine-and-cheese lovers at the house for a grand cheese tasting.

Organizing a cheese tasting is a lot of fun, especially when you’re loaded with cheeses that no one has tried before, that you love, and that you think will be interesting. It’s a great way to get people together, and – when you bring in  the wine – to start some rather interesting debates about the merits of the cheese, the wine, and the pairing.

I should not have been surprised, but my plethora of palates armed themselves with multiple glasses to try multiples of wines with the cheeses. I did make sure they knew they had to put a glass down to pick up a cheese – no teeth allowed. I labeled each plate with the specifics of the cheeses, and arranged them in order from mildest (upper left of the photo) around the table to the strongest. For the most part, everyone followed the flow, and (from what I could tell) had a great time!

Featured (in the order of presentation) were:

  • Oma, a raw, washed-rind cow’s milk cheese from Von Trapp, in the hills of Vermont
  • Pawlett, a raw washed rind Jersey cow’s milk cheese from Consider Bardwell Farms, in Vermont
  • Landaff, a raw cow’s milk riff on Cornish Yarg, from New Hampshire
  • Capello del Mago, a raw, natural rind goat’s milk from the town of Fobello, in Piemonte,  Italy
  • Noble Road, a raw, bloomy rind cow’s milk cheese from Calkins Creamery, in Pennsylvania
  • La Beola, a natural rind, raw cow’s milk cheese, from the town of Fobellow, in Piemonte, Italy
  • Amanteigado, a washed rind, raw sheeps milk cheese from Lisboa, Portugal
  • Puits d’Astier, a natural rind sheep’s milk cheese from the Auvergene region of France
  • Ascutney Mountain, a natural rind Jersey cow’s milk cheese, from Vermont
  • Comte d’Alpage,  a raw cow’s milk cheese, aged for 18 months, from France
  • An Aged Goat Gouda, from Holland
  • St. Pete’s Blue, a delicious blue cheese from Minnesota
  • Colston Basset Stilton, from England

The most popular cheese was the Noble Road. It had a wonderful, mush-roomy, beefy, creamy flavor that knocked everyone’s socks off. It was the only cheese that disappeared (not that a serious dent wasn’t made in the rest of the selections!).

The surprise of the tasting was one of the wine pairings. We had a variety of wines, from a Susana Balbo Torrontes, to a Masi Amarone, with quite a mix in between. The surprise was that the Torrontes went with almost every cheese! Even those that it did not work well with, it was more along the lines of the cheese overwhelming the wine (like the blues) as opposed to the wine and cheese fighting it out in your mouth.

My favorite pairing was the Colston Basset Stilton with some 1979 PX Sherry. The ports we had couldn’t stand up. The Amarone did OK, but the PX was just wonderful. Unfortunately, we only had a little to go around, so I will be looking for another bottle, and another chunk of cheese, to test this out further!

Stay tuned – over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting tasting notes for all the cheeses. None are currently available in Miami, but they are all available from either Murray’s Cheese or Saxelby Cheese, in New York. Worth the trip to try, worth the expense to buy – trust me on that!

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Posted in Artisanal Cheese, Cheese tasting, French Cheese, Italian Cheese, Portuguese Cheese, US Cheese, Wine & Cheese Paring | 2 Comments »

Cazelle de St. Affrique Sheep’s Milk Cheese

Posted by fromagebob on December 14, 2009

I found a new cheese at our local Whole Foods this past weekend. It’s called Cazelle de St. Affrique. It’s a delicious sheep’s milk cheese from Aveyron, in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France. The cheese is a traditional “cabecous” style (small-format) soft-ripened cheese; it’s very similar in shape to Crottin de Chavignol. The term “cazelle” refers to the stone shepherds huts found throughout the countryside. The cheese is a cylindrical shape with a wrinkly rind reminiscent of the huts – quite a pretty sight.

The cheese itself has a herbal aroma, with a very slight hint of sheepy-ness, and a touch of freshly-laid straw. The taste is very nice; it’s a little tangy, but has a herbal, creamy, earthy taste that I really enjoyed. The finish is medium, evolving to a slight “fatty acid burn” that was pleasant, with some floral and straw notes on the tongue.

The texture was interesting; cutting a slice and popping it into my mouth, the sensation was almost like a cheese puff – kind of gelatinous, airy, and slightly chewy that melted into a pleasant, cheesy experience after just a few moments.

I was drinking a 2006 Cesari Mara Ripasso that went rather well with the cheese.

Posted in Artisanal Cheese, French Cheese, Sheep Cheese | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Abbaye De Belloc

Posted by fromagebob on May 27, 2009

(ah-BAY duh Bell-OCK)

Abbaye de Belloc is a Pyrénées cheese made by the Benedictine monks at the Abbaye de Notre Dame de Belloc in the Pays Basque region of Aquitaine, France. It’s based on an ancient recipe for Pyrénées cheeses that dates back about 3,000 years. Several sources indicate that this cheese started in 1875, but it could be older. It is a fermier sheep’s-milk cheese made from the milk of red-nosed Manech ewes brought in from local farms. Most Pyrénées cheeses (Beaufort, Comté) are made from the same recipe; the differences in the cheeses are due to terroir and the manner in which the cheese is ripened.

Abbaye de Belloc

The only additive to this particular cheese is salt. It has a fine, dense paste that is rich in fat (minimum 60%). The cheese is aged for a minimum of 6 months. The sample I brought back from France had a very nice almost sugary aroma with lanolin and herbal notes; it was mild and pleasant. The taste was buttery and smooth, with a rich feeling and a nice coating that faded gradually into a pleasant salty-sweet lactic flavor. It had nutty nuances near the rind, and kind of a toasty taste in the background. It’s quite good. The finish is slightly salty, but nice and rather long.

We paired this cheese with a Grenache which worked nicely. I tried it with some Catena Malbec, and found it to work as well. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Marlboro) was OK at the start, but ended with a metallic note. I’d like to try it with the French version to see the difference. I happened to have some Pedro Ximenez on hand, and liked that paring – be nice for a dessert course. According to my references, the cheese should also pair with a number of different wines, including White Bordeaux (Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc), white Burgundy (Chardonnay), German Riesling Kabinett, California Sauvignon Blanc. For reds, it pairs well with Carignan, Sancerre Rouge (Pinot Noir), and California Zin. It also goes well with Pedro Ximenez, a dessert sherry.

As a closing note, in my research for this posting, I came across this description on the site http://gourmeton.com/semisoft/10.html. I thought it was interesting enough to allow it to stand on it’s own. I cannot wait to find out how you geld a cheese!

“This cheese hails from the Pays Basque neighborhood of Aquitaine (French Pyrenees). It is made from the milk river of red-nosed Manech ewes that ar elevated on farms contiguous to the Abbaye de Notre Dame de Belloc. It is in the “Abbaye” (abbey) to what this milk river becomes a wild cheese. The nunnery was founded in 1875 on a little landed estate named Bellicq, eventually Belloc. The convent has profited from a milder mood and the lift of a rustic civilisation. Monks in the Benedictine Abbey feature strained and persist in to instruct the artistry of producing a topical cheese (ardi-gasna, significant topical sheeps milk river cheese) to shepherds. The tomme is a monotonous wheel around by the agency of a instinctive, curmudgeonly, grey-headed skin in contrast with patches of reddish, orangish, and yellowed instinctive molds. This voluptuous cheese has a mulct, impenetrable grain that is costly in butterfat. The warm prolonged flavour, same caramelized chocolate-brown saccharify, is the ensue of half dozen months homogeneous to senescent a amercement vino. A young favourite at igourmet! Made from unpasteurised sheep’s milk river. Photo depicts unit 10 lb. take form of cheese. We gelded and wrap up this point by the 1/2 pound off. Please middleman us if you would same to buy the unit take shape.”

Posted in Artisanal Cheese, Cheese, French Cheese | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Beaufort

Posted by fromagebob on May 20, 2009

Beaufort is an ancient cheese dating back to Roman times. I tried to find some indication of its origins, but came up empty. Beaufort comes from the Savoie Provence of France, located in the mountains of eastern France at the border with Switzerland. Beaufort is considered a Gruyère style cheese like Comté or Emmental, but I like it more. It’s often used in fondue because of its melting point, and in the Foire de Paris, we found a sausage that had Beaufort mixed in with it (Myriam said it was quite tasty). I enjoy it straight up with nothing added!

There are three versions of Beaufort: Beaufort (winter), Beaufort d’été (summer) and Beaufort d’alpage (made in mountain chalets). The paste of the winter cheese is white; that of the summer is pale to medium yellow, possibly from the grass and flowers that add more carotene to the diet of the cows. Beaufort is a large cheese that can weigh over 100 pounds. It is a cooked, pressed cheese that is then cured in a cellar typically for six to eighteen months, but it can age for several years. The rind is regularly salted and rubbed during curing; AOC requires that the temperature be kept below 59°F and 92% humidity or above. Longer-aged Beaufort is sometimes aged at a lower temperature, just below 50°F at a higher humidity.

This is the piece of Beaufort I brought back from France. As you can see, it has a more yellow-than-whitish color to the paste. The shop labeled it Beaufort d’été, meaning that it was produced in the summer. The summer production period ranges from June through October, and occurs in a dairy, rather than in the mountains. The cheese shop did not have the aging time of the cheese, but if it was from September or October, it would probably have been 6-9 months. I suspect it’s at the older end because the taste is so deep and rich.

According to several references, Beaufort can have a fruity aroma with hints of butter and herbs. As it ages, the flavor becomes richer, and more dense. The cheese I brought back has aromas of loam and straw, with a very light floral note, but the taste is very, very rich. It’s almost beefy, and the initial feeling is of a very rich beef broth with pureed wild mushrooms that’s been simmered for a long time. As the cheese lingers, it just melts on the tongue; the flavors become more subtle and refined. There’s a hint of sharpness to the cheese, and a touch of acidity as well. It’s really good!

The milk for Beaufort must come from Tarine or Abondance cows. The cows cannot produce more than 5,000 kg (about 11,000 lbs) of milk per year. They cannot be fed any kind if silage; the bulk of their feed must be natural grasses and hay. The milk is collected and poured into a copper cauldron. It cannot be stored except under special circumstances (if stored, it must be rennetted with 24-36 hours of milking). The milk is heated to about 91°F, at which point the rennet is added. After coagulation, the curd is cut into grain-size pieces to help the whey drain from the curd. The curd is then heated to about 125° and stirred to further pull water from the curd. When the cheesemaker decides that the curd is ready, the curd is placed into cheesecloth into a large wooden mold. The cheese is then pressed and turned for about 20 hours. The cheese then rests for 24 hours, after which it is bathed in a brine solution. The cheese is then moved to the caves to age, where it is salted, turned, and rubbed twice each week during the aging process.

Beaufort comes in a wheel that can weight anywhere from 45 to about 110 pounds. It takes about 3 gallons of milk for each 2 pounds of cheese. The diameter ranges from 14 inches to 28 inches. The cheese has a concave “heel” – the area around the outer rind. The story is that the cheese was made with this depression so that it could be slung from the sides of pack animals to transport it down the mountain.

Beaufort is one cheese that goes well with both white and red wines. We had it with a Grenache I brought back from France, and it was quite good. It did not go well with the Gamay. It also went well with a Veuve Cliquot Brut Champagne. Other possible white wine parings include Chardonnay, German Riesling Spatlese, or Chablis. Reds are Grenache, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and possibly a Cabernet Sauvignon that wasn’t too fruity. For dessert wines, I tried it with a 1976 Sauterne in France, and it did go quite nicely. I suspect it might go well with a Tokaji, or even Bonny Doon Muscat.

Posted in Cheese, French Cheese, Wine & Cheese Paring | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Le Jardin Fromager

Posted by fromagebob on May 18, 2009

We hit the cheese shop on Thursday, the day before we were to leave, and loaded up on a selection of cheeses that aren’t readily available in the US (or don’t taste like they should!). The cheese shop near my Uncle’s home is in the 11th Arrondissement. It’s called Le Jardin Fromager, which I think translates into the Cheese Garden, or the Cheese Gardner. It’s a neighborhood shop with an OK selection of cheeses. I had wanted to go to one of the larger shops in Paris, but just did not have the time.

They have a nice selection nonetheless, and my mouth just watered standing there looking.

Le Jardin Fromager

In the front case, they have all the soft cheeses – bries, camemberts, cabecou’s and more. It’s just a delight to see them, especially since they’re properly presented and all look properly aged. In the back, they have the aged cheeses – the Pyrénées, the large wheels, and other hard and semi-hard cheeses. Along the top at the left, you can see the Mimolette. They also have wine and sausages for sale. The smell when you walk in the door is just heaven – fresh, luscious cheeses!

I looked at what they had to offer, and decided on the following cheeses, which I will write about one at a time:

Abbaye de Belloc, an ancient Pyrénées sheeps milk cheese
Beaufort d’été, a Gruyère cow’s milk cheese
Laguiole, a cow’s milk cheese
Vieux Salers, an ancient cow’s milk cheese
Bethmale, a Pyrénées cow’s milk cheese
Tomme Corse, a artisanal sheeps milk cheese from Corse

We had friends over on Sunday to try these cheeses and some wines that I brought back, along with some Terrine de Canard. Yum!

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France, Day 2: Foire da Paris 2009

Posted by fromagebob on May 7, 2009

Today we visited the “Foire da Paris.” This is a HUGE exposition, kind of a combination of the Coconut Grove Art Festival, the Home Show, Walmart, and the South Beach Food and Wine Festival all in one big, big, place. Here’s the website, if you want to take a look. We headed directly for the “vins & gastronome de France et d’Europe” – the food and wine pavilion. Oh-my-God. The pavilion was about the size of the Miami Beach Convention Center. It was filled with booths featuring everything you can imagine – sausages, cheese, hams, wine, foie gras, pastries, candy, nuts, confections, wine caves, olives, plus a couple dozen restaurants scattered about – some looked like they would easily seat 50-100 people. It was pretty overwhelming when we walked in the door, especially the fact that there was a LOT of cooking going on, and the air was filled with some pretty luscious aromas. We decided to be organized, so we headed for one end of the hall, and started to hike back and forth through the fair.

I won’t go through the whole things (mostly because I can’t remember it all), but the high points… We tried foie gras from several vendors, most direct producers. The second place we tried turned out to be the best, and we ended up going back there to buy some to bring home (if it lasts that long). It was from Perigord, which is one of the main places for foie gras. This was duck foie gras (foie grad du canard) and it was soooo delicious. Most of the booths had samples of their wares, and we certainly indulged!

There was a large Grand Mariner booth nearby; we tried a Grand Marnier Alexander – blue label, served cold, definitely on our BUY THIS list – we forgot to go back and get a bottle, but it will certainly be on our list when we return to Paris. It wasn’t as sweet as the regular Grand Mariner, perhaps because the cold suppresses the alcohol, but it was very, very good. I think Tio Paulo had a second glass when no one was looking.

Right across from the Grand Mariner stand featured hams, sausages, and cheeses. Here’s a picture.

sausage11The sausages (which I sadly couldn’t try) were delicious, according to Myriam and Tio Paulo. When I looked at the signs for them, they were labeled “Fromage du Chevre”, “Cepes (mushrooms)”, “Beaufort”, and so on. When I first walked over, I thought that they were cheeses and so on, but it turned out that when they made the sausages, the blended whatever was on the label – so the Fromage de Chevre sausage had bits of goat cheese worked into the body, and so on. We bought three – one of each. They had a ton of options – poivre, other cheeses, and so on. They smelled great. But I was not left out, no sir! They had some Beaufort cheese, a Fromage de Chevre, and a nice Brebis, all of which I tasted. What a difference from Miami! Shipping across the Atlantic sure impacts the flavors.

We hit a booth with products from Cahors; we tried a couple of the wines (malbecs). Different than the Argentine version. Tio Paulo doesn’t like the Argentine version; the Cahors Malbecs are more minerally and tannic; not as fruit-forward as the Argentine versions. Austere would be a good description. Quite good though. The fellow at the booth was quite generous with his pours (not good so early in the show, but we didn’t complain). On our second wine, he produced some foie gras from that region, which was just smashing with the wine.

A booth from Pays de Basque featured olives – lots and lots of olives (also not on my favorites list), but Myriam and Paulo happily tasted their way through several varieties, proclaiming them outstanding.

What was interesting about this fair is that you could buy anything from the vendors; not like most in Miami where you cannot. We were going to wait until we left to revisit the booths that we really liked, but that fell by the wayside.

Let’s see… we found a booth that featured tapenades and aperitifs from Corse. One that caught our attention was a cherry liquor with hot pepper blended in. Sounds strange, but it was delicious. Kind of sweet on the first sip, but as it coated your mouth, a slow burn set in from the pepper. Wonderful contrast in flavors. Speaking of Corse, we also found a booth that featured pork and cheese products – quite good – where I had my very first taste of “Brin du Maquis” – not sure if it was Brin d’Amour or Fleur d’ Maquis; both are similar cheeses, but nothing like the cakey version you find in Miami. I think that the way they store the cheeses in Miami doesn’t allow enough moisture to escape; this was more of a semi-hard cheese with a lighter coating of rosemary. I suspect that by the time it gets to Miami, the moisture in the cheese probably affects the rosemary, making that taste stronger, and the cheese more soft.

corse2

Of course, we hit quite a few wine and champagne booths, trying a number of very nice wines. Nuits St Georges was one of the better offerings. There were several booths with Jurancon but I never had a chance to taste (bummer).

About half way through the show, we came upon a booth featuring cheeses from Salers; they had a fermier St. Nectaire, that was so creamy and delicious I almost bought a chunk. They also had Morbier and several Cantals, including one that was 20 months old. The rind was craggy and fissured. As it ages, the rind is invaded by cheese mites (like Mimolette), which give it this appearance. According to my cheese reference, Cantal purists (of which I am now one) believe this is when the cheese is best. Our cheese monger friend was dispensing samples of the paste, which was just fabulous. Meaty and sweet, with a very nice, lingering aftertaste. It has a faint floral taste that was quite pleasant.

There were two women standing next to us that we was explaining the rind to. Next thing I knew, he cut off a piece and held it out, asking (in French) who was courageous. I stuck my hand out and took it. Frankly, the cheese from the outside looks quite…not disgusting, but definitely within my “would you put that in your mouth” guidelines (which have now become quite relaxed). But ever dedicated to my craft, I popped it in my mouth and chewed it up. Very interesting. The taste was a pleasant loamy, kind of dusty taste, with an incredibly intense flavor of the cheese that was closest to the rind. In any cheese, that part near the cream line is the most aged portion. As the cheese mites burrow into the rind, they expose that first layer to the air and microbes. The Cantal actually forms kind of a bloom at this point, which also contributes to a (this will sound strange if you’re not a cheese lover) pleasant moldy taste.

cantal1

Well, for my courage, he rewarded me with a nice glass of Pomerol, which absolutely made the whole experience worthwhile, and gave me quite a nice boost of flavor from the cheese! Vive la Cantal!

We found a Champagne booth that had an American inside- she was from New Mexico, and told us that New Mexico was where the American Wine industry came into being, before prohibition. She gave us the name of a sparkling wine producer there who makes (according to her) a great sparkling wine. We shall see. We bought a bottle of their Rose for Hugette; we’ll try that when we go back.

Lunch was a sandwich of Brebis cheese on a baguette. Yum. We soldiered on, trying more foie gras; the best we found was extremely expensive 5 small cans were almost 80 euros, so we decided we weren’t quite that refined and moved on.

We headed back to the 11th, happy and tired, where we had a very light salad for dinner, and went off to bed. Early morning Thursday to catch the 8am train to Toulouse!

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France, Day 1

Posted by fromagebob on May 6, 2009

Travel days are really tough! But we soldiered through. Helped by a 1976 Châteauneuf Du Pape that Uncle Paulo had tucked away. Aroma of raisins, smoke, leather, loamy, earthy. Tasted nice – was definitely past it prime. The cork had dropped into the bottle and the wine was a good 3″ down in the bottle, but it was still quite nice. Raisins, stone fruit, leather, and a nice earthy aftertaste. Had it with some nice cheeses – Sainte Maure, a nice goat cheese from Touraine, an ok Pont l’Eveque (washed rind cow’s cheese from Normandy), and a Pyrenees cheese I hadn’t run into before called Tomme Noir. It’s a cow’s milk cheese from the St Girons area. Semi-soft, kind of a nutty flavor. Went well with the wine.

Tomorrow we’re going to the La Foire de Paris 2009, which Uncle Paulo says is a huge exposition of, well, here’s the website: http://www.foiredeparis.fr – we’re going for the wine and cheese exhibition and tasting! More on this one tomorrow!

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