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Monday, August 21, 2017

Tomme de Crayeuse

I spent a lot of time eyeing this cheese before I could work up the courage to buy some. I would go to the store, take a few moments to stare at it while it eyed me back and then turn around and walk away, defeated. It's the first time I've ever been afraid to try a cheese. You see, when it comes to stinky cheese, I always thought I was as brave as they come. I generally don't mind a little whiff of ammonia that occurs when cheeses go beyond the ripe stage, and readers probably know that I'm down with the funk. The smell of a good stinky cheese intrigues me rather than repels me. Tomme de Cayeuse is something else, though. It's only for the truly brave of heart.

While deciding whether or not I wanted to try this rustic fromage, I did some research. I read reviews and couldn't understand why I was seeing descriptions of the aroma it emits being "strong" or "earthy". Nowhere did I read what people should have been saying, that this cheese stinks. It smells like the aftermath of a sinister event hidden behind a dumpster. It smells like death, a rotting corpse or trash that has been left outside in the sun too long. Am I exaggerating? I don't think so. People describe the smell of the durian fruit as pineapple sitting in an outhouse and still want to try it. Well, despite the aroma of this cheese causing alarm, I figured I would at least sample it if I could bring myself to buy some. I imagined sealing the wedge I would purchase in a container to prevent the entire refrigerator from smelling like a food experiment gone wrong, very wrong. With a plan in mind, I finally grabbed a sizeable wedge, plugged my nose and headed to the checkout lane hoping anyone around me wouldn't be offended.




Before I get to the flavor, let me tell you about the name. Tomme or Tome refers to a type of cheese usually produced in the Alps of France or Switzerland. These cheeses are often made with skim milk or leftover milk and are usually earthy and reminiscent of other alpine cheeses. Different types of Tomme cheeses are identified by the regions where they are made. Tomme de Savoie is one of the more famous tomme-style cheeses, and Tomme de Crayeuse is also made in the Savoie region. Tomme de Crayeuse was actually first created somewhat by accident when an affineur, Max Schmidhauser, was trying to find a way to improve a Tomme de Savoie recipe in 1997. Like Tomme de Savoie, Tomme de Crayeuse is made with cow's milk, and it shares many of the same characteristics.



Crayeuse means "chalky" in French. I can't say that this cheese is really chalky, but it's not oily or soft and is somewhat dry without being crumbly. Some claim that the name is a play on words, a way for people to remember its name by associating it with Tom Cruise. It's a bit of a stretch, but now that I know this, I can't help but think of the Scientology activist and American actor every time I see this cheese. Unlike the clean-cut movie star, Tomme de Crayeuse is on the dungy side. The rind is brownish and moldy looking with patches of white and gray. It looks a bit scary, not like something anyone would immediately think of consuming. The mold develops during the ripening stage that takes place in a cave.

As far as the flavor, it's dank, earthy and mushroomy with hints of the barnyard and hay, which is no surprise when you think about the cheese aging in a warm, moist grotto. In the case of this cheese, it's the one time I will say that's it's really OK to skip consuming the rind, though some people like the taste of deep earth and dirt. The more this cheese ages, the scarier the natural rind becomes. That's where you will find strong ammonia flavors after it ages past its prime. The interior also changes as it ages, becoming gummier and the flavor woodier. Where this odd creation succeeds is in the very inner paste. Here you will find a very lovely and nutty, mild cheese that has faint notes of toast and straw. You might even detect a very slight hint of citrus. Heat the cheese and any bitterness or strong lingering flavors soften, creating a wonderfully flavorful gooey mass.

Serve this cheese with selected charcuterie, sausages, fresh fruit, rustic breads or whole-grain crackers. Sneak it in baked dished for an extra bite or serve at room temperature on a cheese board.


Pinot Noir or Pinot Nero pairs well with Tomme style cheeses.

Tomme de Crayeuse can take a big bold wine with lots of tannins like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. It also pairs well with something more subtle like a Cote de Rhône or Pinot Noir. Gigondas is an excellent choice. You can also try it with an Alsace Riesling, Chardonnay or a Rousette de Savoie. Surprisingly, slightly sweeter wines are a great accompaniment. Give a Tawny Port, Madeira or a Sherry a try. A cheese like this pairs exceptionally well with beer. Try it with Gueuze Girardin or your favorite lager.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Tomme de Chambrille


Sometimes a cheese is so outstanding, it leaves me temporarily speechless. Such is the case with Tomme de Chambrille. This cheese is one you have to experience and savor. It's only after I have had time to recover from my pleasant cheese-induced stupor that I can finally write about how incredible this goat cheese is. If it were a horse, Tomme de Chambrille would be a Friesian: unique, mesmerizing, and bold but still beautiful looking. Overall, it's incredible. Leave it to the French to create such a masterpiece. Am I biased? A little bit, but those French cheeses sing to my soul.

Tomme de Chambrille hails from the Poitou Charentes region in south-western France. This area sits south of the Loire Valley. It includes the communities of Cognac, Rochefort, Saintes and La Rochelle, to name a few. Some of you might be familiar with one of the more renowned castles in this area, Le Rochefoucauid. Needless to say, this part of France is incredibly beautiful and lush.




One of the many characteristics that sets Tomme de Chambrille apart from other goat cheeses is its slightly bumpy, bloomy, ashed rind. The coatings of goat cheeses in the Loire Valley are notorious for having ash on them, and many cheese makers in the United States and elsewhere also use ash these days. Tomme de Chambrille's coating is dark enough that it makes an impression but not threatening looking to anyone unfamiliar with these kinds of cheeses.

Ash is added to help with the aging process and to attract favorable bacteria that enhances the flavor of the cheese. It looks pretty, elegant even. It's definitely different. Coating cheese in ash also protects the surface and lengthens the aging process, preventing too much mold growth. As the affineur, Herve Mons does an excellent job of aging this cheese, which isn't surprising considering the many wonderful cheeses on which Mons has worked his magic. This particular beauty is aged on straw mats for at least one month.



The outer appearance aside, what's most intriguing about Tomme de Chambrille are the overall flavor and the texture. Its light, fluffy and pristine white interior will surely grab your attention, and there's a beautiful creamline that runs along the edge of the rind. While the creamline, which forms when bacterial activity of the rind breaks the solid cheese into a liquid, enhances the mushroomy, earthy flavor of the bloomy rind, the inner paste is noticeably tangy, fruity and light.



This cheese is head and shoulders above most other cheeses in the goat cheese family. The goaty taste, while strong, isn't overwhelming or shocking. All the flavors blend perfectly and evolve on the palate. As the cheese ages, the flavors become more intense and complex. Once you try this exceptional little fromage, you will probably end up dreaming about it and longing for more. What an extraordinary and memorable product. You can find Tomme de Chambrille at Whole Foods Market in Boulder.

Serve Tomme de Chambrille with crackers or on crusty French bread. I believe this cheese can stand alone, but don't be afraid to add it to a cheese platter. Try it with dried or fresh fruits, sliced cucumbers, or roasted nuts. It pairs nicely with sweet or savory jams or preserves as well. Like Bucheron, Tomme de Chambrille can be used in main dishes and salads.

You can go wrong pairing Tomme de Chambrille with wine, as it's a cheese that will go with many varieties. Some suggestions include Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, Semillion, Viognier, Amarone, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Malmsey, Champagne, Port, Pedor Ximenez, Sauternes or Dulce de Monastrell.

Tomme de Chambrille pairs well with Vioginer.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Bucheron

Bucheron is a classic and classy goat milk cheese hailing from the Loire Valley. It was the first goat cheese from France to be exported to the United States. The Loire Valley is a lush area in central France, an area that's not lacking in gorgeous vineyards, beautiful gardens, bountiful orchards, working farms and majestic castles. It's no wonder some of the best goat cheeses in the world are made there. These days, however, log-shaped goat cheeses are made in many different countries, including right here in the United States.

France Boucheron cheese
Chenonceau castle in the Loire Valley, France.


If you could take the rind and inner edge of a young Brie and wrap it around a beautiful chevre, the result would be Boucheron. From its subtle, milky aroma to its lovely snow-white interior, this semi-aged goat cheese is one of the more intriguing and elegant versions of chevre available. You won't be overwhelmed by the smell or the taste, both are mild, not pungent in the least. The goaty tang is noticeable but faint, however, it provides more of a bite than cow's milk used in fresh or any other mild cheese. Still, the overall impression is that Bucheron is delicate, light and sophisticated yet curious.


Bucheron cheese review
Bucheron is a pretty goat cheese from France.



As the cheese ages, the flavor intensifies and the off-white creamline around the edge becomes runnier. More of the mushroom and earthy flavors from the rind and inner edge come out, and the tang intensifies. If you're looking to introduce someone to goat cheese for the first time, this would be a good place to start, though a fresh chevre probably wouldn't scare anyone off either. Be careful not to let Bucheron age too long, though, because you will be left with an ammonia emitting creamline that will overpower the soft flavors of the interior.

When it comes to creaminess, there are many different kinds. Boucheron is creamy like a cheesecake. It doesn't exactly melt in your mouth, but it's rich and smooth with just a hint of dryness. It's a wonderful feel in your mouth as the cheese coats your palate. The slightly sweet interior that has faint notes of citrus pairs perfectly with the more savory, somewhat chewy bloomy rind.

A pretty cheese like this looks great on a cheese board with grapes, crackers, Marcona almonds and large Sicilian green olives. This chevre is absolutely perfect on crusty French bread, but it's versatile and can be added to spinach salads, sandwiches, or placed on crostini with herbs, fig jam or a balsamic reduction. It's surprisingly good on burgers or veggie burgers. You can also put this cheese in a baking dish and let it sit in the oven at 350 for about eight minutes before serving it with honey, chutney or fruit jam, and crackers. Bucheron can also stand alone. You can simply eat it by itself and enjoy all the subtle tones that play on your tongue. 


Bucheron France
The creamline near the outer edge is ivory and oozes.



As far as wines, one of the top choices I can suggest is a Sauvignon Blanc. Chenin Blanc, Godello, Sancerre, Vouvray, a nice pale rose, Cabernet Franc, Amarone, Malmsey, any red wine blends such as Menage a Trios, or a Ruby Port that's not overly sweet also go well with Boucheron. Lastly, if you're daring, go ahead and try it with your favorite scotch.  


Sauvignon Blanc chevre cheese
Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley pairs well with Bucheron.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hartwell

People warned me that I might be disappointed by this little Brie-like cheese. I was not. Sometimes the beauty of a cheese is in its subtlety. Perhaps because Hartwell is one of Jasper Hill's babies, those who cautioned me were expecting a jaw-dropping dairy experience with this cheese. Jasper Hill is the same company that produces the wondrous Harbison, a cheese that's unlike any other, one that leaves a definite impression. In the same way that Iggy Pop defines punk rock and you can't compare soft punk (yes, that's a thing) stars to a celebrity so legendary, don't try to compare any cheeses to Harbison. You will be disappointed if you do, but if you go into cheese sampling escapades with an open mind, you might be pleasantly surprised.


Jasper Hill Hartwell
Hartwell cheese comes in a tiny package.


Hartwell may not be the life of the party, but sometimes a wallflower is more intriguing and ends up being the one people hold dear. It's unique in its own right and comes in a downright adorable package. The milk from grass-fed cows is how the cheese gets its overall rich, buttery flavor. It has a bloomy rind that's washed with the sediment from Eden Ice Cider, which gives the soft, outer surface a unique tang. The outer surface has all the characteristics of a traditional bloomy rind, but the earthy, mushroomy flavor is amplified, on the verge of being spicy with just a hint of the country in there. Even the aroma of the cheese is mushroomy, very much like a strong and slightly edgier Brie, though it never approaches hardcore.


Hartwell Cheese Jasper Hill
A young Hartwell has a pretty outer rind.


Elegant cheeses in small packages are hard to find, but this one succeeds where others fail. Its shape, color, and overall look are classy. The inner off-white paste is smooth and even. This is a true semi-soft cheese, slightly creamy with a substantial chewy mouthfeel. The flavor intensifies as the cheese ages.

Hartwell on a whole wheat baguette or on rye crackers makes a fabulous snack. The cheese pairs well with tart apples or seasonal pears, too. You can serve it as you would a traditional Brie, even baked in a crust. Try it on plain crackers with roasted and chopped nuts sprinkled on top or in place of any cheese in your favorite sandwich.

Wines that go well with Heartwell include Chardonnay, Gamay, Zinfandel, Sauternes, Pinot Noir from Chile or even a nice champagne. If you're a beer fan, try this little treasure with a Pilsner.

Hartwell and Chardonnay
Chardonnay pairs well with Hartwell.


From the Jasper Hill website:

Jasper Hill is a working dairy farm with an on-site creamery in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. An underground aging facility maximizes the potential of cheeses made by the creamery, as well as those made by other local producers. Leftover whey from the cheesemaking process is fed to heritage breed pigs, roaming the woodlands beyond the cows' pasture.

Jasper Hill's mission is to make the highest possible quality products in a way that supports Vermont's working landscape. We are driven to be the standard bearer of quality and innovation in the artisan cheese industry while promoting our regional taste of place.


Hartwell
More information about Hartwell from the Jasper Hill website.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

1924 Bleu

Herve Mons has stepped back into the limelight as the affineur of the stellar 1924 Bleu, a blue cheese that's made with equal parts sheep and cow milk, but the true hero here is Francois Kerautret, the cheese marketer who created this charming treasure. He transitioned into a cheesemaker when he had the idea to take Roquefort back to its roots before it received the first ever appellation d'origine of any cheese in 1925 that required cheesemakers to use only sheep's milk and to make and age Roquefort using specific guidelines. Kerautret wanted to go back to using a mixture of milk instead of purely sheep's milk for his version of blue cheese. After a few years of urging, Kerautret persuaded Mons to work with him on a prototype, and, not long after, 1924 Bleu was born. If Roquefort is the bold king and Bleu D'Auvergne is the calmer prince, then 1924 Bleu is the beautiful and lively duchess in the royal blue cheese family.


1924 Bleu
1924 Bleu is rich and creamy.
1924 Bleu Herve Mons
There are a lot of blue-green veins in this cheese.



Aged in Herve Mons' caves near Roanne, almost 400 miles from Roquefort, 1924 Bleu develops a natural rind that has a nice aroma of the country. The aging process continues when the wheels are sent to the United States, and they end up being about four or five months old once the consumer digs into the wonderful, extra creamy interior. The rind adds to the overall woody, earthy, mushrooomy flavor, but the first thing you will notice is a quick burst of salt and a spicy tang that evens out quickly. Notes of straw and a sweet, nutty taste that pairs well with the traditional mold of blue cheeses follow. The longer the cheese ages, the more hints of ammonia emerge, but even when this little blue is past its prime, it's still tasty. But, oh, that rich creaminess! That's what will stick with you. I do suggest that you eat this while it's younger, but if you're not afraid to take a walk on the wild side, go ahead and let it age.

As I often suggest, a nice crusty French bread goes well with 1924 Bleu. Try it with some wildflower honey or on a spinach salad. You can use it in a stuffed chicken or in stuffed mushroom caps, and it also adds flavor to any cheese dip recipe.

I served this blue with Two Rivers Vintner's Blend, but it's an elegant cheese that will pair well with many wines including Arneis, Muscat, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gamay, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, Sauternes or even a sherry or, for you beer fans, a porter or stout.


Vintner's Blend
Two Rivers Vintner's Blend pairs well with this cheese.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Funkmeister


                                                   video


Didn't I recently say I was looking for a cheese with some funk? Well, I found it. Hold onto your extra tall and slightly outlandish Godfather hats. This is Funkmeister, a cheese named for that stinky, pungent odor that comes from a good washed-rind cheese. It's exciting and cool and slightly out there and maybe just a little bit dirty, but man, like those bad boys that are oh so good, you will want to keep coming back to this one.

Haystack Mountain in Longmont, Colorado is known for its goat milk cheeses, but they carry an excellent selection of cow milk cheeses as well. The company has been creating award-winning products since 1989. Jackie Chang is the lead cheesemaker at Haystack Mountain. She grew up in Taiwan and Korea and moved to Boulder in the late 80s. Her cheeses are designed to be flavorful but not overpowering. Such is the case with Funkmeister.



Funkmeister is a double cream, washed-rind cheese, washed in a cultured brine. This process encourages bacteria to spread and grow on the surface of the rind, enhancing the aroma, flavor and aging of the cheese. The cow's milk and cream used are organic. A vegetable rennet is used in the cheese-making process, so vegetarians can dig in without worry.

Inside the ochre rind that's ever so slightly sandy is a rich ivory paste. To say it's creamy is an understatement. The inner texture is divine and practically melts on your tongue. The complex flavor is equally magnificent. It consists primarily of a cream taste with strong notes of raw hazelnuts and softer undertones of straw, mushrooms and earth with a gentle but noticeable tang that goes right to your nose, not unlike the little zing associated with yogurt. This cheese is spicy and sharp without being obnoxious. There's a good dose of salt that hits your palate after the initial flavor has subsided and a very, very slight bitterness at the finish that's not at all unpleasant. The flavors intensify as the cheese ages. Oddly, despite the very obvious pungent and spicy flavor, my overall impression is that this is a delicate, fruity cheese. Sure, it's showy and outrageous on the surface and maybe a little bit offensive to the nose, but there's a refinement about Funkmeister that puts it up close in ranking to cheeses such as Epoisse and Pont l'Eveque.


Funkmeister
Funkmeister has an interesting looking rind.


Funkmeister
Saving room for some crusty bread on this plate.


The best way to serve this cheese is at room temperature straight up on some crusty French bread. It's a great cheese to put on sandwiches, too. Serve it on a cheese board with sliced tart apples, grapes, celery sticks and dried meats. Try Funkmeister in baked dishes as well. Heat softens and tames the flavor while allowing it to retain its depth. Any harsher notes disappear when it's cooked in pasta, eggs, or even when it's simply melted on toast. You can also serve it as suggested on the Haystack Mountain website, with savory preserves.

Funkmeister pairs well with Pinot Gris, Condrieu, Riesling, Gamay, Malbec, Blanc de Noir, Chenin Blanc or Jurancon. Haystack Mountain also suggests serving it with a floral, piney IPA.

Oh yes, we want the funk.

Try Funkmeister with a nice IPA.






Monday, April 10, 2017

Petit Munster - A Tale of Two Cheeses

When I was in France on a three-week whirlwind trip in the 90s, one of my favorite things to do after seeing the sights in Paris was to go to the fromagerie located near the hotel where I was staying. There, I found some of the most incredible cheeses imaginable. I fell in love with both the Petit Munster and the Petit Pont L'Eveque. Both of these cheeses are of the wash-rind variety, and the flavor of each is bold, funky and not for the meek. I smuggled some into the United States on my way home. Since the gentleman in customs acknowledged both the cheese and the beautiful Poilane boule I was carrying and let me go with nothing more than a joke about people not being fed this kind of food in the United States, getting the goodies into this country was not as dangerous as it sounds, though it probably wouldn't be so easy now. Whenever I asked about Petit Munster here in the United States, I was directed to sliced muenster cheese, a different animal altogether. Petit Munster is a semi-soft, wash-rind cheese that has a strong aroma and a slightly sticky outer surface.

After many years of searching for the Petit Munster here, I found some at a local supermarket. It's not cheap, but I decided to splurge and try it. It was very good, but this was nothing like what I had in France, not even close. All of a sudden, I was on a mad quest. There had to be a way to find this cheese, the one I remembered so well.


Petit Munster
This pale-looking Petite Munster cheese has a mild flavor.


I scoured online cheese websites, made calls, sent emails, and asked local cheese mongers where I could find this cheese, all to no avail. The only one out there seemed to be the one produced by Haxaire. That was the same one I found at the supermarket. Finally, I found a description on Igormet that seemed different. Could it be? It sounded like it was the very cheese I wanted, but I had to make sure. In a chat with an Igormet representative, I explained that I had purchased the Haxaire producer's version, which was nice but not what I consider true Petit Munster, and I was hoping to find and purchase the Jean Roussey version or something similar. The lady offered me a more detailed description, and it sounded exactly like what I wanted. I ordered some despite it being an even larger splurge.

The days seemed to take weeks to pass as I waited impatiently for my cheese to arrive, but eventually, it showed up at my doorstep. When I tore into the package, I was not happy to find the exact same Haxaire produced Petit Munster I had purchased (for half the price!) earlier. Fortunately, after I explained the situation to the Igourmet representative, I was refunded, but the whole experience left me disappointed. The search continues, only less enthusiastically now that I know it's unlikely I will ever find what I'm looking for. I haven't given up completely, though. Also, it was nice of Igourmet to let me keep what they had sent, even though it wasn't what I wanted.

A darker Petite Munster tasted about the same as the lighter one.


Below is my review of the Haxaire Petite Munster.

I could very simply state that this cheese tastes like Camembert, but I think my readers want more information than that. It's similar to Camembert, but it's not exactly the same, of course. Despite receiving two cheeses with the same label, you will notice that the second cheese is distinctly more orange in color. One might guess that the first is a younger cheese, but it's more likely that the rind on the second developed more bacteria during the aging process. Still, the flavor of both was almost identical, though the smell of the second was a wee bit funkier, and the rind was also stickier.

Traditional Petit Munster is made with a high-protein, unpasteurized milk from the Vosges, an area near Alsace, and it's aged, often in caves or cellars owned by monasteries and abbeys, in the town of Munster. The cheese is protected by an Appellation d'Origine Controlee that ensures producers rigorously observe various steps in the cheesemaking process. Inside the wash rind that tastes more like a bloomy rind than the familiar pungent ones associated with most cheeses in this genre is a beautiful ivory paste. The texture is fat and beefy. The first cheese I bought was like ambrosia, delicate with a light, flavorful taste. The second was just a little bit more pungent, and the texture was heavier. Both are mild with notes of button mushrooms, milk and butter and a faint taste of Brazil nut. As the cheese ages, its flavor becomes more pronounced.

Petit Munster can be served hot or at room temperature. Bake it and serve it with crusty bread, slice it onto salads, serve it with fresh fruit, try it with boiled potatoes and sesame and cumin seeds, or place a wedge on a cracker or apple slice topped with honey. This cheese with pairs well with Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Sauternes or Jurancon.

Pair Petite Munster with Gewurztraminer.