Today I am ashamed to say that I am betraying the small scale cheesemaker.
There are three levels of authenticity in French cheese.
The first is the farmhouse cheesemaker. Their cheese is often made on the farm and will be made from cheese from cows that live on the farm. This is the truest, most honest and authentic cheese. Here you have a sense of that most important of things in traditional French cuisine, the terroir.
Terroir essentially refers to all of the aspects of the location of production that are inherent in the product such as climate, soil, flora etc. And a part of this also suggests to me the traditions, history and customs of a place. And all of these things are found, in one way or another, in a region’s foods, particularly in the cheese. For the French, the place where their food is produced is hugely important. All of the fruit and vegetable stalls in the markets show where the various items come from, and if they are French, what area of France they come from. If I wanted to go off one one, here’s where I’d let this blog entry spiral off into psychogeography. Which is a fine and entertaining topic and style, if not sometimes overly self indulgent. But if this blog is anything, it’s self indulgent.
The second level is artisanal. These cheeses are made in a certain place with milk sourced from multiple farms in that area. As you can see, the sense of place is being diluted. It is no longer possible to be so specific and the terroir is no longer so apparent.
The third level, and the least satisfactory to the connoisseur, is industrial. And you can see the disdain for this type of cheese in its name. Industriel. How could there be anything authentic here? This is the world of machines and industrial estates and manufacturing units.
And so today’s cheese is an industriel cheese. But I did buy it the fromagerie, so I’m not all bad.
This is a bleu, but a lesser blue you will struggle to find. And it is creamy and sweet. And wonderful if you have some good bread and some good wine.
It’s a pasteurised [so it’s already losing much of its uniqueness there] cow’s milk cheese made in the Haute Loire, in a town called Beauzac, not far from St Etienne. Yes, that St Etienne.
It’s a relatively small cheese, weighing only about a pound. The rind is grey from ash and it’s quite edible. Like many cheeses, you’re just throwing money away if you don’t eat the rind since it’s normally pretty good and will often add to the overall pleasure to be had from the cheese.
The paste is a pale hay yellow with very occasional eyes. And very occasional hints of blue from penicillium glaucum, the same mould you’ll find in Bleu de Gex . In the picture, you can just about see some blue around one of the eyes to the left. And that’s it. More will come with a little more age but it’s not wildly blue. It’s not a strong blue and it doesn’t give you a real kick like a Stilton or a Roquefort can. If you have people coming around who claim not to like blue cheeses, they could quite easily tackle this.
The paste, once you bring the cheese to room temperature, is soft and creamy and will start to run beautifully, perfect for scooping up on some crisp bread and served along side a light fruity red [maybe a Beaujolais] or a fruity white wine [a Vouvray perhaps?].
And apologise and raise a glass to the artisan cheese makers before you take a sip.