Today’s Cheese is Bleu de Laqueuille

Another day, another cheese.  And another blue cheese.

This one is an industrial, pasteurised cheese from the Auvergne although it wasn’t always this way.  This is what comes from mass production.  You get standardised cheeses that really don’t reflect the place where the cheese was made or the season when it was made.  This cheese could probably be made from cows milk from anywhere and it would be quite likely pretty much the same.  Is that a bad thing?  Well, yes and no.  You lose a fair amount of the authenticity of the cheese but the dairy farmers who are not cheesemakers have a market for their milk and we have a decent cheese in return that will be pretty much the same every time you buy it.  And that reliability is something that some people prefer over authenticity.

This cheese was formally a traditionally made cheese and there is, apparently, an unpasteurised fermier version still available.  The cheese was invented [in as much as you can invent a cheese] by a cheesemaker called Antoine Roussel in the mid 1800s who combined the moulds from his rye bread with his cheese and voila.  Antoine is also credited with inventing the more popular and more common Bleu d’Auvergne but I suspect that the Bleu d’Auvergne simply evolved from the wider application of Antoine’s discoveries.  Antoine’s innovations were based on recreating the naturally occuring moulds that caused his caved aged cheeses to develop mould and then to also “needle” or pierce his cheeses to enable oxygen to penetrate the cheese and cause allow the moulds to flourish.

The use of the mould to create blue cheeses was already well known and the legendary and ancient Roquefort is a cheese that is made to the south of the Auvergne.  What Antoine wanted to do was make the production of his cows’ milk blues more reliable.  He experimented with different moulds [the container used to give form as opposed to the fungus this time] and then hit upon using bread moulds and knitting needles to standardise the production of his cheeses.  This was the time of the industrial revolution and Antoine was perhaps very much a man of his times with regard to these ideas of management, control and regularisation.

These discoveries soon spread in the region and you have two very similar cheeses.  The Bleu d’Auvergne has received its Appellation d’Origine Protégée [AOP] whilst the Bleu de Laqueuille is unprotected and perhaps this has impacted on its success.  The AOP does seek to protect products that have a history, are strongly linked to an area of production and to a specific knowledge regarding the making of the cheese but, for me, as soon as you pasteurise the cheese you do lose some of the effects of geography and terroir.

But these two cheeses are very similar and if you were faced with a choice, you might be more likely to buy the AOP cheese.  The Laqueuille is also a slightly milder cheese than the Auvergne.

This is an unpressed, uncooked, pasteurised cows milk cheese that has been matured for at least six weeks and probably a little longer.  The rind is pale grey and brown with some white bloom, dry with sticky patches and quite edible.  The paste is creamy and ivory coloured with the pockets of blue, these varying from the size of a grain of rice to pockets the size of a nib [is that what they are called or have I just made that up?] of sweetcorn.  The paste is soft, creamy and occasionally slightly crumbly.  It is well salted but it lacks the bite of a Bleu d’Auvergne or the hefty bite of a Roquefort [unsurprising since the Roquefort is a sheep’s milk cheese].  There is a slight bite there though and this nicely cuts through the creaminess.

This cheese would be quite happy on a cheese board, perhaps served with something a little sweet such as fruit chutney but would also go well in a salad too.  You can try it with pears as you might a Roquefort but the contrast between the saltiness and sweetness will be lost.  A red wine might overpower it, unless you have a light red but a white or a fine sherry will probably be better suited.

Today’s Cheese is Bleu de Chèvre

This is a cheese so authentic that it doesn’t have a fancy name.  Just Bleu de Chèvre, or Blue Goat’s Cheese for a direct translation.  It is made in Boissy-Saint-Léger, a commune to the south east of Paris and, to add to its rarity, it’s a fermier cheese made from the milk from the goats on a single farm.

Now what’s interesting for me is that you don’t get many blue goat’s milk cheeses and there certainly aren’t any famous ones.  There are plenty of well known blue sheep’s milk cheeses, including the mighty Roquefort and loads of famous blue cow’s milk cheeses such as Dorset Blue Vinney, Stilton and Gorgonzola but there are no celebrated goats milk blues.  Off the top of my head I know of Harbourne in the UK, and at a push you might say the Picon from Spain qualifies but that’s a mix so I have disqualified it under my somewhat arbitrary legal system. And that’s pretty much it.

I have to be honest and say that I have no explanation for this.  Maybe the flavours that everyone likes from a goat’s cheese is not in tune with what the bacteria add.  Next time I find Baptiste, the one person who will know, I will ask.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t make a blue with goat’s milk.  This one is a fine example of a good one and I’m sure that there are others.

So on to the cheese.  The rind is grey and covered with ash and quite edible [i.e. you really should eat it] and the paste is just off-white, soft, supple and uniform with pockets of blue mould well distributed throughout.  Since the cheese is relatively young it doesn’t have a strong aroma and also lacks the sharp freshness that you might expect from a goat’s cheese.  It does have a slight hint of lemony sharpness when you first bite it but this is soon overcome by the satisfying creaminess and the saltiness of the cheese and there’s a hint of pepper and grassy herbs at the end too.

It’s a canny enough cheese and I would gladly eat it again but it lacks a real character and a distinctive taste to be really memorable.  For wine, I’d go for a nice, crisp white such as a sauvignon blanc, quite possibly from the Loire valley just for a hint of locality to the event.

Today’s Cheese is Bethmale Vieux

It has been said that cheese is milk’s attempt at immortality and, like all of us, age does wonderful, and not so wonderful things to cheese.  It is the job of the cheesemaker and the affineur to make sure that the cheese matures and ages properly.  Today’s cheese is one where aging has created a much improved cheese but, perhaps for cultural reasons, the aged version is somewhat rarer than the more common version.

Bethmale is named after the village near to where it made, in the Couserans region, in the Pyrenees.  It is an ancient cheese which can apparently be traced back to Moorish times in the early 8th century CE, when the Moorish invasions reached as far as Tours before being defeated by Charles Martel, father of the excellently named Pepin the Short.  Bethmale was also much loved by the equally excellently named Louis the Fat, who apparently died of dysentery brought on by too much good cheer.  I suspect that Louis the Fat, being so obese that he need special carriages to ferry him around, enjoyed a lot of cheese, and since Bethmale was his cheese of choice, then perhaps this is a regicidal cheese.

Now for the technical bit.  Bethmale is a pressed, uncooked cows’ milk cheese.  This means that it is pressed once it is put into its mould.  This gets rid of any excess whey and ensures that the cheese is quite dense.  An uncooked cheese has not had its curds cooked, although the milk often has to be heated as part of the coagulation process, it does not have to be heated again.  Another example of a pressed, uncooked cheese is Cheddar.

The cheese has a good, dusty thick, cracked crust that suggests that there are cheese mites [cheese mites are our friends] present during the maturation.  This is one rind that I am not too fussed about eating.  Normally Bethmale is aged for around three or four months at the most and you end up with quite a mild, creamy cheese.  The one I have has been aged for about 18 months.  The paste is pale yellow and is very much like a proper mature cheddar.  It has a few eyes [the little holes you sometimes see in cheeses, caused by carbon dioxide produced during the maturation process] and is quite crumbly but not really hard.

It’s a strong, piquant, salty cheese with a good hint of mustard.  The taste is not as long as the black brie from the other day but it fills your mouth without burning your gums like a potent cheddar can do.  Since, this cheese is from the south west of France, why not have some red wine from around here too?  Maybe a nice Madiran.  Go on.  Just not too much.

Today’s cheese is T’Chiot Biloute

I like beer.  I like cheese. A cheese ripened with beer.  OK.  I’ll give it a go.

That sounds like bravado.  it isn’t really.  Other than novelty cheeses [yes, you Wensleydale with Cranberries.  And you, layered cheeses], I will try anything twice.

This is a cheese from the north of France, near to St Aubin from a farm called, rather dramatically, La Ferme du Pont des Loups or the Farm of Wolf Bridge.

You know how I like a good ancient saint.  St Aubin, or St Albinus of Angers, is a pretty good one.  He has some fine legends about getting people out of prison.  In one story he tried to get a woman called Etherie released after she was imprisoned by King Childebert.  His negotiations failed so he went off to visit Etherie in prison only for the prison guard to drop dead at Albinus’s feet.  This was seen as a triumph of his power and Etherie was released.  In another legend, he prayed all night for the release of some men.  In the morning, the wall of their prison cell collapsed and they escaped.  The most important thing you need to know about St Albinus is that you invoke his help when you are threatened by pirates. Don’t forget.

It’s a relatively new cheese, dating from the 1990s.  It’s made from unpasteurised cows’ milk.  The cheese is then brushed with beer [there is a version that is brushged with cider] and is then given a coating of fine breadcrumbs.  I have no idea which beer it is but I guess that it’s not Kronenbourg or something equally pointless.  It’s a relatively small cheese which weighs about 170g and comes wrapped in plastic which I found a little odd.  I expect that this slows the maturation of the cheese and allows it to be more standardised but it also removes the stage of affinage that may0 not be carried out by the cheesemaker but by the affineur, who will bring the cheese to its proper stage of maturity.  Obviously, depending on the affineur, you will get slight variations on the same cheese.

The crust of the cheese is a nice pale orange, much like many of the other washed rind cheeses of northern France such as the Maroilles or the Pont l’Eveque.  The cheese is relatively soft under the skin and gives lightly to the touch.  The crust is not sticky like other washed rind cheeses, I suppose thanks to the breadcrumbs.

The paste is a pale ivory with some eyes, or spaces, throughout and the aroma is, like such cheeses, stronger than the taste.  It is a mild, creamy cheese with a slightly yeasty hint and a slight sweetness and you can eat the paste and rind.  Although you can obviously eat this accompanied by a wine, this is a cheese from the North, not far from Belgium.  I’d take this with a good beer, perhaps not so strong as it to drown the delicate flavour.  Try a decent blonde, ambre or Biere de Garde.

 

 

Today’s cheese is Brie Noir

This cheese is almost mythological.  I mentioned its rumoured existence some time ago here but I have never found it.  Until now.

My preferred cheese shop has set up a little area called the Little Shop of Horrors.  Here they display a range of gruesome misfits, a rogues’ gallery of cheeses.  The tough, gnarly cheeses that you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley when you’re only armed with some flimsy cheese knife and a cream cracker.  But these are the same cheeses that demand and deserve respect.

As a slight aside, I have a bugbear with people who say that people must earn respect.  This is simply not true.  We have a duty to respect everyone we meet or at least respect their existence and their rights.  Of course we are not required to be everyone’s friend but we should at least take the time to understand that everyone has a past and history that we know pretty much nothing about.  We should not assume anything but we should grant everyone the fundamental right of being respected as a human.  That sounds like some terrible platitudinous self help book so I apologise for the phrasing but not the sentiment.

Brie is a popular cheese and it’s fair to say that pretty much everyone knows it.  It is one of France’s classics.  There are two main Bries, the Brie de Meaux and the Brie de Melun.  The Melun is a more powerful and pungent Brie and the Meaux is more approachable and acceptable to the majority of palates.

A Brie is normally matured for a month or two.  But what happens if you have too much Brie.  OK.  It’s a fair question:  Can you really have too much Brie?  I guess yes must be the answer since it seems that, during in a time of such abundance, there was too much Brie.  And the Brie was matured for a lot longer.  Brie Noir, or Black Brie if you must, has been matured for around ten months.  Some will say matured and some will say abandoned.  The pale, young Bries will belong to the foppish aristocracy.  The tough Brie Noir will belong with the peasants and the workers, easily transported in pockets and bags.

Gone is the ivory paste and the white downy rind.  Now we have a cheese with a paste the colour of dark vanilla fudge, if paste is the word for something as firm as a cheddar but drier.  The rind is more brown now and cracked, not just little delicate Japanese crackling in pottery though, these are fissures.

The smell is stronger and obviously less fresh than a typical Brie but it is not offensive.  It’s not an eye-watering cough inducing smell.  You know it’s going to have a kick though.

And the texture is akin to other aged cheeses such as the Comte.  It’s not as granular as a parmesan but it is more punchy.  It’s taste is quite caramelly but with some sharpness.  It is strong though, so don’t eat it as the first cheese on the cheese board.  The taste is very, very long.

But here’s the next odd thing.  It is sometimes recommended that you eat this cheese with some coffee.  Not wine. Coffee.  The more ardent connoisseur will take it with their breakfast coffee.  I discussed it in the cheese shop and we decided that an espresso would be ideal.  Perversely it works. The coffee’s slight bitterness adds to the caramelly sweetness and there’s almost a hint of cocoa.  You don’t need very much either, imagine it’s a small sweet on the side of your saucer since that’s all you need.  This isn’t something to eat in great slabs.  At €60 per kg, you might be wise to measure your intake.  But you don’t need much.  A small piece is enough to give you the taste and experience.  Perhaps like good design or a fine and pure chocolate, less really is more.

Today’s cheese is Le Carré du Père Antoine plus nuns, sex and money

What could possibly go wrong?

This cheese is from a town called Vergaville in the Moselle area of Lorraine, bordering on Germany and Luxembourg.  So they have white wine and decent cheese.

Its name suggests its religious background and it’s made by the Fromagerie de l’Abbaye.  Nuns.  Except there isn’t an abbey in Vergaville anymore.  It was established in 966, pretty much ruined during the 30 Years War, rebuilt in 1745 only to be finally demolished off in the Revolution forty or fifty years later.

There’s a long and venerable history of nuns, and perhaps more commonly monks, being involved in making cheese as well as beer and liqueurs.  The abbeys controlled a great deal of wealth, land and livestock and although they had certain responsibilities toward the sick and poverty stricken the wealth was incredible.

Even now the wealth controlled by the churches is staggering.  The Economist estimated that the U.S. Catholic church spent $171,600,000,000 [yes, $171 billion] in 2010.  That’s a lot of people employed and quite possibly, a lot of good work done.  It is also the biggest landowner in Manhattan.   The Church of England is a financial weakling, controlling a mere £4.4 billion of assets as of 2008.

It was no wonder that medieval Europe saw the rise of many religious and millenarian movements raging against the wealth of the church and how this was in clear contradiction of the Bible and any supposed vows of poverty.

At the times of the great abbeys, convents and monasteries the local peasants couldn’t offer much in the way of donations beyond the tithes that were exacted upon them and so the monks and nuns grew and maintained their own fields and livestock, and from their harvests could produce wines, liqueurs and beers, and from the milk, cheese.

And with these pleasures and the inevitable temptations of the flesh, there was a fair degree of licentiousness within the religious institutions.  Nuns spoke of being visited by supernatural beings bringing sexual satisfaction “Incubi infest cloisters”.  In his entertainingly titled book Coryat’s Crudities written in the early 1600s, Thomas Coryat describes plenty of cases of nuns, and even abbesses becoming pregnant or being involved in scandal.

The hysteria around such incubi led to an investigation in 1565 which discovered that local young men were habitually climbing into the nunnery to carry on affairs with the nuns.  When these visits were stopped the hysteria and visions of the incubi began.  In these cases, the nuns, being women and therefore considered to be completely innocent and incapable of such thoughts themselves were found to be pure and innocent. Whilst any monks and priests that carried on these affairs with nuns and brought about this hysteria were denounced as degenerates and were burned.  One priest who was accused after his death was dug up so that he could be burnt.    There are plenty of other fine stories, especially the sado-masochistic ones, but I feel I am becoming distracted and perhaps mildly hysterical myself.

Where was I?

So this cheese then.

This is a pasteurised cows milk cheese with a washed rind with a white bloom.  In this case, it is washed in an eau de vie made from mirabelle plums.  It’s rind is orange, soft and sticky.  The aroma, like most washed rind cheeses is ripe and pungent but thankfully lacking the ammonia aspect of some cheeses.

The paste is ivory coloured and creamy and will start to run if you keep it out, allowing it to warm [as of course you should or even must].  There are a number of eyes throughout the paste, especially towards the centre but these disappears as the cheese matures and softens.  It is smooth and, like the Pont l’Eveque it resembles, unctious and slightly fruity.  Its smell is not mirrored in its taste but it does have a long taste so save it to the end of the evening.  And for wine, consider either a Gewurztraminer or maybe a Pinot Noir.

And yes, the nuns and sex stuff was really to get attention.

Today’s cheese is Bleu de Montbriac

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.