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.