Day 30-Brebiou

Friends, I have a confession.  I have literally bitten off more than I can chew with this blog.  I planned and committed to tasting and reviewing 365 cheeses over a one year period.  Alas, I am scaling back this endeavour to 100 cheeses in 100 days-please forgive me.  The cost and logistics of this adventure are more complex than I imagined.  However, never fear, I do plan to cover the great known (and perhaps unknown) cheeses over the remaining 70 days.

I’m excited to report that today is my first sheep’s cheese, imagine that!  This bloomy rind cheese, Brebiou, is made from pasteurized sheep cheese in the Pyrenees, France.  Brebiou is made by the Fromagerie de Chaumes (not to be mistaken for actual Chaumes cheese-I know, it excited me too!) which is an industrial cheese maker.  It seems like the line between industrial and artisinal cheese gets a little blurry at times-what actually makes a fromagerie one or the other?  The word “artisinal” seems to evoke a certain indication of quality, care or love-but is that really true?  Brebiou is a funny looking little cheese, it has a half-round form with an irregular surface that is the result of using large linen cloths in the production-almost as if to evoke that home-made look, like buying ersatz home-made wreaths at Super Store: it’s a little contrived.

Brebiou is a newish cheese-especially for France-it was created in the 1990’s and the actual name is copyrighted-not AOC but good old copyright.  Thus only the Fromagerie de Chaumes can make this cheese, local or not.  Reviews of this cheese seem relatively positive those sheep lovers, but not all folk are sheep lovers. Other detractors in the non-sheep camp have given it mixed revi(ewes.)  I am actually one of those people who adores foul flavour and smells (I am certain this comes as no surprise to the regular reader of this blog) thus the funky taste of sheep and goat’s milk in cheese form does not faze me in the least (please don’t, however, ask me to drink goat’s milk, that is simply heinous beyond belief) so I am quite happy to try this cheese.  Other members of my family won’t touch it with a ten foot pole, so do consider the sensibilities of your audience while selecting your cheese.

Interestingly, I thought most cheese was cow, followed by goat-but sheep is the number 2 milk in the cheese world.  I can’t actually imagine milking a sheep-I mean how much milk actually comes out of one sheep, and how in the world do they get it out?  It seems extremely time-consuming.

My little slice of Brebiou looks like Brie, it has a white bloomy rind, a concave top and a creamy interior, soft and sticky looking.  I can’t really smell it until I put my nose right up to it, and then-oh yah, sheepy, ammonia, goodness!  I can’t wait any longer.

Here goes…

First the texture is not the creaminess I was expecting, it’s almost a little foamy in my mouth-weird, it actually doesn’t want to melt, despite looking as though it should.  Second, the taste, like a tangy sheep hoof . Barn yardy, but not in a really pleasant way, it almost bites your tongue back whilst refusing to melt. This cheese is rather strange-I was expecting creamy and I was expecting sweet, but instead it’s kind of mushy and astringent.  Hmm, the second bite is better-but this cheese needs a friend, some dried apricots, perhaps, or a crusty loaf-not a stand alone cheese for me. Nope.

Brebiou, I give you a 2 out of 5 for weird texture and overly forward taste.


Day 29-Camembert Rustique

What do you suppose is the most terrible thing that could befall someone who has vowed to taste a new cheese every day for 100 days in a row?  Did you guess head cold?  You are correct! This is a calamity!  What will I do without my nose and discerning palate?  I have discovered that a very hot drink of tea will afford me about 10 seconds of the ability to smell and taste, so that shall be my technique until this passes.  Feel for me, gentle readers.

My 14 day foray into Mountain Cheeses is over, with Cave Aged Gruyère coming out as my personal favorite-I went back to buy a personal slice yesterday-so we know it’s a keeper.  I did see Cave Aged Gruyère in another store yesterday (Gourmet Warehouse, Hastings street, Vancouver) so perhaps it’s not so difficult to track down, just in case you (wisely) wanted some.

I know turn my intrepid taste buds to soft rind, or bloomy rind cheese (I adore the phrase bloomy rind, it makes me think of bloomers) which are basically Brie and Camembert and cheeses like that.  These are quite similar to the washed rind cheeses I first sampled in their general softness and relative fragility, but these little darlings are not washed with various unguents, they do their “blooming” on their own, (actually with a little help from their bacteria friends who…you guessed it….”bloom”) in relative dryness and with a lot less drama.

My first cheese is Camembert Rustique.  It’s a pasteurized cow cheese from Normandy, France.  The label says, “This Camembert is creamy with a full flavour.” It’s a soft cheese with a bloomy rind (yum, you eat this rind). I’ve never been clear on the difference between Camembert and Brie, and apparently there’s a good reason for that-Camembert was first made in 1791 by a farmer from Normandy who was following cheese advice from a priest who came from Brie-so it’s a Normandy variation of the Brie cheese, makes sense?  Interestingly, Camembert also has a connection to the industrialization of the cheesemaking process-it’s generally a factory produced cheese these days.

Camembert is only aged three weeks after being sprayed with the mould Penicillium camemberti-this ripening produces both the creamy interior, and the distinctive rind.  Wow-it has its own penicillium, that is seriously cool!  Once the cheese has ripened it’s wrapped in paper and usually placed in a box.  The wooden box which used to carry the cheese helped to send it for longer distances, explaining its popularity (that and the great taste, of course.)

There are many types of Camembert, so beware of impostors and poor cousins.  You want to see “made in Normandy” on that package. This specific Camembert seems to have a lot of fans.  The Rustique brand has been making this cheese since 1974, and several online sources claim that “this is the one” to eat, so lucky me!

My fat little slice of Camembert Rustique has been warming gently on my desk.  It has a white bloomy rind and a creamy, buttery interior, it oozes ever so slightly, but is not overly gauche in its presentation. The smell is quite strong for a bloomy rind cheese, it smells like feet and happiness- happy feet that have just been quickly dipped in a little ammonia.  Excellent.  No insipid cheese here!

Here goes…

Oh, don’t you wish you were me?  This is the most creamy cheese I have ever tasted.  The texture is unbelievable, it just spreads all over your mouth with a gooey goodness.  The taste is much more intense than I was expecting-this is not your crap supermarket “Camembert” it tastes like asparagus and ammonia, and love.  It’s a little salty and a little raunchy.  What head cold? I ask.  Wow, if this is “real” Camembert, what in the Hell have I been eating all these years?  Not this, that’s for sure.  I almost feel tricked by this cheese-it’s a naughty little cheese after all, I was expecting some goody goody two shoes-but this cheese is deep.

Camembert Rustique, I give you a 5 out of 5, you get full marks for your unbelievable texture, I almost deduct a mark because of your intense flavour-not what I was expecting-but I realize that this is my fault, not yours, so the full marks remains.

Day 28-Beaufort d’Alpage AOC

At last we come to the cheese that started it all-Beaufort.  I have two magnificent children, Sophie-almost 15, and Flynn-almost 12.  Sophie recently spent 10 days in France as part of a French exchange with her school.  She lived with a family in Albertville-in the mountains.  Before she even left Vancouver the word “Beaufort” was being bandied about.   Albertville-in the Savoie- is the home of this raw milk cow cheese.  A tour of the fromagerie would be on her agenda.  As I was a cheese newbie at that time-I thought this extremely odd (how the times do change).  Sophie returned from France full of wondrous tales, but they kept coming back to the cheese-the Beaufort-it had literally changed her life.  She now knew cheese, real cheese, and she wasn’t going back to crap. There was cheese everywhere in France-great big wheels of cheese, and it was cheap-dirt cheap.  Her host family had a fridge full of huge wedges of cheese-every week they picked up another 10 pounds of cheese and ate it several times of day in thick slices-AND they were all very thin and fit.  Curious.

Sophie and I then started our quest in Vancouver for Beaufort.  Foiled on numerous occasions, we at last stumbled upon Les Amis du Fromage.  When my daughter looked around the walls at the over 500 cheeses she said, “you could eat a new cheese every day for a year!”  And thus, the seed that became the blog was planted.

So, back to the cheese (I hope it’s clear at this point that no review of Beaufort is going to be unbiased.) Beaufort comes in three versions: summer, winter and this one-made in the Alps in chalets (d’alpage) yes, that’s right, IN CHALETS.  Beaufort is made from Abondance cattle-like the Abondance cheese I reviewed yesterday, and is in the french Gruyère family.  Some people actually refer to Beaufort as a Gruyère. In fact, it was dubbed  “the Prince of Gruyères” by Brillat-Savarin in the 19th century. Beaufort has a distinctive look caused by pressing the wet cheese with a band around the outside of it called “le cercle de Beaufort” this band is tightened as the cheese is pressed giving it a tell-tale concave shape (in other words, this cheese wears a girdle!)  You can see the shape in the first photo here-taken by my daughter in the market in Albertville.  Beaufort-by this name (meaning beautiful-hard) first appeared in 1865.  However the existence of a cheese sounding a lot like Beaufort was reported by Pliny the younger as being found at the court of Emperor Trajan in Roman times.

OK, enough chit-chat, I want to eat this cheese.  My appallingly small slice of Beaufort smells so sweet and fragrant-yet barney-like a fart of a cow that’s been eating clover and flowers-and I mean that in the best way possible.  The cheese is yellow and firm, there are no eyes.  I can’t see where “le cercle de Beaufort” did its girdle shaping-but I am imagining it is there.

Here goes…

Oh man, this is some seriously great cheese. The texture is very firm and goes straight to crumble in the mouth-no pause for melting.  It’s salty and sweet-it perfect balance. It tastes similar to Gruyere-you can definitely see the connection, but it’s more floral and salty and just yummy, what’s the word for that?  Oh yes, yummy.  I sense slight tyrosine crystals in the cheese-nice!  It’s that cheese, that special cheese you have been looking for, your cheese soul mate, you can introduce this cheese to your parents, you can slip a ring on this cheese’s finger.

It’s also used in fondue so I’m going to melt my paltry amount.  Hmm, melting it improves the texture, it’s now that perfect oozy stringy cheese-Beaufort was pretty mellow to start with, so melting it isn’t really necessary-in my opinion, eat it just as it is.

Beaufort, you get a 5 out of 5, first, for being the cheese that started this fromagologicaal journey of mine, and second, for being such an amazingly fabulous cheese, two thumbs up, WAYYYYYY up.

Day 27-Abondance AOC

I learned a new word today, it’s turophile- it means a lover a cheese, a cheese fancier.  Friends, my name is Willow, and I am a turophile.  Try pulling that one out in casual conversation, I dare you!

I broke down yesterday and bought some supermarket Gruyère.  It did claim to be AOC and it did claim to be made in Switzerland, so I thought it might be ok, but not so great.  The lack of rind should have been my first clue.  What self-respecting cheese doesn’t have a rind?  The flavour was just insipid and blah, and THAT”S what is wrong with cheese these days-we aren’t actually eating real cheese.  We are eating pale and wan copies of these great living legends, and wondering why “we don’t like cheese.”  Have you ever eaten an apple right off the tree?  If so, you will know the difference between what an apple should really taste like, and what they usually taste like-it’s the same thing with cheese.  It’s truly worth the effort to get the real thing, but what I can’t figure, is why there should be any effort involved in it at all.  It’s a “no brainer” to this turophile.

Luckily, I do have a little slice of heaven waiting for me today.  This cheese is Abondance AOC, and it’s a raw milk cow cheese from Savoie, France.  I’m excited to try Abondance, as the Savoie is actually somewhat responsible for this whole crazy cheese journey of mine.  My daughter returned from a 10 days school trip to the Savoie, full of tales of cheese and demanding that I track these cheeses down-thus, I feel an affinity for Abondance already.

Abondance is a cheese with some history-it has been made for at least 700 years in this region, and its name comes from a commune in the area (I tend to think this is not the same type of commune as in my hippie child days.) Another source says this cheese was made by monks from the Saint Marie d’Abondance Monastery, so I am a little unclear on this, unless these monks lived in a commune too.  Who knows.  The cheese is either artisinal or farm made and is made only from the milk of a certain breed of cow called-you guessed it-Abondance.  Abondance is only aged for 90 days, so it’s relatively young compared to some of the other cheeses I have been sampling.

My tiny little slice of Abondance looks like a Gruyere-no big surprise as the Savoie is a stone’s throw away from Switzerland-it’s pale yellow with a brown rind. The smell is mild but quite footy and just a little rank (yay!).

Here goes…

First-the texture, it’s really elastic which is shocking in its rubbery-ness it will eventually melt-but that initial texture is quite tensile.  The first taste for me is salt, yet also forest mushroom yum.  actually, this cheese is freaking delicious, it’s very brown and round tasting with a little cow foot chaser.  It’s not really a carnal cheese, but it does feel like it’s been up to something a little naughty-oh you commune monks of Saint Marie d’Abondance!  I’m not even going to melt this, because I have just eaten it all this way and I want to eat more, curses.

Abondance AOC-you get a 4 out of 5 for fabulous flavour-this includes a one point deduction for salt and texture, which is almost overcome by delicious taste.

Day 26-Vacherin Fribourgeois AOC

My family is staying over for the weekend: mother, step father, brother-in-law and nephew.  This morning-at 5 AM, my mother and brother-in-law joined me in a discussion about cheese.  Brother-in-law had a dream that my blog was called “from Gruyère to Eternity,” but thought-upon waking, that is wasn’t that funny.  Mother wanted to know how the blogging was going in general, and in general, it’s going well for a relatively vile act of narcissism and gluttony.

They both wanted to smell my cheese this morning-and how often can you actually write that line? One said it smelled “like feet” and the other, “it smells Swiss, actually it smells like female genitalia” (although not using that word).”  We eventually agreed that is potentially smells like Swiss genitalia-and we mean that in the very best way.

This cheese is a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland.  As it has the AOC designation, it is a regional and protected product made from cheese of the Alps, specifically the Frieburg High plateau-a true Mountain cheese.This cheese is made from cow’s milk that is delivered to the fromagerie each day.  It’s often used in fondue with Gruyère or in raclette-this cheese likes to be melted (who doesn’t?)

It was difficult to find much more information about Vacherin Fribourgeois.  Although it has been around since at least the middle of the 15th century, Vacherin Fribourgeois seems to live forever in the shadow of Gruyere.  I have found no mention of this cheese that doesn’t talk about Gruyère in the same sentence-an unfavored  second son, from the looks of it.

My Vacherin Fribourgeois looks a lot creamier and softer than Gruyère, it’s also a lot smaller than the massive rounds of Gruyère (see, I am mentioning Gruyère again, poor Vacherin!) It is pale yellow with a brown inedible rind.  I can smell it through the wrapper, and as already established it is a pungent little cheese-I guess then it’s the smelly little brother of Gruyère.

Here goes…

Hmmmm.  This is yummy.  It’s a little more acidic than I was expecting, almost with an astringent after-bite.  It has a fabulous texture, melting straight away with a lovely tongue feel.  There is no discernible tyrosine-protein crunch nodules-alas!  It’s perfectly salty and quite flavourful-but a little sharp for me, there is no sweetness to be found in this cheese, nor any raunch, so it’s missing two of my favourite components in anything- people or cheese.  My mom likes it, but she’s very open minded.  My nephew says, “it almost made me barf ’cause it smelled so bad,” (but he is 7, wait until he gets a whiff of Epoisses.)

Let’s try it melted…

Well, the melting really chills this cheese out, you can barely taste it now, how strange!  It’s like a tom cat with its balls chopped off-what happened?  I guess if you are looking for a benign melted goo this would be a good bet, otherwise, I personally will take a pass.

Vacherin Fribourgeois-get back in line behind Gruyère, where you belong.  I give you a 3 out of 5 which includes a bonus mark for being compared to
Gruyere (my God, it is “from Gruyere to eternity!”

Day 25-Gruyere Etivaz AOC

I have a-slightly-obsessive personality.  It takes a while to get on my radar, but once my little eye-and mouth-has settled on something it’s a done deal.  I am speaking here of Gruyere.  Yesterday I sampled my first real Gruyere-not supermarket crap-and I just can’t get it out of my mind.  Driving my child to school: Gruyere.  Going for a run: Gruyere.  Taking the car to the shop: Gruyere.  Thus, imagine my great joy and surprise to note that I had another Gruyere to sample today!

Well, I think I spoke at length yesterday about what Gruyere is (awesome) and why you should eat it (because it’s the best), and also a huge warning (the name isn’t protected unless it says AOC so you could be eating some processed fake gruyere so BE CAREFUL). Also, if it’s real Gruyere there are all sorts of fabulous rules about how it’s made including copper kettles and caves lined with unplanned specific types of wood.  As well, whatever small difference there is between the creation of Gruyere and it’s almost twin, Emmenthaler makes a huge difference in that I actually DESPISE Emmenthaler and never want to taste it again, where as I wold gladly roll naked in Gruyere (that’s another blog post.)

This type of Gruyere, Gruyere Etivaz AOC states (on its label) that it is a raw milk unpasteurized cheese from Switzerland (we know that), but further, “this is basically 19th century Gruyere, made by a group of 76 devoted families who felt that the government regulations were allowing cheese makers to compromise the qualities that made god Gruyere so special.  It may be made only when the cows are doing their summer alpine grazing.  It must be made in traditional copper cauldrons and only over old style open wood fires.”  Super hard core-I love it!  These are Gruyere purists, and I take my hat off to them .

My tiny (too small, I’m sad) slice of Gruyere Etivaz smells so strongly that I can actually smell it through the wrapper, which is a first for the Mountain Cheeses.  It’s beckoning me to eat it.  It is so pretty, so creamy with brown rind.  I am weak. Now I’m really smelling it up close, mmm, not rotten smelling, but very pungent, very cheese-licious.

here goes…

Very salty-that’s my first hit-yummy, true, but SO SALTY.  The texture is divine-of course, nice paste that melts quickly, but holy hannah, the salt.  My step dad just loves salt and over salts everything, once I bit into his salad by mistake and just recoiled at the extra salt-that’s what is happening here.  I was so jacked up to eat this cheese, but the overwhelming salt is kind of freaking me out.  It also lacks the tyrosine crunchy protein crystals of yesterday’s cave aged Gruyere-that makes me sad, I was so looking forward to my tyrosine crystals.

let’s try it melted…wow, the melted texture is just PERFECT, exactly what you would pray for-if you were the type to pray for cheese (like me), and the flavour-toothsome, mushroomy, loamy, yummy-but: utterly too salty for my taste buds.

Gruyere Etivaz AOC-you get a 4 out of 5 which includes a deduction for extra salt.  I would go for the Cave Aged Gruyere if choosing between the two delicious sister cheeses.

Day 24-Gruyere Cave Aged

This blog is ruining cheap cheese for me.  I can’t walk past the cheese section in a store anymore without taking an excruciatingly long time reading labels, looking at colour and scoffing.  We aren’t even a month in-this does not bode well for the future.  I made quiche for my family last night and used pre-packaged shredded cheese-I felt shame-and just a little dirty.  Do not blog lightly, gentle readers-this can be a life changing endeavour!

With that in mind, I turn my mind to todays’ cheese-Gruyere, cave aged-like yesterday’s Emmenthal-here is a cheese who’s name-at least-I recognize.  I can’t think off the top of my head of anything I actually know about Gruyere, I would never had picked it off the shelf, but I do know that the name is familiar.  This cheese seems to be the fromagological sibling to yesterday’s Emmenthaler-both of these spent three months aging in the dairy, then 9 months in the caves at Kaltbach.  Both are unpasteurized cow cheeses from Switzerland (see, this is why the term “Swiss Cheese” is so silly, the Swiss have multiple cheeses.) What’s the difference?

Gruyere is named after the Gruyere district in Switzerland-it received the AOC designation in 2001.  There is apparently some controversy about whether other similar French cheeses could also claim the name Gruyère (French Gruyère style cheeses include Comte and Beaufort). Oh, delicious, my first cheese controversy. Cheeses called Gruyere are now made almost everywhere.  Unlike Emmenthaler, the Gruyére name is not protected, thus the market is flooded with cheap imitations, like Louis Vuitton at a swap meet-EATER beware!   Gruyere is used for baking, and seems to be one of those cheeses happy to be melted.  I should have used it in my quiche last night, it’s also used-along with Emmenthaler in fondue and French onion soup- ah hah, THAT’S where I know this cheese from.

It seems like a Gruyere like cheese has been around for just about ever. A cheese like Gruyere was made in this region as far back as the time of the Celts-the Emperor Antoin-le-Pieux apparently died in 161 AD.from eating too much of this cheese.  Holy Hannah!  Like all AOC cheeses, there are strict rules about the creation of this cheese (while in Switzerland, God knows what crazy cheese making goes on outside of this AOC region.) The cows can only be fed grass and hay, the milk has to be produced within 20 km of the fromagerie, the mixing vat has to be copper, the shelves in the aging cave has to be unplanned spruce (!!!!) Washing the crust apparently helps distinguish its taste from Emmenthaler (we shall see)-only water and salt are used in the wash.  It differs from Emmenthlaer also in that the milk  it uses has more fat, which naturally sweetens the cheese-the holes are much smaller and more evenly spaced than those of Emmenthaler-the holes may shrink down to a nearly indiscernible during the aging which is the case in my slice.

My robust looking slice of cave aged Gruyere sits beside me here-there are no eyes in this cheese.  It’s very firm looking with a dark rind-I can’t see any spruce slivers, but I suspect they are there. The smell is mild, but very yummy-I WANT to eat this cheese and I shall deny myself no longer.

Here goes…

OK, this cheese rocks.  The texture is fascinating-it’s firm, yet melts quickly in the mouth, but there’s this tiny little crunch in this cheese-what in the world could this be?  It feels like salt… I have my answer, it’s tyrosine- amino acid clusters that form when a cheese spends a long time aging, these protein chains break down over time, leaving these crunchy deposits behind (that is seriously cool). The charming tyrosine aside, I just love this cheese, it’s sweet and mushroomy and totally addictive, I don’t even want to melt it-I just want to eat it all now, if you tried to take this cheese from me, I would bite you-it would be ugly.

Melted…oh God, it’s great melted too!  It’s sweet and oozy and just perfectly salty. Where is the cheese?  It’s all gone!

Cave aged Gruyere, you get a 5 out of 5 for rocking my world-if I could give yo an extra mark for introducing me to tyrosine I would.