I’ve been doing a lot of reading about cheese. It’s occurred to me that I don’t actually know what cheese is, I mean, really know, and thus-due to my ignorance-haven’t defined cheese for the purpose of this blog (an oversight, forgive me.) So here are the facts, just the facts.
Cheese consists of proteins and fat and is always made from milk. Most cheese is made from cow milk, but also sheep, goat and buffalo (and others.) The milk is actually hugely important. What were the cows (if cows) eating? What time of year was the milk milked? Cheese is made by coagulating a protein in milk called casein, this is usually done by the addition of rennet, an enzyme-but can also be done by adding vinegar (yikes!) Once the milk has split into curds and whey via coagulation (watch out, Little Miss Muffett), the curds (solids) are separated and pressed into a form. The introduction of various moulds into the cheese while it is being made or afterwards during the cheese ripening (the raffinage) will create the distinct final product. As well, the addition of other agents-herbs, salts, wine and smoke-also will have an affect on the finished product. And this is why we have-by some counts, over 1000 different cheeses. Any combination of milk, curdle, mould, age and salt can result in a multitude of outcomes-and I shall endeavour to try at least 365 of them!
Well, that was a longer paragraph then intended! Today’s Mountain Cheese is Cantal, a raw milk cow cheese from Auvergne, France, again with an AOC designation-Appellation d’origine contrôlée or controlled designation of origin. Cantal is one of the oldest cheeses in existence and dates back as far as 2000 years. Pliny the elder wrote about this cheese. Wow. In medieval times a gift of Cantal cheese was often given to impress. I almost feel as though I am in the presence of a rock star…or should I say, a big wheel…
My slice of Cantal is tall and firm, and indicative of the massive wheel that this cheese came from. I let my son sniff it, and he stated, “I think this is going to be a good one.” It smells very mild and delicious, not barnyard-like in the least, completely inoffensive. This cheese is light yellow, including the rind, it’s semi-hard on the inside and is begging me to eat it, so I must.
It’s kind of a tangy and salty cheese. It reminds me of cheddar. The texture is slightly rubbery, but then melts quickly and has a good paste on the tongue. It’s slightly acidic and frankly, overly salty for my taste. It’s really bland and salty and pasty.
I’m a little disappointed, I was expecting more. It’s like seeing a band from the 80’s at long last that you were crazy for- but now they are kind of fat and old and disappointing-and you had yourself all worked up about finally seeing them. That’s what this cheese is like for me- kind of a let down after all the build up. Sadly.
Cantal, I give you a 3 out of 5 which includes a bonus mark for being one of the oldest cheeses out there.