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.
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.