It’s bright and early Tuesday morning. I am ready to eat cheese. Yesterday’s unfortunate run-in with some bad rind only temporarily sidelined me. You can’t let one bad cheese spoil the whole plate. In all things in life-cheese included-we must persevere.
Speaking of persevering, today’s legendary cheese, Reblochon de Savoie-is a true survivor. Reblochon has been made since the 13th century. However, it has spent the majority of its existence as a secret cheese! Reblochon was basically underground and for personal consumption only until the French revolution. Farmers using the pastures in the Haute-Savoie area were made to pay a tax based on their daily milk yield. To get around this, the farmers only half-ass milked the cows while the tax-man was looking. When he left, they re-milked the cows and made this cheese from that milk. The French verb “reblocher” means “to squeeze a cow’s udder again”-this re-milked cheese was only for the family. The French revolution removed heads and also the milk tax. At last Reblochon was free to come out of the closet…temporarily.
After a couple of hundred years as a legitimate cheese-Reblochon is experiencing a whole new life in the underground. Although legal in Canada, it is currently illegal for sale in the USA due to recent enforcement of laws regarding raw milk cheese. Although there are pasteurized or locally made versions of Reblochon for sale (Le Gaulois, reviewed last month was a Canadian take on the cheese,) the real thing is-once again, an outlaw. There is a plethora of information on the ‘net of people trying to “score” some Reblochon. An apparent vibrant “black market” for this cheese exists, with die-hard Reblochon fans doing whatever it takes to get their fix. Some shops-unnamed-carry it “under the counter” and sell it to trusted buyers only.
In fact, the whole world of Reblochon is so fraught with issues in the USA that a crop of fake Reblochon has flooded the market in response to this need. A cheese called Fromage de Savoie was created to try to get around the American raw-milk loophole and replace Reblochon. Alas, it’s just no good, according to those in the know. In some places Fromage de Savoie is sold as Reblochon, but beware…it isn’t. Interestingly, the name “Reblochon” is protected by AOC, but this AOC designation only protects someone from producing a cheese called “Reblochon,” it does not protect a store or distributor from calling a cheese whatever they like. This suddenly makes a lot of sense to me-there seems to be a disconnect between what some stores are calling some cheese, despite the rules I thought were in place to protect the name. There’s a lot of mis-named cheese out there in the market place, particularly if the real thing is banned, expensive or difficult to purchase.
Reblochon is a washed rind cow’s milk cheese, designated AOC in 1976. The AOC regulations stipulate that it is made from raw cow milk only, and made and matured in the Haute Savoie/Rhône Alps region of France. Milk for this cheese comes from the Montbeliard, Abondance and Tarine breed of cow. Reblochon is made Industrially, cooperatively and by individual producers. Reblochon is still made with the creamy milk of a second milking. The curds are poured into molds which are covered with a cheesecloth. The cheesecloth gives the trademark texture to the cheese rind. The cheeses are put into a cellar or caves to dry for the next 6-8 weeks. They are flipped every second day and washed with whey to aid the development of the rind.
My wedge of legal and authentic Reblochon is just minding its own business. You couldn’t tell it was a little bad-ass rebel simply by looking at it-it looks like an innocent brie to me. The paste is yellow and the rind is white and slightly sticky. The smell is strong-not a gagger. This is clearly a washed rind cheese though-and all that implies. There’s a little bit of toes in the nose, but I like that.
Mmmmm. It’s mild, and buttery, with a little hint of uric acid. It’s mushroomy. It’s not sweet or salty, and my tongue is always searching for those notes in a cheese. It’s surprisingly light and savoury and kind of eggy. It’s pretty chilled out unless you add the rind, which kicks the piquancy up a notch. Do this at your own peril. The texture is fabulous, it’s gooey and sensual. It’s a sticky and carnal little cheese that seems to have made great friends with my teeth. I’m torn between the great story of this Rebel-ochon and the underwhelming taste profile. It’s not the best tasting cheese I have sampled, but I do like it-it’s a saucy little survivor.