Cheese 102-St. Marcellin


Teenagers are strange.  They are always demanding you buy them things: cell phones, ski passes, and Saint Marcellin Cheese. Well, my teenager, anyway.  My daughter is 15 years old, last September she went to France for a two week school trip, and came back a turophile-so it was money well spent.  She mostly stayed near Lyon, and came back with tales of the cheese, the beautiful, ubiquitous, fabulous cheese.  Her host family had its OWN CHEESE FRIDGE.  Yes, that’s right, such a thing exists, because who wants to keep their cheese at the wrong temperature?  That’s just gauche.  There were two cheeses my daughter couldn’t stop talking about, Beaufort, which I have already reviewed and loved- a delicious mountain cheese from Alberville, but there was also this mysterious little cheese, Saint Marcellin.  I say mysterious, as she didn’t get the name down- and it’s taken quite a bit of sleuthing and furtive half french facebook chats with her host family to get it right.

Apparently, Saint Marcellin is ubiquitous in Lyon and cheap, which is more than I can say for Saint Marcellin here in Canada.  My tiny little crock of cheese was about 10$ which is just a crock, if you ask me.  According to my daughter the same cheese costs about 1 dollar in France, which is patently unfair.

Saint Marcellin  is a soft bloomy rind French cheese made from cow’s milk. It looks like it can be made with raw milk, but is mostly pasteurized.  My little crock doesn’t say either way, so it’s another mystery.  It’s named after the small town of Saint Marcellin, and it is produced in a geographical area corresponding to the  Rhone Alpes region of France.  Saint Marcellin is not an AOC protected cheese, and can thus be made anywhere.  But it doesn’t look like there’s any Saint Marcellin fakery, so it probably is the real thing if it says it is.  There is grumbling on the interweb about this cheese achieving AOC status, so perhaps that is coming for this little cheese.

I say little cheese as Saint Marcellin is generally small in size, about the size of the palm of a small hand. Nowadays, Saint Marcellin is made from cow’s milk, but this is quite an ancient cheese.  In the 13th century the cheese was made exclusively from goat’s milk from the the goats that used to live on the side of the roads in the Dauphiné area, as they disappeared the cheese gradually became made with cows’ milk.

There’s a great legend with this cheese-and I l do LOVE a cheese legend…in 1445, Louis the 11th,  the governor of Dauphiné, was separated from his hunting party and fell off his horse. To make matters worse,he  was then attacked by a bear.  He was saved by two lumberjacks who lived in the region. They accompanied the future king, and made him taste some of their  Saint-Marcellin. He was so overwhelmed with the joy of escaping the bear, as well as the yumminess of the cheese that he brought the cheese to the royal court where it became a little celebrity.

After Saint Marcellin is made it is generously salted on both faces, and left for 1-2 months to mature. The cheese is often sold in little crocks (like mine) as it tends to get very goopy when it matures, and it would ooze everywhere, though it is occasionally sold with a chestnut-leaf wrapping.

My little hideously expensive crock of Saint Marcellin has been attacked by a teenager, similar to a bear attacking a sovereign.  Luckily I was able to snap a photo before the real damage was done.  It’s a pretty little cheese, which oozes with a pleasing unctuousness when cut.  It reminds me a little of Vacherin Mont d’or with is sticky wetness. It’s very creamy and floppy when you remove it from its crock. It smells quite barnyardy, even a little goat like-even though its supposed to be cow.  That’s interesting. It’s quite a pungent little cheese for a bloomy rind- it’s acting more like a washed rind.

Here goes…

Hmmmm, it’s astringent in a lemony sort of way, and also divinely creamy and unctuous.  It’s a salty, complex and mushroomy, flavor, like a really ripe brie. There’s a strong hint of foot taste too, but against a backdrop of lemon.  My daughter claims it “didn’t taste like that in France” and distinctly remembers it being less raunchy and sticky.  My guess is that my version has aged quite a bit longer than the ones she was hoovering down in Lyon. I do like this cheese, but I find the cost prohibitive, it would be great to find a local version-hey BC cheesemakers, this one isn’t AOC so go for it!

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