Cheese 105-Allegretto

Another week, another cheese. I am about to hop on a plane to New York, and I hope to report back on the cheese of that fair city next week. While my family looks to museums and American landmarks to visit- for me, it’s all about Murray’s Cave Cheese Shop.  Mecca.  Ahh.  Yes, soon Murray’s Cheese Cave, you and I will be one, in a sort of Turuphile folie a deux! In the meantime, let me leave you with yet another cheese from Quebec to tide you over whilst I visit the wonders of fromage abroad.

Today’s cheese, Allegretto, has been alluding me for sometime.  Each time I go to the cheese shop to look for it they are “just out of it and getting some in soon.”  I find this extremely vexatious, thus imagine my joy to find a half round ready for the snacking. Allegretto is a sheep’s milk cheese from Quebec made of thermalized milk.  This is pretty significant on two levels.  First, sheep have tiny little udders.  It’s udderly impossible to get much milk out of those wee things, so we really must appreciate sheep’s milk cheese for the effort put into simply supplying the milk.  Secondly, as far as I can see, this is the only thermalized sheep’s milk cheese out there, everything else is either pasteurized (boring) or raw (dangerous!) so this one kind of allows one to appreciate the best of both worlds.

Before I get to the cheese, I want to discuss the word terroir-which I realize I have not investigated yet in this blog, despite its’ importance to the world of cheese.  Terroir is a French word which comes from the word terre meaning land. Terroir is often used in relation to wine and cheese to explain the special characteristics that the climate and geography have on the creation of a certain product-this explains the basis of the AOC (in France) and DOP or PDO designations in the rest of Europe, which basically state that a product can only be made in a certain area using certain techniques to be able to call itself by the designated name of that product.  This is because the terroir is only specific to a certain area.  Only a unique terroir can create a specific taste profile.  Of course, others think this is just an excuse to basically copyright a popular product and limit its name to only a handful of folks.  You choose.   The reason I bring up terroir today is that there’s an awful lot of chat on the net about the importance of terroir to Allegretto.

Allegretto is only made from the milk of one sheep herd which is grazed in one specific area-the pastures of the Abitibi region of Quebec. The area’s Nordic climate (aka Canada) results in pastures with a higher sugar content, which is passed along to the sheep creating sweeter milk.  This explains why Allegretto is so sweet compared to other sheep’s milk cheeses not from the same terroir.  It also explains why so many cheeses which are fundamentally the same thing, are called different names.  Pecorino, Manchego and Allegretto are virtually the same cheese- yes, but the terroir sets them apart. Mystery solved.

Allegretto is a relatively new cheese.  Its producer, La Vache à Maillotte  (translating into Jersey Cow) was founded in 1996.  It specializes in a variety of cheeses including cow and sheep cheese.  La Vache à Maillotte  is located in La Sarre in the Abitibi region of Quebec.  According to their website La Vache à Maillotte is “Canada approved.” I really have no idea what that means, but it certainly sounds good.  La Vache à Maillotte has partnered up with sheep farmer Tommy Lavoie, who ensures the quality of feed and care given his herd are consistent with the nordic terroir so important to the taste of Allegretto’s essential flavour. You see, I told you it’s all about the terroir with this cheese.

Allegretto is a pressed cheese, aged a minimum 120 days. While ripening, the exterior of the cheese is washed every two days with brine to develop its natural rind. As already mentioned, Allegretto is neither a raw milk nor pasteurized cheese, it is thermalized. Thermalization heats the milk to a lower temperature, which destroys most of the potentially bad bacteria but keeps some of the flavour from the beneficial microbes. Hopefully any remaining harmful bacteria die off during the aging process. A cheese made from raw or thermalized milk cannot be sold younger than 60 days in Canada. Thus my Allegretto is at least 2 months old, but  I am guessing it’s a little older than that.

Allegretto was the Grand champion in the  Caseus d’Argent cheese competition in 2004 and the overall class 8 winner (Best lamb milk cheese) in the 6th edition of the Quebec specialty cheese contest.  Bravo, Allegretto!

My little wedge of Allegretto sits patiently on my desk.  It’s a handsome cheese with a firm paste of a buttery yellow which grows darker as it approaches the rind.  There is a natural rind with a cheesecloth pattern which is light white in colour. This cheese smells marvelous.  It’s intense, but not foul, I just want to sink my teeth into it’s ewey gooey goodness- and I shall.

Here goes… Well, it’s good, but it’s missing that sweet I was expecting.  This is really a salty cheese more than anything else.  Perhaps those sheep were grazing on some salt licks along with their Nordic Terroir. Don’t get me wrong-it’s toothsome and yummy, but SALTY. Allegretto has a nutty taste with a hint of lamb.  It reminds me a little of the Lamb Chopper Gouda I sampled a while back. The texture is lovely, its chewy and melty, but alas, there is no tyrosine crunch to report.  It actually tastes a little like grapes now that I eat it more, that’s interesting, it is a fruity little cheese.  Mmmm.  Actually, the more I eat it, the more I like it, it’s a beautiful cheese, I would just dial back a little on the salt-but that’s just me.

OK Allegretto, get on my cheese board, you salty little monster, you are my slice of cheese.