Cheese 115 Saint Morgon

Hello cheese lovers!

Before I get to today’s cheese, can we all just pause for a moment of silence for all the poor, murdered Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano cheeses in Italy, killed by the earthquake earlier this week.  MOMENT OF CHEESE SILENCE.  Some 300,000 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano and 100,000 of Grana Padano, each weighing about 40 kg, were horribly damaged when they fell off shelves in warehouses where they were undergoing their two year-long affinage. This amounts to about 10 per cent of the production of Parmigiano Reggiano and two per cent of Grana Padano.  Once one of these wheels cracks, it’s game over.  Interestingly, the parmigiano consortium has asked for permission to move the remaining cheese to warehouses outside of the region…but will this affect the AOC designation that clearly states the cheese and affinage must occur in the same place?  Interesting argument against AOC/DOP regulations! As well, the production of milk used for cheese making in the area was also affected because many cows died were left traumatized by the quake and its aftershocks-bascially cow PTSD, affecting the output and quality of milk.  Poor cows!  Poor Parmigianno, poor turophiles!  YES, a moment of silence, please.

It’s great that we were able to digress before getting to today’s cheese, Saint Morgon, because this little cheese is not really talking.  Like, not at all.  I picked Saint Morgon to review as it’s always at my local Costco and thus, relatively cheap, which I like.  Also,  it states on the label that it’s from France, which I also like, so that intrigued me. Cheap Costco cheese from France, sounds good, right?  However, when I got it home and stared to research this cheese, I just found dead end after dead end.  That usually denotes a cheese with no soul or no story, only factory produced for mass export.  Interestingly, despite the charming “old-timey” label (and you should know by now to be wary of old-timey labels) this is a pretty new cheese.  One paltry source states it arrived on the cheese scene in the 1980’s but honestly, that’s the only information I could find. Who knows, it’s a cheese mystery, certainly not old-timey though, that’s for sure.

see the old timey label

the cheese revealed-a stinker!

It seems like the Saint Morgon-as it is called in Canada,  is also sold as “Presidents Saint Morgon” elsewhere, (Europe) and is somewhat bizarrely actually owned by a Croatian company called Dukat.  This may explain the lack of backstory here.  I suspect (no proof) that President was a French manufacturer bought by Dukat at some point and now exporting to Canada in mass quantities for Costco shelves as plain old Saint Morgon (with old-timey label).  That explains why only Costco seems to carry it, and no one really seems to be talking about this cheese.  It’s a little lost orphan, poor darling.

There are some clues on the label.  It states that the cheese is from French Laval Cedex 9 Cooperative, that it is made of cow’s milk, pasteurized (of course) that this is fromage a pate molle affine en surface meaning that it is a soft surface ripened cheese. It is a washed rind cheese washed in lukewarm salt water and flipped every day during affinage to remove the mold layer and creating a orangish rind similar to an epoisses, but that’s it people. Seriously that’s it!  Good thing we have the Vlog and the earthquake to spice up the blog today because this one is really stumping me.

My little round of Saint Morgon cheese is both stinky and mysterious.  The smell clearly states that this is a washed rind cheese, as does the characteristic orange and white rind with a sandpapery feel.  The uric acid whiff is both charming and repulsive to me.  The cheese looks a little dry, like an epoisses that’s been left out on the counter. I have waited until the best before date to eat this cheese, as you know that should translate into “don’t eat this cheese before” in your mind.  When I cut it it’s not as gooey as I hoped, it sill looks a little dry, the interior is creamy with small eyes.  It smells, it beckons me to forgive its lack of info on the net and to judge it by taste alone.

Here goes…

Salty, yummy, sticky….actually much stickier and gooier than I thought.  Hmm, it’s actually not bad, it is obviously a stinky little washed rind cheese, it’s not excessively extravagant or showy, but it’s a nice cheap little cheese to go with your cheap little costco baguette.  It’s not my slice of cheese particularly, I’m offended by the lack of back story, but it just might be yours.

 

Advertisements

Cheese 114-Garrotxa


 

Cheese 114-Garrotxa

After months of obsessing over cheese, researching cheese, living cheese, it’s such a pleasure to discover a cheese that is unlike any I have seen before. It still shocks me, really-how much we humans can do with a little bit of milk, time and ingenuity. I stumbled across today’s cheese, Garrotxa the other day while browsing my local cheese specialty store’s wonderful box of cheese ends for sale.  I highly recommend checking out these boxes of bits and ends.  It’s a perfect way to try a number of cheeses without making a huge commitment to something gnarly.  Most cheese stores have them, just ask.

This wedge of Garrotxa jumped out at me chiefly due to its ugliness.  Really, this is one vile looking cheese.  It’s almost black on the outside, and this black, bloomy rind had crept all the way around the cut side, enveloping this cheese in a zombie-like black mould rind thing.  I guess it’s no great surprise that it was in the left-over bin.  Of course, I do love an underdog, especially a cheese underdog, so I ignored all the other flashy cheeses and brought this little ugly duckling home with me. Also, I recalled that  the Mythbusters episode entitled Greased Lightning determined that Garrotxa is an ideal cheese for use as a cannonball, due to its size and elasticity.  I  mean, really, an ugly cheese that doubles as a cannonball. How can I resist?

It turns out that Garrotxa is a Spanish cheese made from unpasteurized goat’s milk.  That means pregnant ladies, stay away!  It also has a really unique and kind of creepy weird mold rind thing going on, so really, this one is not for folks with a compromised immune system. Interestingly, some sources on the net claim that this is a new cheese, hitting the market in 1981 and making a real name for itself and gaining popularity.  So much popularity that  there is a big movement to make this an AOC cheese, as imposters-yes-cheese impostors are cropping up claiming the name but not playing the game.  Interestingly, a few sources actually refer to Garrotxa as an AOC cheese already (this means protected name, protected region) while other state that it is not.The Catalan Association of Artisan Cheese Producers have made application for a protected designation of origin, but I don’t think they have it yet, some people may just be jumping the cheese gun here.

I digress, as I mentioned some folks believe that this is a new cheese born in the 1980’s, but a more interesting tale is that it is an ancient cheese, only brought back to life (see, I knew it was a zombie) in the 1980’s. It is actually a very old traditional type of cheese in the region, but the recipe was basically forgotten for while.  Following the Spanish civil war and the second world war, Spain was left in abject poverty. The government implemented a policy which essentially rendered small-scale farming illegal (weird). This basically  forced artisan cheese making underground.  Some cheese survived, others didn’t.  So when Garrotxa reappeared int he 1980’s and was branded a “new cheese” real turophiles knew it wasn’t.

Perhaps the coolest thing about Garrotxa besides the fact that it is actually a zombie brought back from the dead  (and also the most frightening to me personally) is the unusual blue-grey and almost suede-like fungus on the outside known as a pell florida. Garrotxa is also known as ‘formatge pell florida’, which means ‘flowery skin cheese.” In this case, the word flowery is clearly euphemistic.  My little heinous wedge of Garrotxa really is an ugly duckling.  Before I cut away the black mould that crept over the cut sides it really didn’t resemble anything that one should eat.  After cutting it away a creamy yellow cheese emerged in sharp contrast to the black velvet rind.  Some sources claim the rind is edible, others say stay away.  I’m going with the later today!  This cheese actually smells amazing.  As I have been writing this morning and the cheese has been waiting for me, it slowly has warmed up and is emanating this amazing mushroomy smell.  It’s actually fantastic, I don’t know what’s in the black velvet rind but it smells divine. The smell of goat is faint, but unmistakable.  The cheese cuts nicely, it’s semi-hard, there are no eyes.

Here goes…

Mmmm.  It’s lemon-goat-mushroom.  It’s surprisingly mild, the goat is pretty chilled out.  There’s a funny kind of bitter note in this cheese, especially as you approach the rind, it’s not offensive, just not what I expected. I suspect this has something to do with the unique properties of this black mold. The cheese has a great texture, it’s creamier that other Spanish goat cheeses I have sampled and melts easily in the mouth. There’s quite a bit of salt, but it’s not overpowering. It’s actually pretty sumptuous, I can see why it’s so popular, although personally, it lacks that peppery bite that I do so love in a goat cheese, and that bitter aftertaste makes this one not quite my slice of cheese-although I would support you if it was yours.

Cheese 113 Comox Brie-Natural Pastures Cheese Company


It takes a big person to admit a big mistake.  And I’m, um-a big person.  I can’t believe it! I have made a grievous cheese-based error.  I have somehow overlooked the World Championship Cheese contest gold medallist-even though it’s made in my own back yard.  Forgive me, cheese Gods!

I was in my local market the other day, checking out the cheese-as I always do-when something caught my eye on the package of Comox Brie.  That something was a Gold medal. Yikes. A cheese Gold medal.  You see, I purposefully overlooked this cheese BECAUSE it’s always at my local market-I made the mistake of assuming that anything that could be widely purchased was crap, and that’s just foolish snobbery on my part. Do not be trapped into this assumption. I can’t tell you how many “artisan” type handmade cheeses I have tried that were just kind of meh, and how many widely available cheeses I have tried that really rocked.  I know, it seems wrong, but I must speak the cheese truth.

Comox Brie comes from the town of Courtenay- a small town on Vancouver Island with a close connection to my own hometown, Powell River.  I spent many days in my youth wandering the little streets of this town. Comox is an even tinier little town near Courtnenay. Comox Brie takes its name from this town.  Sweet. I feel almost like cousins.

Natural Pastures cheese company is a family owned affair.  The Smith family makes only “artisan cheeses,” all hand-made under the guidance of their very own Swiss  Master Cheese maker Paul Sutter, originally from Switzerland where he received traditional Swiss training and professional accreditation. For the record, I also would like my very own Master Swiss cheese maker!  Hint: Mother’s Day is tomorrow, should be an easy gift!

This company sources all the milk from its own Farm-Beaver Meadow as well as a handful of other local farms, all on Vancouver Island. Thus the “terroir” of the  coastal valley environment is evident in this cheese-all the milk coming from a single area.  Interestingly, when I was a child we sometimes ate bear.  If the bear had been feasting on berries, the meat was sweet and succulent.  If, however, the bear had been feasting on salmon, the meet was-well-fishy.  This is an example of terroir that I just wanted to share with you, because it’s my blog, and I can say whatever I want!  Ha!

I digress.  The Smith family turned to cheese making in 2001 and have made a big splash on the cheese world winning 40-plus prestigious national and international awards. How did I miss this?  Scratches head.  Interestingly, the farms they work with, “Heritage Dairy farms” are committed to environmental sustainability including natural wildlife habitat-their  enhanced stream habitats raise thousands of wild Coho Salmon each year which could be eaten by bears causing a unique salmon terroir.  See, full circle logic.

I digress again.  Natural Pastures Cheese Comox Brie recently earned the pinnacle World Championship Gold Medal, in the 27th biennial Contest (WCC) a technical evaluation of cheese by an international panel of 22 judges, experts in cheese evaluation. Again, I shall volunteer to be a judge at this event.  It saddens me that I have not been called upon to judge cheese, as I am so clearly qualified!

I digress yet again.  As the first World Championship cheese ever produced from Vancouver Island and first WCC gold medal Brie ever from western Canada, scoring 98.95, Comox Brie edged out Damafros double crème from Quebec (which I previously reviewed and ADORED, OMG so good).   Comox Brie begins with milk from a herd of Ayrshire cattle raised by Guy Sim, a Canada Master Breeder. Wow, this cheese and the cows all have their own pedigree. I’m assuming this is a pasteurized cheese, but I can’t be sure-I’m about 99.99% certain of this, but as the wrapper has disappeared and it doesn’t say on the website it’s an educated guess at this point.

I have actually had a hard time reviewing Comox Brie, chiefly because everyone in my family kept eating it before I was ready to sample it.  My small wedge-which was much larger before the swarm of locusts known as my family descended upon it-is a typical white looking brie-penicillium mold on the outside (yup, the white stuff is mold, deal with it) and creamy buttery interior.  I have wisely chosen to taste this one right before the best before date, when the brie is perfect.  Like women, brie really must be aged in order to achieve true greatness.  You can tell a brie is ready if it’s gooey inside-if it’s kind of dry and chalky you have a young brie-put it back! This Comox Brie is gorgeous looking, so creamy and succulent, it smells  faintly of ammonia, mushroom and um, adult pleasures..shall I leave it at that?

Here goes….

Mmmmm.  Oh my lord, now this is a great brie. Like, really, really great. It’s perfectly ripened, look at the picture below, see how it’s gooey all the way through, that’s what you want!  It’s making love to my teeth and tongue.  It’s salty and creamy and slightly uric and carnal…oh yes, this is a carnal little cheese. This is actually quite a naughty little cheese. This is the way I always want brie to be but it rarely is.  It’s absolutely divine.  Yes, this is a Gold Medal winner-all the way.  Scrumptious!  Go and get yourself some of this, stat.  Let it ripen up until the best before date and go for it-you’ll thank me later.

Cheese 112-Cashel Blue

 

Do you have a bucket list?  I do.  Actually, I have a bucket of cheese list- a list of cheeses I keep in my iphone in hopes that someday, somewhere, that cheese and I will meet.  The cheeses on this secret list of mine have frustrated me-they have come to my attention as ones that I must have, but for one reason or another I have been denied them.  There is really nothing as satisfying for me as discovering and tasting one of these cheeses, these ultimate cheeses.  Today;s cheese is one of those scared cheeses on my bucket list, at last!  Today I have the great satisfaction to bring you the elusive Irish Cashel Blue.

Cashel Blue has been on my cheese bucket list for months, yet I can’t seem to find it anywhere in Canada. I’m not sure if it’s a distribution thing or just bad luck on my part, but the other day a good friend and I popped over the border to the USA to visit Trader Joe’s (and their cheese) and lo and behold-Cashel Blue. Now I recognize that blue cheese isn’t a taste for everyone-which is  shame-but it is one that I have acquired, and the rapturous reviews of this one have had my tongue aching for a sample.

Cashel Blue is one of Ireland’s best beloved blues. It is  made by the Grubb family at Beechmount farm with milk from their own herd of pedigree British Friesian cattle.  In the 1930s, Samuel and Phyllis Grubb bought Beechmount House and its farm. By the 1950s they were producing dairy-based products (butter and potted cream).  In 1978 their son, Louis took over the running of the farm and set about establishing a dairy herd.  His wife, Jane who worked as a chef before marrying started experimenting with different styles of cheeses.  Jane eventually created Cashel Blue in1984, and this cheese quickly grew in popularity as a milder alternative to Stilton cheese. Cashel Blue does use the Penicillium roqueforti mould we have seen before in cheeses such as Stilton and Roquefort. If you have been reading this blog, you may recall that I am mad for Stilton and ho-hum for Roqefort, so it will be interesting to see where this cheese lands.

Cashel Blue is made with the pasteurized cow’s milk from a single herd.  Accordingly, this is one of those cheeses where terroir is a significant factor.  Depending on what was going on in the pasture a couple of months ago, the taste of the cheese should shift around accordingly.  Cashel Blue is still hand-made on the farm, which I do adore.  The mould is introduced right at the beginning of the cheese-making, and then later encouraged to grow when the cheeses are pierced. As Cashel Blue is a semi-soft cheese ,it is not pressed and is allowed to drain naturally.  Salt is only added at the final stage when the cheese is dried. The cheese spends the next couple of weeks in a cheese cave doing its cheese-magic-mould thing, and is ready to eat about 2 months later, although it is typically sold somewhere in the 4-6 month range of age.

My painfully thin wedge of Cashel Blue has made a long journey from Ireland, then to the USA and then finally to me.  An Irish Traveller!  It has a gold foil wrap on the outside.  When I peel this back it exposes a creamy yellow looking cheese, shot through with black and green strips of mould as well as naturally occurring mould splotches. It’s not quite as riddled with mould as some of the other Blues I have sampled this one is more subtle to the eye.  The smell is delightful to my nose, it reminds me of cattle, wilderness and vomit (and I mean that in the best way possible.) I simply cannot forget that all Roquefort type cheeses do contain  the same enzyme as vomit, and this actually attracts me to them, rather than repelling.  There is something special about that enzyme in a cheese, it’s almost pre-digested for me!

Here goes…

I don’t want to tell the truth.  I want to say that this is the best blue ever, it was on my Cheese bucket list-after all.  But.  But.  It’s just not really doing it for me.  It is a smooth wonderfully creamy blue.  It’s not overpowering or anything, it’s well-crafted-but there’s something missing here for me, it’s that little hint of sweet that I find in Stilton and not in Cashel Blue.  Yes, I could eat it with a slice of pear and that might address the whole sweet issue, but I find this cheese really has two notes only, mould and salt.  While I love mould and salt, my palate also wants sweet. I’m difficult!  I do appreciate how Cashel Blue is relatively “mild” not everyone can handle a full strength Blue-this one might be a good “starter blue” for the faint of taste-buds, but for me, I’ll take a pass.  Sigh.  This one’s not really my slice of cheese.