About once every two months, I like to go cross-border shopping into Bellingham, Washington. It’s only 1.5 hours from Vancouver, and-unlike Vancouver-it has a Trader Joe’s store- full of Canadians. The parking lot is awash with BC plates, it’s almost laughable.
Trader Joe’s features a new “Spotlight” cheese every month. This cheese is sold as a killer special deal, and their cheese, in general, is about half the price of the same cheese in Canada. You can imagine what I like to stock up on (along with the lacy chocolate cookies and coconut ribbons-I digress.)
Yesterday I picked up April’s special, Pont L’Eveque. Now, it is May, not April, so I’m really hoping that this cheese is still good. It’s a little risky buying a famous and fragile cheese like this. It’s really a cheese that should be cherished and purchased lovingly from a cheese monger who slices off a morsel, wraps it in cheese paper and passes it to you-but here it is bought in bulk.
Pont L’Eveque is a French cheese made of (in this case) pasteurized cow’s milk. It carries the DOP label (appelation d’origine protegee) so that means it’s the real thing. I confess to being a little confused over whether or not this cheese is normally pasteurized-web sources seem to contradict themselves. However, this Trader Joe’s version is pasteurized, that may have been done to allow sale into the USA-not sure.
It’s a washed rind cheese and one of the very oldest of the French cheeses-and that’s saying something. A famous French poem from the 13th century makes reference to this cheese, so people have been eating and loving this one for a long time.
Some believe it is named after the Norman Abbey monks who first introduced it in the 12th century. Pont l’Eveque was originally called Angelot cheese. It’s also called Moyaux cheese. Why it needs three names is unclear, but you can just interchange them at a dinner party and people will think you are amazing!
Pont L’Eveque looks like a square brie or camembert, except it is a washed rind cheese, so it’s a little yellow and sticky on the outside-not that velvety white. There are small lines running through the rind. The inside is soft and gooey-I have been letting it warm up, unwrapped on my counter for about an hour (please do let your cheese warm up, it’s so much happier if you do!) It’s slightly bulgy and creamy looking on the inside, there are several small eyes throughout the paste.
Now, the smell. I have read a number of accounts describing how stinky this cheese is. People refer to all sorts of bodily odours in comparison to this cheese, and that’s just silly. Anyone who thinks this cheese smells obviously hasn’t eaten a lot of cheese. Yes, it is a washed rind cheese, which means that there are a lot of happy bacteria on the rind (not just inside) so it is a little funky, but don’t be scared off by reports of it’s reek. They are misleading. It’s a nice, pungent little smelling cheese.
Mmmm. Oh, I like it! It tastes like asparagus to me. Isn’t that weird? It’s pretty mild, with that expected hit of ammonia from any washed rind, but it mixes nicely with the creamy, smooth interior. There’s a great balance of salt, and as it’s a rather small cheese there’s a lot of rind to body ratio-so that stronger rind mixes with the creamy interior and gives a great flavour profile. OK, I’m going to say it-it does taste a tiny bit like pee or maybe belly button (these are both guesses, for the record, I actually don’t know what either of those taste like) but there is something a little carnal about this cheese. It has a nice, “I’m alive and you are eating me” sort of taste, but I like that! I don’t want to eat some dead, wimpy sort of cheese. I might like it even more with a little slice of pear or apple, it is described as a dessert cheese, and I get that.
Funky, gnarly, yummy, cheap.
Go and get some!