We had a meeting at my office yesterday, and it was my job to bring snacks-a task which always fills me with dread. I fretted for some time before it occurred to me that I could bring cheese, yes, many kinds of cheese, a cheese tasting! I selected 5 cheeses from my stash and arranged them artfully on a plate with little tags and a small pot of hot pepper jelly and some crackers, and it was a smashing success! People love cheese. They love to look at it. They love to smell it. They love to taste little tastes of it, and then come back for more little tastes. They want to discuss it-compare and contrast the relative merits, and also tell about their own favourite cheese. Cheese is an ice breaker. It makes you cool, and popular. Cheese s good. This message was brought to you today by cheese!
Today’s lucky bloomy rind/washed rind hybrid cheese is none other than St. Albray, my second sainted cheese in as many days. It’s not enough just to be a saint-apparently- some French saints also get cheeses named after them-lucky! St. Albray is a pasteurized cow cheese from the middle Pyrenees (Juancon) France and according to the wrapper is a “good partner to nut breads,” which seems like a rather obscure pairing to me-really, just nut breads, or just better with nut bread?
St. Albray is a cool looking cheese-after allowing it to “ripen” for two weeks 6 little rounds of cheese are formed into a flower shape with each “petal” forming a half pound of cheese. The cheese “petals” surround a disk which is removed creating a hollow center-very nice presentation, also looks a little like a honeycomb to me. St. Albray is a mixed rind cheese-it was washed at the beginning of the ripening period, then left to continue ripening-and thus has that funky raunchy rind going for it. Please, don’t toss the rind aside when eating this cheese, as it is an integral part of the experience.
St. Albray is a new cheese, created in 1976 , and I can find little information about its origin, but it is not AOC and due to its relative youth I suspect it is an industrial cheese, rather than an artisinal cheese. Most of the hits on google regarding this cheese include the word “stinky” and “gross,” so I do find that exciting. It’s actually quite funny, the cheese sites all use the words “mild” and “creamy” to describe this cheese, but that doesn’t seem to be the reaction of regular folk, who perhaps, have never run into a washed rind cheese and its army of bacteria before. Most of the complaints about this cheese seem to involve the odour which is very strongly ammoniac and also the flavour, which is reminiscent of shoes that a cat has peed on. It looks like this cheese has a narrow window of ripeness, and it’s quite easy to miss it.
My little slice of St. Albray looks quite innocent. The rind is orange and mottled with white bacterium, the paste is light yellow and oozes slightly. There are eyes in this cheese, and they look at me as I behold them. It’s not that stinky at all, I don’t know what people are bitching about-give them a whiff of Epoisses, that will shut them up! Perhaps a bunch of cheese newbs and mozzarella eaters started sniffing htis cheese and writing about it, who knows, but it’s far from the raunchiest I have smelled and certainly doesn’t deserve the pages on the net describing its vile odour (how disappointing for me personally, I do love a vile odour!)
Well, it’s quite mild, like a camembert to me. Yes, the rind does have that ammonia taste to it, as it should-but it’s really quite chilled out, it’s not as sticky and cloying as I had hoped, it’s actually a little insipid. The paste is mellow and takes a little time before melting in your mouth, it’s not one of those buttery cheeses it’s a little foamy in texture to me-I prefer a cheese that yields more intimately and immediately. The flavour is mildly barnyardy, and when you add the rind there is a note of bitter that I’m not nuts about. All in all, quite forgettable.
St. Andre, you get a 3 out of 5 from me. This includes a textural deduction for foaminess which I dislike in a cheese, and a deduction for insipid flavour, which no self-respecting washed rind cheese should ever claim.