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.

Day 84-L’Hercule de Charlevoix


What’s up with Quebec and all of their amazing cheese?  Is it a French thing?  Did they bring their love of cheese along with their recipes with them from France?  Apart from Avonlea cheddar and a handful of local BC cheeses, it seems as though the Canadian cheese market is totally dominated by Quebec.  Not that I’m complaining, it’s just odd.  Shouldn’t there be great cheese from all across Canada?  If there is, I haven’t been able to locate it.

Thus- it’s back to Quebec for today’s cheese ,“L’Hercule de Charlevoix.” L’Hercule de Charlevoix or Hercules of Charlevoix,  is named in honour of Jean-Baptiste Grenon, the Hercules of the North.  Grenon was a French soldier and hero during the Seven Year War with the English.  He was captured and made prisoner by General Wolfe’s troops during the summer of 1759.  Grenon was reportedly so strong that the English troops couldn’t get a rope around his neck to hang him.   Out of respect, the English let him go.  A picture of this legendary Hercules Grenon graces the label of the cheese in honor of his tenacity and strength against the English.  He’s a massive burly man ripping a large tree out by its roots with his arms. Let’s hope the cheese is strong and burly too!  I don’t know about the need to express strength against the English these days-I think we have established that the war is over. The French have clearly won the battle for cheese dominance.

L’Hercule is one of several cheeses made by the Labbé family at their Laiterie Charlevoix (hence, L”Hercule de Charlevoix) in Baie-St-Paul, Quebec.  I do so adore family-owned fromageries.  I’m not really sure why, but there seems to be something so fundamentally right to me about a family that makes cheese together. The milk for L’Hercule comes from a single herd of Jersey cows that graze no more than one kilometer from the fromagerie. Although they don’t technically belong to the Labbe family, it’s cool-they are still neighbours.

L’Hercule is a very new cheese on the market.  It first sold in July, 2007 at six months old.  The cheese is now available up to the 18 month mark as the affinage catches up to the cheese for sale.  There’s always that lag in a new cheese coming to market. L’Hercule has been compared to  Comté and Gruyère in flavour and composition.  Like these great mountain cheeses, L’Hercule de Charlevoix is a firm, pressed cheese.  L’Hercule is yet another thermalized cheese-not raw, but not pasteurized either-it falls somewhere between the two.

L’Hercule may be a new cheese, but the Laiterie Charlevoix has been in business since the 1940‘s.  They make a number of popular and award winning cheeses, but more importantly there is also a Cheese-Making “Economuseum” on site at their fromagerie preserving the artisanal aspect of making cheese and allowing visitors in before 11:00 a.m. to watch a demonstration of cheese processing and aging. Jealous!  No really, so jealous.

My little wedge of L’Hercule looks for all intents and purposes like a Gruyère.  It’s a firm-looking cheese with no eyes.  The interior paste is a creamy yellow.  The rind is a white-ish brown natural rind which is thin and dry in appearance. Alas, my label did not say which age this cheese is, so it could be a 6 month all the way to an 18 month cheese, pity I can’t tell. It’s also a pity I couldn’t watch it being made in the Economuseum.  It smells absolutely delicious.  If awards were given for smell, L’Hercule would take the prize-it’s like a cross between toes and nirvana.

Here goes…

Oh, it is fabulous!  It’s just as it smells, savoury and snackalicious with an undercurrent of foot.  It really is like a young Gruyère-the paste is smooth and yields nicely to the tooth before melting.  There is no crunch of tyrosine-I suspect this is the 6 month mark of cheese as it is obviously not spent too much time in affinage, it’s still supple and toothsome…but the taste..let’s have some more, it’s actually surprisingly mild-I was expecting something strong and burly like Hercules Grenon-but it’s much more subtle and crafty than that.  This cheese sits in perfect balance between salt, sweet, uric acid (yup, it’s in there, can’t deny it), toes and umami, all wrapped up in a Gruyère-like texture.  God, the French!  They continue to dominate us!  Go out and find some.  Buy it and eat it- I command you!

Day 82-Le Blackburn

As I get closer to finishing my 100 day epic journey of cheese, I grow increasingly nervous about which cheeses I review.  There’s just so much freaking great cheese out there, what’s a girl to do?  I find myself being more drawn to local cheese.  With few exceptions, it seems like great cheese can be made just about anywhere.  It’s a recipe- you see-it’s not reinvented every batch. There’s something very appealing to me about eating Canadian cheese.  It’s not just patriotism in the form of fromage, it’s appreciating the local twist on a universally acknowledged great cheese.

Le Blackburn is one such cheese.  This time a local twist on an old-schoool cheddar.  Le Blackburn is an eponymous cheese made by the Blackburn Fromagerie  in Jonquière-a city of 51,000 people located 3 hours north of Quebec City on the Saguenay River.  I have mentioned the Blackburn fromagerie in a previous review because of my favourite milk fact: the milk comes directly to the fromagerie from the Blackburn family farm via underground pipes which run below the street.  I am entranced by this fact.  It doesn’t even really matter how the cheese tastes to me now.

The milk for Le Blackburn comes from the farm’s herd of Holstein cows. So everything happens here on the farm, from cow to completed cheese.  Like the Chevre Noir we discussed yesterday, Le Blackburn is made from thermalized milk.  It’s not quite pasteurized and not quite raw, and thus retains characteristics of raw and pasteurized milk-hopefully the best of both. I’m not sure what this means if you are pregnant and needing to be careful of raw milk-I would probably give the thermalized cheese a pass if I was concerned.

The Blackburn family has lived and farmed this farm for four generations but the cheese-making is relatively new-only getting up and running in 2006.  Despite its young age, Blackburn has done extremely well.   This fromagerie also makes Le Mont Jacob which won the 2011 Canadian grand prix in the washed rind category.  Le Blackburn and Le Mont Jacob are complimentary cheeses, Le Mont Jacob is a washed rind cheese, and can be turned over quickly for sale, while Le Blackburn is an aged cheese that needs time to get ready for the party.

Le Blackburn is a pressed firm-bodied cheese.  After the curd is made, it is pressed to expel the whey and then milled and salted again.  This is the same technique used with cheddar before modern cheddaring techniques came into being.  It gives Le Blackburn cheese that same crumbly and cheddary texture.  After being formed and pressed the cheese then mellows out in its own affinage room for at least 6 months, with a frequent wash of its rind to keep the bacterial growth in check.

My slice of Le Blackburn has been waiting patiently beside me as I write.  It does look like a cheddar to me, it reminds me of Avonlea cheddar, except there’s no linen bandage to remove, and no buttered rind-pity!  It’s a firm looking cheese with a yellow paste that’s already crumbling a little-and I haven’t even touched it, I swear.  The rind is a thin natural brown. The smell is very mild, barely discernable.

Here goes…

Mmmm, it is a yummy little cheeese once you get into it. I wasn’t sure for the first couple of bites-the taste is so mild I was having a challenge even registering it, but then it crept up on me.  It’s a safe cheese, you could feed this one to anyone, even fussy children.  It’s a little sharp, but not overly so.  It keeps all the tasting notes in balance and is a perfectly respectable cheese. There’s the slightest hint of a stronger taste as you get near the rind that’s yummy and a little mushroomy, but it’s only at the rind mark, not in the paste.   The texture is smooth, it melts on the palate, there is no crunch.

Here’s the thing-and I don’t want to be mean-but this cheese is boring to me.  Yawn.  It’s just another cheddar, and not even a spectacular one.  If I’m going to eat a cheddar I want it to have zing. I want to remove buttered linens.  I want there to be a mould taste as I approach the rind.  I’m looking for a party! Le Blackburn, although good is perhaps a little too good for me. Get back in the cave for another year, and then let’s talk, shall we dear?   If I’m going to eat cheese-and I am going to eat cheese-I’m looking for a good time and this one’s just a little too well-behaved for me.

Day 81- Chèvre Noir

If there’s one big take away from my 100 day journey into cheese it’s this: goats are good, and not evil.  I’m not alone in my fear of goats and goat milk.  Goat milk really, really tastes, um, goaty.  And goats have kind of creepy sideways pupils. This shouldn’t stop our enjoyment of goat cheese-just don’t look right at their eyes, and learn to enjoy the eau de farm redolent in goat products.  If I can do it, so can you!

Today’s cheese is Chèvre Noir.  When I first heard the name I thought it was a black cream cheese made of goat milk-which is quite hideous sounding-isn’t it?  Silly me!  It’s actually a goat cheddar, wrapped in a black wax.  Apparently the word chèvre simply refers to the cheese being made of goat’s milk-not all chèvre is spreadable.  Chèvre Noir is a Canadian classic hailing from Chesterville, Quebec and the Fromagerie Tournevent.  It’s been around for over twenty years and is apparently the “most awarded Canadian cheese.

The fromagerie Tournevent was founded in 1976, by a couple who started a dairy goat farm and soon found they had more milk that they could sell (is this really so surprising?).  They decided to produce cheese as a way to use their surplus milk.   By 1986, the milk production became a separate business and the cheese company was able to focus on cheesemaking.   In 2005, the fromagerie was purchased by another Quebec cheese company- Damafro, but still operates under its its own name and using its own production facilities. The goat milk that goes into Chèvre Noir is bought from co-operatives in Quebec that source from about 30 local farms.

Chèvre Noir is a true cheddar, despite the somewhat confusing name.  It is ripened for a minimum of one year before sale, but is also sold at the two and three-year age marks.  The cheddaring technique is used to create this chese-the whey is partly drained and the curd is cut into blocks and stacked, then turned and restacked in order to release moisture. Although it is a cheddar, it’s also clearly a  chèvre it is a pure white cheese-this is because goat’s milk lacks carotene which is responsible for the yellow tone found in cow’s milk cheese.

The milk for Chèvre Noir is neither raw, nor pasteurized, it’s a much less common milk treatment known as thermalization.  Raw milk is just as it sounds-milk straight from the mammary.  Pasteurized milk is heated to scalding to kill all the nasty micro-organisms-and unfortunately  also all the lovely micro-organisms.  Thermalization sits on the fence between the two-the milk is heated to only 60-65 °C for 15 to 30 seconds-this process reduces the number of micro-organisms, but not so much so that the resulting cheese will be without flavor. The United States food administration still considers this to be raw milk, while the European Union consider it pasteurized.  This explains the confusion around this cheese.  It’s raw, but it’s not.

My little square of chèvre noir is quite an attractive looking cheese, it looks like its wearing a tuxedo!  The cheese paste is very white and makes a stark contrast to the black wax-which I shall remove, never fear!  It’s a firm looking cheese, it’s a cheddar, after all.The smell is mild, I can’t catch a whiff of goat, it just smells like a barnyardy cheddar.

Here goes…

Well you can’t smell the goat, but you can certainly taste it!  It’s kind of bizarre.  It’s definitely a cheddar, there’s that sharp, astringent cheesey bite, but it’s also clearly a goat cheese.  There’s that “oops, I stepped in the pail of milk with my hoof” thing too-so it’s really and truly a hybrid. It’s actually freaking delicious.  It’s weird, and I like it!  The texture is divine. Its smooth and chewy, yet yields to the tooth.  I don’t feel any calcium lactate crystal crunch. it’s just a nice cheddarry chew. You certainly couldn’t fool a goat cheese hater with chèvre noir.  It’s a totally unabashed goat cheese, but it’s so damn good it just might make a convert out of the haters. My only complaint would be that it lacks a little salt-and I realize that I bitch about salt in almost every review: too much salt, or too little salt, is it so hard to get it right?

It’s a great looking Canadian goat cheddar.   Go out and try it and thank me later.