Fribourg d’Alpage

12 04 2010

I believe I promised you all a cheese post featuring the most delicious cheese at the Coulommiers festival.  It wasn’t a Coulommiers or Brie-type cheese that stole my heart that day.  No, it was a huge wheel of mountain-grown Gruyère-style cheese named Fribourg d’Alpage.

Nomnomnom (I don't usually say things like that, but this cheese is that good.)

It seems that I have inadvertently packed up the notebook containing my tasting notes for this cheese, but I suppose that’s just as well for two reasons: one, it gives me an excuse to eat some more right now; and two, it’s such a complex cheese that every time I taste something different.  While previous tastings focused on the nutty, rich characteristics, this time it almost tasted piquant.  Also, the longer I keep it, the more pronounced the crunchy flavor crystals become (you know, like in an aged Parmigiano-Reggiano).  I suppose the flavor development could be happening because of my old friends, the cheese mites.  (I am now wondering if they are transferable, as in, could I buy some crappy Comté from Monoprix, wrap it up in some paper with a mite-riddled rind, and in a few weeks have something worth eating?)  At any rate, Fribourg d’Alpage is a flavor bomb.  Earthy, grassy, nutty, salty, with a hint of tang and a finish that leaves you salivating for more.

My attempts to find out more about this cheese on ye olde internette have yielded nothing written specifically about Fribourg d’Alpage, but many results citing Swiss Gruyères and Vacherins d’Alpage.  What I have gleaned from these is that it is a cow’s milk cheese, the milk coming from cows that graze on the mountains in the summer, producing a rich, flavorful milk.  The cheese is then aged at least 12-25 weeks to produce a semi-firm wheel.  Naturally, the longer it sits, the firmer it will be.  I honestly think this is one cheese best enjoyed completely on its own.  Really, it needs no accompaniment.

I’m just in time to send this over to the International Fête du Fromage, hosted by Chez Loulou.  The delicious round-up is posted on the 15th of every month, so be sure to stop by on Thursday for lots more cyber-cheese.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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Around Paris: 18th: Chez Virginie

2 03 2010

Chez Virginie storefront

The reason for my Montmartre wanderings last Friday was this: a fromagerie.  Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing that I hadn’t made it over there before last week.  I mean, it’s Jennifer Greco’s favorite cheese shop in Paris!  (That Loulou knows her cheese.)

Cheese!

Chez Virginie is a charmingly packed cheese shop on the less-touristy side of the Butte Montmartre.  Mountains of artisan cheeses are flanked by bottles of wine, cured hams, cookies, and other cheese-friendly treats.

 More cheese!

The salesgirl was enthusiastic and helpful.  When I was curious about a cheese, she offered me a taste immediately.  I managed to limit myself to three cheeses, but was very tempted by the four-cheese flight for 7.50.  Next time.  This would be a perfect place to build a picnic, because about half a block down the street lies Arnaud Delmontel‘s famed boulangerie, as well as Arnaud Larher‘s chocolate and macaron shop.  Make sure to take a peek at the Montmartre Cemetery before you go too far – at the very least, do what I did, and snap some photos through the trellis on rue Caulaincourt.

So what did I choose from among that array of beautiful cheeses?  Well, I got a funky-looking cendré de Champagne, a “rarissime” raw mountain cow’s milk cheese, and…

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Couronne Lochoise

12 01 2010

Like a doughnut, but cheese!

It’s time once again for the monthly International Fête du Fromage hosted by Chez Loulou.  Now that I am no longer limited to specific French regions, I don’t even know where this one comes from!  But that doesn’t make for a very interesting post.  Hang on…

(20 minutes later, you know how Wikipedia is)  Couronne Lochoise is from Loches, a small commune in the Loire valley.  It is a raw-milk goat’s cheese in the shape of a doughnut.  I mean crown.  The name means “Crown of Loches,” but I’m having a hard time finding out much more about this cheese.  I chose it because I liked the shape, and I was certain that I’d never had it before.  The rind is thin and a little bit moldy, which gives it a sharp, zippy flavor.  The firm white cheese inside is smooth and buttery, really good, although it might be a bit nondescript without the rind.  And the shape, which is not only fun, but one of the most intuitive-to-cut cheeses I’ve found.  (Really, I find cheese cutting etiquette baffling at times.  Cue flatulence jokes.)

Inside the crown

Before I embarrass myself any further, I’m just going to tell you to head over to Loulou’s on the 15th for the roundup, which will hopefully feature some more informative posts than this one.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Rocamadour

12 12 2009

Rocamadour Moelleux

Welcome to Périgord month!  I’ve chosen the Périgord for December because it is where to find some of France’s most decadent treats.  Foie gras, black truffles, and chestnuts are cultivated in the Périgord, and they are indispensable for end-of-the-year holiday celebrations.  It wouldn’t be Christmas in France without a slab of foie gras or chestnuts roasted with a turkey or goose.  And you can’t go into a shop in Paris in December without finding marrons glacés, those delicious candied chestnuts.

It is also time once again for Chez Loulou’s Fête du Fromage.  (Be sure to check out the international roundup on the 15th.)  One of Périgord’s most famous cheeses is the tiny Rocamadour.  This raw-milk goat’s cheese is no bigger than two inches in diameter – a perfect serving size for one person.  It is sold either fresh and soft or firm and dry.  This time, I picked a couple of lusciously gooey-looking specimens, with thin, silky rinds and insides like spreadable cream.  The first smell that hit my nose upon unwrapping them was one of grassy fields, which quickly faded away.  On the palate they were ultra smooth, with a rich, creamy flavor, mild goaty tang, and a hint of pepper on the finish.  Robust reds from the neighboring appellations of Cahors and Bergerac (as in Cyrano) would pair well.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Regional French Cheeses: Languedoc: Cathare

13 11 2009

It is my pleasure to announce the French region where we here at Croque-Camille will be spending November: the Languedoc!  This is another one (like Bourgogne) that I’ve been looking forward to almost all year.  My original plan has written “November – cassoulet.”  Of course I had to do a little digging to figure out which region, exactly, cassoulet exemplifies, so here we are in the Languedoc.

The Languedoc is a fairly large region that comprises a lot of the Southwestern part of France.  It stretches from the Spanish/Catalan border all the way to the Rhône river – the old capital was Toulouse, the new one Montpellier.  The region gets its name from the language used there prior to the French Revolution: Occitan.  Occitan is a romance language whose use was most widespread in the medieval period.  It was distinguished from dialects further North by the way they said “yes.”  In Occitan, they say “oc,” while in old French, they said “oi,” which became the present-day “oui.”  Get it?  Langue d’oc.  (Thank you, class in medieval French literature.  Who knew I’d ever need that tidbit again?)

Now, it just so happens that I correspond regularly in the blogosphere with an amateur cheese expert (oxymoron?  Nah.) who lives in the Languedoc.  I wrote to her for advice on regional cheeses, and among her suggestions was Cathare, a goat’s cheese embellished with an Occitan Cross, the symbol of the region.

Holy ashed cheese, Batman!

Cathare is a raw-milk cheese, aged only a couple of weeks (sorry Americans – it’s unavailable in the US due to silly regulatory laws).  The rind is thin and wrinkly, with ash coating only the top of the slim wheel.  The cheese just inside the completely edible rind is smooth and gooey, while the inside is just a bit firmer and drier.  The cheese definitely has that goaty tang with a hint of chalkiness, but the flavor is full and rich.  The ash contributes no grittiness, as is always my (generally unfounded) fear.  It would be nicely complimented by a dry yet fruity white wine.

It should come as no surprise that I am sending this in to La Fête du Fromage Chez Loulou.  As always, look for the roundup on the 15th – there’s always something new!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Fromages de Brebis Corses

14 09 2009

Friday afternoon, I went on a cheese hunt.  It took me deep into the 20th arrondissement, to Place Gambetta.  The area is full of neat regional specialty shops, and the rue des Pyrénées, in particular, is a great place to do some food shopping.  Within two minutes’ walk from the bus stop, I found two excellent fromageries that carried Corsican cheeses.  At the first, François Priet, I picked up a wedge of tomme Corse – a firm cheese with small holes and a gnarly-looking rind.

Tomme Corse

I’m pretty sure that kind of rind is caused by cheese mites.  So I cut it off, and the cheese underneath is outstanding.  It has the distinct tang of sheep’s milk (Corsica being essentially a mountain, sheep and goats are more suited to the terrain than cattle, and all Corsican cheese is made from sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, or a blend of the two) with an earthy, mushroomy, savory richness to back it up.  Thank you, cheese mites!

A little further up the hill, I came to  La Cave aux Fromages.  This tiny, odoriferous shop has an impressive selection of Corsican and other lesser-known French cheeses.  I honed in on the A Filetta, another sheep’s cheese, but completely different from the first.  I was attracted to it by the fern leaf atop the pale orange washed rind, and by the way it looked like it would ooze all over if you let it come up to room temperature.

A Filetta

Upon unwrapping it, Nick exclaimed, “That cheese smells.  Like a cab driver.”  It did have a whiff of B.O. and gasoline, I suppose, but I’ve come to find many otherwise offensive smells don’t bother me when they’re coming from a cheese.  When I tasted it, the first words out of my mouth were, “It tastes like it smells.  But in a good way.”  Definitely strong, definitely one of the more pungent cheeses I’ve had in some time.  Nick was less impressed.  So I probably won’t be running out to buy another half-wheel of A Filetta anytime soon, though I certainly wouldn’t turn it down.  That tomme Corse, on the other hand, may just end up in the regular rotation.

After a few months of vacation, Chez Loulou’s Fête du Fromage event is back!  I’m sending this post her way, so be sure to check out the International cheese roundup over there on the 15th (that’s Tuesday).

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Why English Food Doesn’t Suck, part 4: Neal’s Yard Dairy

13 05 2009

For my final (for now) argument in defense of English food, I give you Neal’s Yard Dairy.  In making my travel plans for London, I knew I couldn’t miss making a pilgrimage to this celebrated cheese shop.

Cheese at Neal's Yard Dairy, photo by Nick

The cheeses are hand selected for the shops and the company maintains close relationships with the farms and cheesemakers from whom they buy an extraordinary array of cheeses, all produced in the British Isles.  Nick and I visited the Covent Garden Shop, and when we walked into the narrow room, the smell of cheese hit us immediately.  Cheeses of all shapes, sizes and provenances were stacked high on the counter, and the very helpful salespeople were only too willing to let us taste to our heart’s content.

Appleby's Double Gloucester, photo by Nick

We sampled at least a dozen cheeses, and ended up purchasing five.  Two cheddars, Montgomery’s and Keen’s, both made from unpasteurized cow’s milk but displaying quite different characteristics.  The Keen’s is smoother in texture with a nice sharp bite on the finish, while the Monty’s has an almost granular structure and flavor reminiscent of fine Parmigiano-Reggiano.  We also picked up a wedge of nettle-wrapped Cornish Yarg, rich and earthy in flavor with a slight lactic tang, and a mystery cheese whose name we can’t remember and which mysteriously didn’t feature on our receipt.  But if I have to pick one standout, it’s the Stichelton.  (Apologies for the lack of any kind of attempt at styling this photo – hey, we were eating.)

What remained by the time I remembered to take a picture

Stichelton is what Stilton is supposed to be.  Apparently, there was a scare a number of years ago involving a few cases of food poisoning from raw-milk Stilton.  Cheese producers began making it with pasteurized milk instead, and even got a PDO (the English equivalent of AOC) for Stilton produced in this manner.  Since then, cheeses made traditionally, using raw cow’s milk, cannot be called Stilton.  So Randolph Hodgson, owner of Neal’s Yard Dairy, joined forces with Joe Schneider, an American cheesemaker, to produce a “new” cheese – Stichelton.  It is so good, my mouthis watering now, just thinking about it.  Dense and rich, withgreenish-blue veins emanating from the center, the cheese is piquant yet smooth, with toasty, caramelized flavors to round it out.  The flavor just lasts and lasts on your tongue.  If you like cheese, you must try this as soon as humanly possible.  It’s love at first creamy, tangy bite.

It’s time again for La Fête du Fromage Chez Loulou.  I missed last month, but hopefully this will make up for it.  Look for the delectable roundup on the 15th.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Tommes de Savoie

8 03 2009

And the featured region for March is… Savoie!  A mountainous region on the Swiss border, Savoie is known for its picturesque ski chalets and abundance (no pun intended) of cow’s milk cheeses.  This month, I am eschewing the more famous Savoyard cheeses like Reblochon and Beaufort in favor of some small-production tommes.  (Actually, I called Nick one evening last week asking if there was a fromagier in the neighborhood where he works, and if he could bring me home some cheeses from Savoie.  This is the kind of phone call you get from me if we’re married.  Awesome husband that he is, Nick delivered these three spectacularly smelly tommes.)  Tomme, as far as I can tell, refers to a semi-firm cheese made in a cylindrical shape.  They are usually named for their town or region of origin.

Three Savoyard cheeses - photo by Nick

From left, we have here Tomme de Bauges, Tomme Marc de Raisin, and Tomme Fermière.  (If the cheese wrappers didn’t get mixed up, that is.)  Surprisingly, the Tomme Fermière was the mildest of the lot.  The pâte is smooth, with medium-sized, round gas bubbles.  Slightly grassy with a hint of sharpness, it’s a good cheese, but not particularly remarkable.  Next, the Tomme Marc de Raisin  has bizarre, crumbly black rind.  It’s a step up from the Fermière, a bit mustier and boozier in flavor, with a stronger, almost floral aroma.  The texture is best described as “curd-y,” meaning that it seems to be composed of many small curds packed together, with uneven holes throughout.  Finally, the Tomme de Bauges is the true standout.  It is clearly the most aged of the three, and smells like Sex Panther.  On the palate, it has a full, mushroomy flavor, which Nick likened to a firm Époisses.

It never ceases to amaze me that someting as simple and basic as milk can be transformed into such a wide variety of textures and flavors.  Let’s hear it for Savoie and its wonderful array of cow’s milk Tommes!  (For all you cheese fans out there, I am submitting this post to Chez Loulou’s monthly Fête du Fromage, which goes up around the 15th of the month.  The assortment of featured cheeses is mouthwatering every time.)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Bleu d’Auvergne

14 01 2009

I learned from a comment on my last Auvergne post that Auvergne claims 5 local A.O.C. cheeses, more than any other region in France.  They are: Fourme d’Ambert, Cantal (scroll down, it’s the 4-year-old cheese at the bottom), Saint-Nectaire, Salers, and Bleu d’Auvergne.

 A really crappy picture of a wedge of bleu d'Auvergne

Bleu d’Auvergne has been one of my favorite cheeses since I “discovered” it while living in Moulins eight years ago (has it really been that long already?).  Simultaneously creamy and crumbly, its texture is equally suited to smearing on bread or sprinkling on salad (preferably a hefty one like this, maybe with some sliced apples for contrast).  Made from cow’s milk and traditionally inoculated with mold from rye bread (ergot, anyone?), the flavor of bleu d’Auvergne is rich and piquant.  It is sometimes referred to as “poor man’s Roquefort,” given their similarities in flavor and appearance, but I think bleu d’Auvergne is worth seeking out on its own merits.  It is best complimented by full-bodied red wines – Bordeaux is usually a good bet, but wines from the Languedoc will fit the bill nicely, too – or sweet dessert wines such as Sauternes or late-harvest Gewurztraminer.

 Bleu d'Auvergne slathered on pieces of fresh baguette

An interesting side note: in France, the category of cheeses we dub “blue” (or for the cheese snobs out there, “veined”)are called “persillé,” as in “fromage à pâte persillé.”  Literally translating to “parsleyed,” I think it’s a pretty apt description.  I mean, how many “blue” cheeses actually have blue veins?  Plus, the little pockets of mold can resemble flecks of chopped parsley, if you think about it.  Sounds a lot more appetizing, too.

fromage à pâte persillé

I’m submitting this to Chez Loulou for this month’s Fête du Fromage.  Look for the roundup there tomorrow!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Fournée au Chèvre

4 12 2008

Or, to sound less fancy-pants, bacon-wrapped goat cheese.

How could I not buy this?

Here in France I am often stumbling across “convenience” products like this which I suppose are commonplace to French consumers but are totally awesome to me.  I mean, bacon-wrapped goat cheese?  For two euros?  That’s awesome.  You might be able to find something like this in the prepared-food section of some gourmet grocery stores with a huge markup, but in France, it’s at the supermarket.

Obviously, I had to buy it.  I hatched a lovely plan to pan-fry these beauties and serve them warm on a bed of watercress dressed in apple cider vinaigrette.  The watercress was already washed and waiting in the fridge, the vinaigrette was already made, it was going to be the fastest appetizer salad ever in my kitchen.  I busted out the nonstick pan (didn’t want to risk my precious cheeses getting stuck to the pan) and started frying.

The great duo of bacon and cheese

That’s when I went into the fridge to get the rest of the salad ingredients.  Vinaigrette?  Check.  Gave it a little shake in its tiny Tupperware and it was good to go.  Carefully washed, dried, loosely wrapped in a paper towel and an open plastic bag a day or two prior, my watercress should have been fine.  But it had all gone yellow.  Crap!  Nick, intrepid soul that he is, tasted a leaf as I asked hopefully, “Does it taste yellow?”  “Blech.  Yeah.” Came the reply.  Into the garbage can it went, and the warm, crisped cheeses went onto our plates alone.  And we ate them that way.  Smoky, salty bacon and creamy, tangy goat cheese, it turns out, need no other adornment.  I will be buying these again for sure.

I’m sending this to Chez Loulou for the monthly Fête du Fromage roundup.  Look for it on the 15th!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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