SoCheese has a photo essay on Jacky Quesnot, fromager-affineur at Fromagerie Saint-Nicolas on Rue Saint-Nicolas in Colmar, in the Alsace region of France. My mom grew up in Alsace, mostly in Colmar, and Munster was the first truly French stinky cheese I can remember eating and liking, at my grandparent’s table as a small child. I don’t remember if they shopped at the Quesnot shop, but the next time I’m there I’ll be sure to swing by:
Jacky Quesnot, one of the big names amongst cheesemongers from Alsace has been working in the cheese industry for 30 years with his wife Christine. He works in Colmar, in a shop in the old part of town as well as the indoor market just nearby. She works in the south in Mulhouse, on the Marché du canal couvert. When the working day is done, they meet half way where they live in Buhl…and where they have created their caves d’affinage.
Given he’s in Alsace, Munster, preferably farmhouse, is one of its greatest passions. Jackey Quesnot permanently has six on offer. ‘They come from different valleys in the Vosges Mountains,’ he explains. Rather than pushing 1 or 2 producers to their limits, I prefer working with lots of different sources. In general, 80% of the Munsters that you can buy have a similar flavour. I choose mine from the remaining 20%. These cheeses are the unique ones.’
check out the full story. SoCheese has been running a week of Alsace stories, so check them all out!
(Photos ©2013 SoCheese.fr)
Quebec is producing many great cheeses these days, including a wider variety of raw milk cheeses thanks to provincial laws that are closer to those of Europe. I tasted some great ones at last year’s ACS Conference in Raleigh, and Quebec makers took home multiple ribbons. The Boston Globe went on a driving tour of the Quebec Cheese trail:
In Saint-Lambert, a Montreal suburb, Max Dubois runs L’Échoppe des Fromages, the back full of mix-matched chairs and tables. Cappuccinos come with a tower of foam mounded several inches high.
Trained in theater and sociology, Dubois sang loudly and well as he chose a record for the stereo, and before joining us greeted his early morning customers by name. “Always we had a mission,” he said, “to educate everybody … and explain the importance of eating true cheese.”
“A true cheese for me, it’s a farmer cheese … when the same producers control the cow, the goat or the sheep, the milk, and the production of cheese, and the affinage, the old-fashioned aging. And they control the market.”
Dubois is known as a proponent of Quebec’s raw milk cheeses, a position of politics as much as taste. Raw milk cheeses are favorites in Quebec, but with two listeria outbreaks (one tied directly to Quebec-made cheese) in the past five years, they’ve come under significant scrutiny.
Dubois is still a champion. “It’s better for everything,” he said. “For the economy, for the family, for society, and for the heart. We have true bacterias. For me it’s the taste of terroir. Of the country. We could have a cheese in each place in the country, and each cheese would be different.”
Fromageries are plotted as points on the map, but there is no one road that connects them. Some points denote shops, others factories. We planned for trial and error.
Our first day we made three stops: a highly-regarded organic creamery, a monastery that sold cheese out of the basement, and the home of a bemused homesteader who told us, from his front porch, that he’d given up cheese making years ago. “These days I make beer,” he said.
The second day, we managed six, starting with Fromagerie La Station. La Station is one of the best known creameries in the province. Though chiefly involved in wholesaling, the farm has a nice roomy shop with its cheeses and other local goods for sale.
Driving to each cheese maker is an incredibly inefficient way to taste cheeses. En route, we pulled up to an enormous factory and into the headquarters of a local producer that was also, inexplicably, a poutine-pedaling fast food establishment. If it were just cheese we had wanted, we could have stayed in the city. At the cheese shops in Montreal and Quebec City we met many helpful, friendly, and generous cheesemongers happy to share their wares and their knowledge.
But visiting the cheese makers added a dimension beyond nose or texture. Dubois had said that cheese was an expression of identity in Quebec, but the reverse was also true. Driving the lanes, watching the land change from hills to pastures, turning around in lakeside driveways, pointing out houses of unbelievably perfect proportions, all of this mattered. Even metal-clad barns standing almost like sculpture in the fields can be thought of as elements of terroir, and these made the drive all the more worthwhile.
Read the full story.
(Photo ©2013 Boston Globe)
The Cheesemonger’s Invitational just announced on Twitter that two of the winners from their past events (see my posts from the 2012 Invitational here), Steve Jones of Portland’s Cheese Bar, and Matt Rubiner of Rubiner’s Cheesemongers in Great Barrington, MA, will be headed to France in June to compete in the “World Contest of the Best Cheesemonger 2013”. There’s always been something a little 80’s-movie about the Cheesemonger’s Invitational (in the best sense: when will we get a cheese version of Cocktail?), and somehow the fact that Matt and Steve are headed to Europe to represent the US just amplified that quality by a factor of, oh, one thousand. I’m assuming they’ll be played by Andrew McCarthy and John Cusack and much of the humor will center around hilarious cross-cultural misunderstandings:
The International Best Cheesemonger Contest, organised by Tours événements in collaboration with the Contest’s Organising Committee and the support of its partners, will be held on Sunday 2 June 2013.
Numerous applications have been registered,
10 candidates were selected:
- Fabien DEGOULET - France
- Pascal FAUVILLE - Belgium
- Antony FEMIA -Australia
- Steve JONES - USA
- Frédéric LEDOUX - France
- Miyuki MURASE - Japan
- Jean-Charles OUVRAT - France
- Andrea RIPAMONTI - Italy
- Matthew Jeremy RUBINER - USA
- Nathalie VANHAVER - Belgium
Trade-Show visitors will be able to attend all the “2013 International Best Cheesemonger Contest” tests.
In all seriousness, congratulations to Steve and Matt, this is a huge honor, and they’re sure to rep the US proud. Learn more and get tickets here.
This brick-red, hybrid-rinded beauty is Saintalain, also known as Le Drean. Made by Laiterie Garmy, and now affinaged by the famed Rodolphe Le Meunier, the name, Le Drean, comes from a play on the name of Andrew, the cheesemaker’s grandfather (the scrambling of syllables resulted in Drean); the other name, Saintalain, seems to be a play on Alain Garmy, who currently runs things.
Ok, the double naming thing is a little confusing, but bear with me, as the cheese itself makes up for it in flavor. The Saintalain comes from Pont-astier in the Auvergne region of France. The Auvergne is well-known for another sainted cheese, the St. Nectaire, one of France’s signature wheels, and the Saintalain is a variation on the traditional St. Nectaire recipe. Most St Nectaire producers get their milk from larger cooperatives these days, drawing the milk from around the region, but the Laiterie Garmy is a farmstead operation, supplying all the milk for the makes on their own. In addition, the rind is lightly washed, resulting in the appearance, which is of a natural-rinded cheese with a dusty red exterior. At first I was convinced the exterior was a result of annatto coloring, due to the deep, even red color, but apparently it’s just the b.linens and other cultures resulting from a light brine wash.
The hard rind is a brick red color with a stony, textured exterior, with occasional patches of bright white mold scattered around the mold. The interior, ivory-colored, is semi-firm, lightly eyed, oozing slightly as it warms but retaining a springy, slightly marshmallowy texture. In flavor it is tangy, fruity and a little beat meaty, mild wth a distinctly musty, earthy quality, and a bit of wet hay and barnyard from the washing. It’s similar to a St Nectaire but with a little more complexity.
Purchased at Murray’s Cheese.
French cheese blog SoCheese.fr has a post about Paul Georgelet, cheesemaker in the Charente-Poitou region. The region is best known for Chabichou du Poitou, but his specialty is the Mothais-Sur-Feuille (the oozing wheel photo is from my review of the Mothais), which, if Paul Georgelet has his way, will soon have AOC recognition:
Paul Georgelet has been fighting for several years for the official recognition of Mothais-sur-Feuille, a goat’s cheese served on a chestnut leaf. ‘This custom comes from an ancient tradition in the Deux-Sévres region. My mother and her friends used to put their cheeses on leaves,’ tells the cheesemonger.
It is largely thanks to Paul Georgelet, here in the production room, that Mothais-sur-Feuille is currently in the process of trying to gain AOC recognition. At the age of 19, in 1975, this articulate enthusiast created his production site and brought out his first creation a year later, Saint-Paul, a little goat’s cheese disc about the size of a Pélardon. ‘At the time, in the region, nearly everyone who produced milk, did so to sell it. Transforming it (into cheese) was secondary. My parents, farmers and breeders, sold their milk to the Chef Boutonne co-operative.’ His father wanted him to become a civil servant, ‘it’s less difficult than being a farmer’. He never succeeded at detaching himself from the earth. And therefore, set out at giving the Mothais-sur-Feuille a new lease of life, at the start of the 80s, with the support of big name in cheese at the time, Pierre Androuët, who would open up doors of opportunity in the Parisian market. It was the beginning of a long story.
check out the full post here.
(Some Photos ©2013 SoCheese.fr)
The New York Times reports on one cheese lover’s visit to the Savoie region of France, birthplace of many a great wheel:
By CEIL MILLER BOUCHET
LET’S get this straight up front: I’m no skier. But when my French sister-in-law and her athletic husband, who hails from Grenoble (he basically grew up on skis), suggested we meet up for a slopeside family reunion in France last January, I was just as elated as my ski-obsessed husband and children.
Why? Because while they sought the softest white powder and most challenging black diamonds in Bonneval-sur-Arc, a snowbound hamlet an hour from Geneva in the Savoie region of southeastern France, I planned to boot up for Beaufort, chèvre and reblochon. I was going to this ski paradise for the cheese.
Bonneval-sur-Arc is a town of about 255 hardy souls, a clutch of low stone cottages hunkered down against the Alpine winter like a ship in a storm. Trudging through lanes and alleys, I smelled warm hay and heard goats bleating — an apt prelude to the busiest après-ski spot in town: the valley cheese co-op’s village fromagerie.
Cheese, like skiing, is a powerful driver of the economy here. And so it was no surprise to find the line at the cheese shop snaking out the door and past the adjoining mountain heritage museum. I had ample time to read about the co-op’s production facility, based in a nearby town called Lanslebourg, which makes 420 tons of Beaufort cheese a year (that’s about 10,000 wheels) from the raw milk of 45 mountain-fed herds of cows.
Beaufort, a rare cousin of Gruyère that by law must be made in this region, is sought out by French cheese lovers, and I was at its source. When I finally reached the counter, stocked with dozens of local cheeses, the gruff manager, Manu Courtet, handed me a firm slice from a tire-size wheel. Buttery, nutty, even flowery, the taste lingered on my tongue long after I’d swallowed each silky bite. Like most small shop owners in France, Ms. Courtet is a highly regarded resource — in this case, on how to best prepare fondue. Wiping her hands on her red-checked apron, she dispensed the recipe kindly, like a doctor giving a prescription.
Read the full story here.
(Photo ©2012 New York Times)
Via The Telegraph, the story of Fourme de Montbrison and the “last of the Mohican” cheesemakers who are keeping it alive. If you checked out the documentary “The War of the Stinky Cheeses”, you’ll recall that the Plagnes — and their defender, Véronique Richez-Lerouge — featured prominently in the documentary (the Fourme de Montbrison segment starts around 5:20):
Defenders of one of France’s oldest cheeses have warned that fourme de Montbrison, now only produced on site by one farmer, is on the verge of extinction.
Made into tall, cylindrical blocks, fourme de Montbrison has a characteristic orange-brown rind – a natural die from spruce wood – and a cream-coloured pâté, marbled with greyish-blue streaks. With a musty scent and dry taste, it is among the mildest of France’s blue cheeses.
But last year, one of the cheese’s largest makers closed, leaving only three, including just one farmer-producer. Sounding the alarm, France’s professional federation of cheese-makers has launched a campaign to help save the threatened delicacy. In recent weeks, at least 200 cheese shops in France have been promoting fourme de Montbrison. “It is our duty to educate the public and get them to discover this ancestral cheese tradition before it is lost,” said Philippe Olivier, president of the Fédération Nationale des Détaillants en Produits Laitiers.
Marie-Agnès Plagne, 49, is the only farmer in France still making unpasteurised fourme de Montbrison on site, sticking to a cheese-making tradition that, in her husband René’s family, is unbroken for eight generations.
Speaking from her farm in Haut Forez, at 3,300ft, she said: “We’re like the last of the Mohicans. We believe in what we do every day and have deep respect for our livestock and customers.”
Véronique Richez-Lerouge, president of the Fromage de Terroirs Association, says many have fallen foul of giant industrial groups, in particular, Lactalis.
In her book, France, Your Cheese is on its Way Out!, she claims that such groups infiltrate cheese unions and the governing bodies of French and European labels of origin, known as AOC or AOP, and water down their rules.
“Their dream is to authorise pasteurisation,” she said. “It makes manufacturing easier and satisfies supermarkets as the cheese keeps a standardised taste for longer. That’s what’s happened to fourme de Montbrison.”
(Photo ©2012 telegraph.co.uk)
Brebiou, a pasteurized sheep’s milk bloomy rind from Fromagerie des Chaumes in Southern France, is actually a relatively new cheese, developed and trademarked in the 1990’s by the French dairy company Bongrain, the owner of the Fromagerie. Like many smaller French cheese producers, it is owned by a larger conglomerate, in a model of cheesemaking which is, sadly, fairly common in France, and may become more common in the US as well, as the number of American cheese makers increases exponentially and makes such a business model possible. European companies have already started poking around the US and Canada, looking for merger and acquisition opportunities.
When I purchased it, I didnt know the story behind the cheese. The monger at All Good Things offered me a sample, I thought it was tasty, if mild, and decided to take a wedge home (just goes to show that just because a cheese isn’t farmstead doesn’t mean it won’t be pleasing to the palate).
I found out the story behind the cheese once I started googling it. Janet Fletcher, the excellent cheese writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, has an interesting piece on Brebiou, which is where I got the background on it.
All that aside, how’s the cheese? the dome-shaped wheel has a pale pink-gold rind, velvety and pillowy to the touch. The creamy ivory paste is soft and oozing, liquid at the cream line, very mild in flavor, salty, a little meaty, and slightly grassy and sheepy but in no way challenging. This would be a good one for the cheese newbie, tasty but innocuous. This is not to disparage it: sometimes you want a nice mild cheese, and it could make a good balancing component to a cheese plate with other more forward cheeses.
Mons Affineurs, one of France’s premier Affineurs and home of Hervé Mons (prominently featured in the documentary The War of the Stinky Cheeses) has announced the opening of the Academie Opus Caseus, an english-language learning facility in France, where cheese professionals from around the world can learn the art of affinage from the people who are among the best in the world at it:
Academie Opus Caseus is the cheese industry’s unique hands-on center for professional development, offering both practical and classroom training, specifically adapted for Anglophone cheese professionals.
We instill our love for cheese, our expertise, and our experience so that artisanal producers are supported, fine cheeses are cared for impeccably, and customers are well served with expertise and enthusiasm.
Deeply rooted in the glory of French cheese tradition, Academie Opus Caseus integrates hands-on practice, formal instruction, and classroom discussion to train cheese professionals.
Academie Opus Caseus exists at the heart of the MonS Fromagerie operational headquarters, where cheese undergoes affinage, and orders are received, packed and shipped. Surrounding the headquarters are the famed Tunnel de la Collonge and the original affinage center. Several MonS retail shops are nearby. The surrounding countryside is the home to producers whose excellent cheeses are cared for by the MonS team. France is the undisputed source of some of the world’s greatest cheeses, deepest cheese tradition, and the highest level of technological research and rigor in cheese making and ripening. The MonS cheese business, now present in over 20 countries worldwide, has over 50 years of experience caring for cheese and imparting expertise.
An amazing opportunity for hands-on learning, not to mention doing so in the heart of cheese country! Learn more at Academy-Mons.com.
Stanser Rotelli (translation: “little red from Stans”), a washed-rind, soft-ripened raw cow’s milk cheese made by Josef Barmettler in Stans, Switzerland and affinaged by Rolf Beeler. Similar in style to a Reblochon, with the trademark pungency of a washed-rind cheese. The rind is rosy-orange in color, with white bumpy mottling and waves, especially as it ripens (this wheel was a little younger and firmer). The paste is smooth, velvety and creamy, heavy eyed with irregular openings. If you can get when it’s really ripe it can be runny to the point of spoonability, like a fine Epoisses, and at that point it will give Epoisses a run for its money in the “holy crap what is that smell” department as well!
The aroma is first thing that hits you, the wonderful (for some of us) smells of barnyard, wet hay, complex and multilayered, thanks to the quality raw milk that goes into this cheese.
The flavor is milder than some washed rinds but still quite assertive, sweet, meaty, milky, even spicy, with nutty and herbaceous notes and a smooth finish.
Purchased at Rubiner’s Cheesemongers in Great Barrington, MA.