SEPTEMBER 2023: TASTE OF PLACE
For the second edition of the French Market Cheese Club, we bring you four fantastic cheeses from (or near) France — each with a flavor profile exhibiting distinct characteristics of its environment.
In addition to the four cheeses, we’ve included a selection of cheese-loving accoutrements and a booklet with information on each cheese, tasting notes, and recommendations for pairing with food and wine.
Entlebuch, Switzerland | Cow’s Milk | Unpasteurized
Rockflower comes from Gourmino, a collective of Swiss cheesemakers preserving time-honored production and focusing on quality over quantity. This wheel is named after the yellow flowers that grow on the slopes of the Kleinstein dairy’s “home mountain,” 2,500 feet above the hamlet of Werthenstein in central Switzerland.
The cheesemakers mostly produce large wheels of Emmentaler (Swiss cheese to us), whose production is limited by law. When they hit their limit, they use locally procured milk (“fresh raw milk from happy cows, grazing on lush flower meadows) to experiment with much smaller wheels like this Rockflower.
Since they are accustomed to producing extremely large wheels of cheese, all of that milky flavor gets concentrated in the smaller wheels. The result is an exceptional cheese with balanced salt, delicate earthiness, and floral flavor.
Flavor Profile: cooked cream, pine nuts, umami
Food Pairing: fresh fruit, fall vegetables
Accoutrement Pairing: dried apricot, pickled shallots
Wine Pairing: Sangiovese (Corsica, Sicily), Cab Franc (Hungary)
Bourgogne, France | Cow’s Milk | Unpasteurized
This delightfully pungent classic is a quintessential example of this month’s theme of “taste of place.” Named after the town (yes, Epoisses) where it originated at the start of the 16th century, it remains today the pride andj oy of its fewer than 1,000 residents. On first glance (or smell), Epoisses can be a bit intimidating, but it really is a quite simple, straightforward cheese, and not nearly as potent in flavor as it is in odor.
Made with just cow’s milk and salt, it ages for at least six weeks and is washed with a mixture of brine and Marc de Bourgogne, a local pomace (byproduct of winemaking) brandy that encourages the growth of bacteria and yeast to produce the distinct orange color and smell.
Even after working with Epoisses for years and experiencing in all stages of ripeness, I don’t think I fully appreciated or understood the allure of this cheese until a recent trip to Omaha, Nebraska, of all places. There, a friend and I stumbled upon a charming French bistro with a handwritten specials board listing an item simply called “Epoisses.” Of course, we ordered it and received a little wheel of Epoisses with sliced bread and a bit of jam (all it really needs). Allured by the creamy, round interior and rich umami of the crazy rind, I devoured far too quickly, without any regrets.
Flavor Profile: garlic, mushroom, fruit
Food Pairing: fresh baguette, cumin seed
Accoutrement Pairing: honeycrisp apple, spicy jam
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir (Burgundy), Merlot (Argentina)
Basque, France | Sheep’s Milk | Pasteurized
Last month we featured a cow’s milk cheese from the Basque region of France, a place where sheep’s milk reigns supreme. This time the milk is sheep, but the cheese is blue!
Urdiña is a new one for us, and a great exercise in experiencing “taste of place.” The Basque region is known for Manchego and other salty, nutty sheep’s milk cheeses, and Agour produces almost exclusively sheep’s milk cheese with natural rinds that impart a bit of umami flavor. When we went in for our first taste, we were prepared for the immediate salinity and delighted as it gave way to a creamy backbone and delightful tang from the blue. The natural rind reduces the overall moisture of the cheese a bit, but in turn provides a much more developed and full flavor profile that lends itself to this style of sheep’s milk cheese.
Urdiña is quickly becoming one of our favorites, with characteristics indicative of the place it is from, and a unique, approachable flavor.
Flavor Profile: nuts, spices, apricots
Food Pairing: green salad, grilled vegetables
Accoutrement Pairing: sour cherry, tart fruit compote
Wine Pairing: Borges, Trockenbeerenauslese, Reserve Tawny Port
TOMME DE CHATAIGNERAIE
Pays de la Loire | Goat’s Milk | Pasteurized
One of our all-time favorites, Tomme de Chataigneraie is a beautiful cheese to behold on a board and backs up its good looks with a supremely distinct texture and wonderfully nuanced flavor. Produced on the western edge of the scenic Pays de la Loire in western France, the goats graze in a chestnut forest (chataigneraie).
Much like pigs eating acorns to produce nutty, delicious ham, the chestnuts contribute to the nutty flavor of this cheese. In our experience, the texture is uncommon for goat’s milk cheeses. It is firm enough to slice, but still soft and unctuous. The rind is a real showstopper on a board, with a vibrant orange-yellow rind attributed to the aging by Herve Mons, a cheese affineur we consider one of the true “rockstars” of the cheese world. To achieve this perfect crust, he acquires the cheese young and ages it for about three months.
We don’t carry anything else quite like this one, and it is one of the most approachable cheeses in the case, despite the intimidating rind!
Flavor Profile: smooth, herbal, chestnut, chestnut, and more chestnut
Food Pairing: mushroom, sage
Accoutrement Pairing: dried cranberry, dried cherry, almonds
Wine Pairing: Brut Champagne, Chablis
AUGUST 2023: FRENCH (AND CROATIAN) CHEESE
For the first edition of the French Market Cheese Club, we bring you four fantastic cheeses — each distinct in region and style — with three from France and one from Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast.
To accompany your cheeses, we’ve also included sweet-and-spicy pecans, dried mission figs, baguette, and a sensational mirabelle plum jam by Maison Perrotte in France.
But don’t let your imagination stop there. While cheese is certainly delicious on its own, there’s also no limit to what you can pair with it. We’ve provided some recommendations, but feel free to experiment and find your own favorite combinations.
VALENCAY, PYRAMID TRADITION WITH ASH
Loire Valley, France | Goat’s Milk | Pasteurized
Valencay is a great example of French goat cheese from the Loire Valley, which is known for its vineyards, orchards, and production of various goods.
The quality of the grass that these goats graze upon is reflected in the rich, round fullness of every bite of this classic cheese. This particular pyramid is produced by Jacquin and Sons. They collect all of their milk from 50 local farms within a 30-mile radius of their production facility, which hits a sweet spot in terms of artisan, local production on a scale large enough for the product to be exported, all at a reasonable price.
The original story of the Valencay ‘pyramid’ is that the cheese was altered when Napoleon returned from his defeat in Egypt. As to not offend him and remind him of the defeat, the pyramid was truncated.
The cheese is balanced, with a natural ‘goat-y’ tang matched by its creamy backbone. The exterior is coated with a fully edible vegetable ash, which has many benefits in the production of the cheese, including: keeping insects and unwanted molds and microbes from calling the rind home, drying out the exterior of the rind, and balancing the pH of the rind which helps in the ripening process. In other words, ashed goat cheeses are great! Enjoy with a wide variety of accoutrements, dried fruit, nuts, jams, etc.
Flavor Profile: tangy, salty, creamy
Food Pairing: fresh beets, root vegetables, fresh greens, salad
Accoutrement Pairing: dried figs, honey, almonds
Wine Pairing: Loire Valley whites, Pinot Noir
Auvergne, France | Cow’s Milk | Pasteurized
This is one of our favorite blue cheeses. There are few blues that are so perfectly balanced and equally at home as an ingredient in a dish, topping for a salad, component of a cheeseboard, or spread on a piece of baguette as an afternoon snack.
It is also a great example of a few idiosyncrasies of the world of cheese today. As with many European cheeses, the name is simple and refers to the shape of the wheel (the ‘fourme’ a distinct tall narrow cylinder in this case) and the town where the cheese originated: Ambert. There it is! A cylinder of cheese from Ambert.
Fourme D’ambert also highlights the difference in price between a high-quality cheese produced in Europe and one produced right here in the United States. It’s difficult to imagine how a cheese that is produced in France, packaged, shipped across the ocean, shipped again to the midwest, and cut and packaged here before sale could cost about half of what many cheeses that are produced in this very country cost us.
Though the process and reasons for this are complex, I like to boil this down to one simple reason: Europe has been doing this a lot longer than we have! This is one of the oldest cheeses being produced in France and dates back as far as Roman times! Because they have been producing this cheese for so long in this same area, there is a great deal of infrastructure, knowledge, and support for its production. Essentially, the more volume of something you produce and sell, the less costly it becomes to make it. The French invest heavily in the production of cheese, protect certain varieties from becoming too industrialized, and eat lots of it! This makes the production of cheese akin to us growing corn, and keeps the cost low for a high-quality product. While this is all the more reason to buy more American made cheese and support producers of a high-quality product in our country, there’s no reason to not enjoy something that has been time-tested and has remained a favorite for so long.
The cheese itself is ‘semi-firm’ and easily spreadable, but structurally sound enough to be cubed. The mouth feel is unctuous and creamy, with all the richness of a triple creme balanced by the sharp bite of the ‘blue.’ Extremely versatile, enjoy it with dried or fresh fruit, honey, and baguette.
Flavor Profile: sharp, tangy, buttery, mushroom
Food Pairing: fresh fruit, salad topping
Accoutrement Pairing: honey
Wine Pairing: Port, Chenin Blanc
Pyrénées, France | Cow’s Milk | Pasteurized
The most obscure cheese of this month’s offering, Coeur Basque is a unique cheese with a very distinctive flavor profile. It is made in the very southwest of France, in the Iraty valley, which is known for its sheep’s milk cheeses. Sheep are the livestock animal of choice in these mountains, in the same region that Manchego is produced in Spain, so a cow’s milk cheese from this area is somewhat of an anomaly.
Coeur Basque is extremely difficult to find information about, and when searching the internet we have come across different sources that claim the cheese is aged for over a year. The producer, Onetik says “This is a one of a kind cheese with a dry texture, rough and pungent yet with a subtle charm much like the Basque country where it’s made.” They also state that it is aged for 6 months…
The flavor is a bit vegetal, with a creamy mouthfeel that lingers. Grilled vegetables would compliment it well, and nuts will bring out a different side to this one. Enjoy something that may or may not be available to us for long.
Flavor Profile: tangy, milky, earthy
Food Pairing: fresh fruit, grilled vegetables (e.g. zucchini, asparagus)
Accoutrement Pairing: cured meats, spiced niuts, tart dried fruits
Wine Pairing: Loir Valley reds
Pag Island, Croatia | Sheep and Cow’s Milk | Pasteurized
The original plan for this month’s cheese club was to highlight exclusively French cheeses, and in this slot we had a cheese called Fleur du Maquis produced in Corsica.
Fleur du Maquis is a wonderful semi-firm cheese coated in herbs. We had been getting it regularly for a couple of months at French Market, and it had become a customer favorite that we were excited to feature in the club … until the FDA (or maybe USDA?) stepped in. Due to an unknown issue, probably having something to do with the herbs on the outside of the cheese, or a seemingly arbitrary production issue that the FDA had an issue with, Fleur du Maquis is now not being imported to the country and we have no idea when or if it will be back! We mention this to show that the world of cheese is complicated, and things come and go frequently. There are thousands and thousands of cheeses being produced all over the world that we will never taste in our lifetime, and though we are featuring specific cheeses through this club, cheese is an idea and should be approached with an open mind.
If there is a specific cheese you are after, especially something more obscure of course, keep in mind that it may not be available for any number of reasons, but also know that a good cheesemonger should be able to help you find something that is similar and may provide you with the joy that the one you sought gave you.
In this case, the most appropriate substitute we could think of comes from another island off the Southern coast of Europe (Croatia), and is a blend of cow and sheep’s milk. Pag Island produces mostly sheep’s milk, with its location contributing to the salty, brine-y flavor of the cheese. Dalmatinac is a great find, easy to eat with a variety of accoutrements, and a favorite of anyone that ends up trying it in lieu of something more familiar, like Gouda. The salty bite is so pleasant, and balanced by the addition of creamy cow’s milk, that the cheese could lend itself to anything from a sandwich to being featured on a global cheese board. To the point of our inability to procure the Fleur du Maquis, there is a thriving cheese culture and economy in virtually every European country, Croatia included, each with its unique characteristics. Enjoy!
Flavor Profile: buttery, nutty, sharp, herbal
Food Pairing: prosciutto, bruschetta, anything with tomato
Accoutrement Pairing: rosemary crackers, cured meat
Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, brown ale
6943 TOMAHAWK ROAD
PRAIRIE VILLAGE, KS
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