Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cheese: Saint Andre

Saint Andre is a triple cream soft-ripened cow's milk cheese, 
in the tradition of Brie and Camembert, made in Coutances, Manche department, in the Normandy region of France (as one site commented, "produced in the shadow of the mystical island of Mont Saint-Michel" - an advertisement that's good enough to get me to buy a wedge). 
Extra cream, both sour and whipped sweet, is added to get the milk fat level up to about 75%. One site called it the "world's most famous triple cream cheese." 
The maturing process is about 30 days. A wheel of Saint Andre is smaller and shaped much higher than Brie. It has a white edible, bloomy or moldy, rind (from Penicillium camemberti), which is not as smooth as the Brie rind. 
I have read that the flesh is buttery and mild like Brie, but that as it ripens, the color turns more yellow than white and the cheese can start separating from the rind. 
The flavor also becomes stronger and a little sharp. The Saint Andre we had was on the ripe side. You can see it was yellowish and the texture was not Brie-like at all. Instead of buttery or creamy, it was more the texture of Boursin or very heavy egg whites and a little crumbly. 
It was extremely rich, with a salty tang, and after we had it a few days, it got just an after-thought of a blue taste, a very mild level. But it just melted in my mouth, which made the texture of it un-nerving. It is highly perishable and should be eaten within a week of purchase. I would like to taste it when it is young, but I loved having it very ripe. The texture was so different for this type of cheese that eating it was a real experience. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cheese: Reblechon

Reblechon is a washed-rind and smear-ripened cheese originally made from raw cow's milk, but the raw milk version is no longer available in the U.S. due to laws requiring pasteurization of soft and semi-soft cheeses. 
It is an AOC (appellation d'origine controlee) cheese made in the Alps in the Haute-Savoie region (the east-central area bordering Switzerland) of France. The milk is obtained from mixing the milk of three breeds of cows: Abondance, Tarentaise and Montbeliarde, from the day's second milking. The name derives from the word "reblocher" which means to "pinch a cow's udder again." The second milking provides a richer milk. This originated in the 1300s when landowners taxed mountain farmers according to the amount of milk they produced. So the farmers didn't fully milk their cows until after the landowner had measured the yield. The cheese is put into cellars or caves to dry and is turned every two days and washed with whey. The rind is an orange-yellow color and relatively thick, but it is covered with a fine white mold which hides the rind's true color (you can see the rind color in the cross-section picture if you look closely). 
It is made in thin one pound disks so that it seems to have a very high proportion of rind for the amount of cheese. 
The texture is creamy and springy, almost elastic. 
It is often described as having a nutty taste and it is said to become bitter when overripe. As one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die, the taste is described in 1001 as "not aggressive but full, with a touch of grassiness. With fifty percent butterfat, the finish is long and satisfying." In our taste testing, we had it side by side with Taleggio, Camembert and Brie. I found it more mild and creamier than Taleggio with a taste similar to Brie. 
Judy noted it was less bitter than Taleggio. In our group of eight testers, most preferred the Reblechon to the Taleggio, except me. I liked the stronger taste of Taleggio and much preferred the Taleggio rind, which really added to its character.   

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cheese: Taleggio

Taleggio is a washed rind and smear-ripened cheese made originally in the Val Taleggio, an alpine valley in the Bergamo province of the region of Lombardy in northern Italy. 
Until the early 20th century it was known as a type of "stracchino," a cheese made from milk of cattle tired after drives from the alpine pastures into the valleys. Specifically, it was known as "Stracchino quadro di Milano." Documents first mention the cheese in about the year 1200, but it is believed to go back to the 10th century. In 1914 it became known as "Stracchino quadro di Taleggio" and about ten years later became known as "Taleggio." It was given PDO (protected designation of origin) status in 1996. The best Taleggio is supposed to come from the Valsassina foothills in the Como province north of Bergamo where the growth of mold on the rind and maturation is benefited by the conditions of the caves where it is ripened and aged. 
Taleggio is made from cow's milk, which may or may not be pasteurized, that is heated to approximately 91 degrees after which fermented milk and rennet is added. It coagulates in about 15 minutes. The curd is then broken into the size of hazelnuts and placed in 8 inch square metal molds and placed in rooms or caves at about 75 degrees and 90% humidity. The cheese is removed from molds and salted or brined with a solution that includes a mold and bacteria. The brining process continues weekly while it is aged for 35 to 40 days, where the mold is scraped and pressed back into the cheese, which causes it to develop the rind. 
The rind is alternately described as a "rosy," "pink-gold" or "burnished orange-brown" color with dark mold spots and the flesh is white or straw-colored with some small holes. 
Sources variously describe the taste as: a "sweet, slightly acidic, and aromatic with an aftertaste of truffle";  a "meaty richness, accented with yeasty, fruity qualities and a tangy, salty bite"; "an extremely pungent aroma, redolent with mushrooms, yeast and earth"; and  1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die describes it as "meaty, beefy, mushroomy, fruity, nutty, and salty, all at once." In our own taste test, I found it to have a bit of a musty smell, and a bit of a musty taste, particularly near the rind, which I ate. It is very creamy or buttery and mild. I actually preferred the taste near the rind because of the extra flavor. Judy compared it to Brie, but liked the Brie a little more, as comparatively, the Taleggio was a little bitter. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cheese: Raclette

Raclette cheese is made out of raw cow's milk. The milk is curdled, the curds are strained and packed into rounds and then aged. 
The Raclette I got from Trader Joe's was made in the French Auvergne Mountains and aged over 60 days. 
Raclette, however, appears to have originated in Switzerland and is often aged much longer, which would produce an even stronger cheese. It is semi-firm and often used for melting. It has a light brown rind and is light yellow with scattered holes in it. 
It gets its name from the French word "racier" which means "to scrape." A dish, called Raclette, served in parts of Switzerland and France, includes Raclette cheese which has been warmed and then scraped onto a plate along with small potatoes in their skins, gherkins, pickled onions and dried meat, including ham and salamai. Traditionally, cow herders carried Raclette with them when they moved cows from the valley pastures into the mountains. They would place the cheese near the campfire at night and after it had melted sufficiently, put it on bread. Raclette has a little of a barnyard smell. In our taste-testing group, Sarah Frost said that it "smelled like dirty socks, but in a good way." I laughed when I found a post on Chowhound about Raclette with the comment, "it smells like feet with mild overtones of vomit...I this how it's supposed to be?" The taste grows and gets stronger and has a slight tang. Judy likened it to Munster cheese, crossed with moldy cheese. 
Other comments from people in the group were "strong" and "very good." Another source said that when the Raclette is heated, it becomes special. The "full nutty, sweet and slightly fruity aroma intensifies and the elasticity of the melting cheese makes it truly magnificent." It has an ideal fat and moisture ratio that prevents the cheese from separating when it is melted. There was a little crunch in the rind. It has a nice smooth texture. There are lots of references on the web to Raclette parties and Raclette grills, grills used to cooked the cheese and parties where the melted cheese is place on boiled potatoes and vegetables. One reference said that Raclette could be used in the place of Emmentaler, but I find Raclette to be much more enjoyable and it does not have the "Swiss cheese" taste that I am not fond of. Another source said it was similar in texture and flavor to Gruyere. There again, I like Gruyere, but Raclette has a nicer texture and more flavor. Now that I have been reading about Raclette cheese and the Raclette dish and fondue, I am feeling a great urge to make the dish Raclette and use the melted cheese on potatoes, vegetables and some dried meats like prosciutto.

After the initial posting I discovered that Raclette du Valais is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die. Raclette du Valais is made in Switzerland and is the most famous of the Raclette's. 1001 notes that in preparing the dish, Raclette, the cheese surface is put about two inches from the heat source. As a layer starts to melt it is scraped off downward onto a plate. 

Cheese: Chimay

Chimay cheese is made by Trappist monks near Chimay, Belgium at the Abbey of Notre Dame. 
The Abbey was built in 1850 and a brewery and dairy were added in 1862 to help the monks generate funds. 
Many monasteries made and make cow's milk washed rind cheeses - I have previously looked at Port Salut, my favorite, and Abbaye Sainte Mere, with similar origins. Chimay is not exported to any great extent to the U.S., but is supposed to be one of the better monastery type washed rind cheeses.  One of the characteristics of this cheese is that it is washed with Chimay beer, another product of the monastery. 
This helps with formation of the rind and adds to the flavor of the cheese. As with other washed rind cheeses, it has a strong aroma and is semi-soft. 
The taste is complex. Initially it has a mild Gouda type taste, then it goes bitter, with sort of a sour background, and it leaves a strong long-lasting bitter after-taste. Like other washed rind cheeses, it is stronger tasting near the rind. I did not originally like the cheese, but it grew on me the more I tasted it. 
I don't drink beer, but it is supposed to go well with Chimay beer and also good on ham sandwiches. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cheese: Mimolette Vieille

Mimolette is a round cheese produced in the area around Lille, France (the extreme north of France, near Belgium), as well as areas of Belgium and the Netherlands. 
It is made of pasteurized cow's milk and has a gray crust and orange flesh. The orange color comes from annatto, produced from the pulp surrounding the seed of the achiote. The gray crust is from cheese mites introduced to add flavor by their action on the surface of the cheese. 
The mites burrow tiny holes in the surface of the cheese and the fine gray dust is a mixture of the mites, their dander and excrement. 
The mites add a sweet, minty odor. The uncut cheese looks similar to a cantaloupe. It also looks similar to a cannonball which gives it one of its other names: boule de Lille. 
Mimolette ages anywhere from two months to two years. The French word "molle," where the word Mimolette come from, means "soft," which is how the Mimolette crust is when it is young. The crust becomes harder with age. When younger in age, Mimolette's taste resembles Parmesan. As it ages it gets harder to chew and gets more of a hazelnut flavor. 
While aging in cold damp cellars, workers come in weekly to turn the cheese over and brush off the cheese mites and their excrement. The Mimolette we had was aged one year. Sources say it is best after aging at least 18 months. The flesh was quite hard and the taste was complex. It initially had little taste when it hit the mouth, but flavor rushed in and then gradually peter'd out. Judy felt that it had a little of a cheddar taste. The rind tasted old and musty. 
In our group of taste-testers, several really liked it (I was not one of them). Several noted a creamy texture and a good after-taste. Mimolette was originally made at Louis XIV's request who wanted a French cheese similar to Dutch Edam. Mimolette is produced in the same way as Edam. Louis XIV had the cheese colored orange to differentiate it. Mimolette aged at least one year is known as Memolette Vieille, aged at least 18 months is known as Mimolette Extra Vieille. It is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I'd never tasted a loquat until last year, in fact, I'd never heard of a loquat until last year, which is when the Walkers brought us some. 
I was bowled over. They were juicy and very sweet. Where had these been all my life? We were at the Walkers earlier this week and got to pick some loquats from their trees. Nice reunion. The loquat is indigenous to southeastern China and is also known as the Japanese medlar, Japanese plum and Chinese plum. Loquat fruit are yellow or orange, or red-blushed, depending on the cultivar. The Walkers have two trees, one producing orange fruit and one producing yellow fruit. 
Their orange fruit are quite a bit bigger than the yellow fruit. 
The fruit have a very thin skin 
that can be peeled easily when the fruit is ripe. 
The flesh beneath the skin can be white, yellow or orange. 
The flesh of the ones I got mimicked the skin: yellow with yellow and orange with orange. I found the taste to vary between the orange and yellow quite dramatically. Both were very juicy, but the orange was quite sweet, with a little citrusy tang and Wikipedia is probably not wrong when it says "a mix of peach...and mild mango." The yellow fruit varied quite a bit, some quite sour and some only a little sour, but all with at least a goodly bit of it and some tang. 
It is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die and 1001 compares the taste to apricot, but "different - both juicier and sharper." Each fruit has five ovules 
and one to five of them mature into large brown seeds. 
I found between two and five seeds in the ones I ate. Because it bruises easily and does not transport well, it is hard to find in stores. From southeast Asia, it was introduced to Japan over 1,000 years ago. It has spread to India, the Mediterranean Basin, Pakistan and Hawaii. It is now cultivated as well in northern South America, Central America and Mexico to California. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cheese: Port Salut

Port Salut (pronounced poor sah-lew) cheese 
was developed by a congregation of Trappist monks who fled France during the French Revolution of 1789 and learned how to make cheese to support themselves. The monks returned to Entrammes, in the department of Mayenne in northwestern France, in 1815, and built the Abbey of Notre Dame du Port du Salut.  
The name of their society is the "Societe Anonyme des Fermiers Reunis," the acronym S.A.F.R. being their registered trademark which is printed on wheels of the cheese. It is made from cow's milk in thick disks about 9 inches in diameter and weighing about five pounds. 
It is polished with brine (smear-ripened with lactic bacteria) while it ages for about a month. It is semi-soft with a pale yellow flesh 
and a thin orange rind. 
Today the rind is made by a plastic-coated wrapper and it easily flakes off. It can have a strong smell, which increases the longer the cheese is kept. But despite the smell, it has a mild, sweet, slightly acid, flavor and a smooth, velvety texture. In 1873 the monks gave exclusive rights to market the cheese to a cheese seller in Paris. In 1959, rights to the cheese were sold to a creamery and the cheese is now produced in a factory, although it is still produced by some monasteries and sometimes known as "Entrammes" cheese.  In cheese tasting with several people, the different texture was noted: it is almost like Velveeta. The texture was also described as a cross between Gouda and Brie. The sweet taste is in the background and it combines with a heavenly texture that feels to the mouth like a wonderful dream amidst pillowy clouds. 
It is among my favorites, if not my favorite, smear-ripened cheese. In our group of 8 tasters, 6 named it in the top 5 of their favorites of the 26 cheeses we tasted. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cheese: Iberico

Iberico cheese is produced in the province of Valladolid in central Spain. 
It is touted as the number one cheese in Spain. It is not yet a DOC (denomination of origin certification) cheese, but an application has been made. It is a blend of cow, goat and sheep milk and the combination varies based on the weather, season and breeding patterns of the goats and sheep. 
It must have a minimum of 50% cow milk, 30% goat milk and 10% sheep milk (which totals 90% giving a fluctuation of 10%). One site I read says that the cow milk provides "the flavor and acidity while the goats' milk provides the slightly tart flavor and the whiter color and the sheep milk adds the richness and buttery consistency due to its higher fat content." Another site says that the goat milk adds a "mildly zesty" flavor and the "more sheep's milk in the cheese, the better the cheese." It is aged from one to six months and given a dark plastic outer rind similar to Manchego cheese, which is a copy of the rind that used to be given by woven baskets years ago. 
The cheese is creamy white, but with shade variations and pockets of air or eyes. The cheese darkens to a tan near the rind. It is rugged looking cheese, like something an old adventurer years ago would pull out of his pouch and eat. It is also rugged tasting. It has a rough, jagged, hard feel as you put it in your mouth, but it breaks down into a complex mix of flavors. 
I'm sure that our particular cheese, from Garcia Baquero, aged six months, would be harder and more rugged and stronger tasting than a similar cheese aged two months. Judy feels it has an acidic taste, like some of the hard cheeses. In my mind, the sheep flavor stands out. It is not as strong as say, the sheep Gouda, but that taste resides. Others in our taste testing group felt that the goat taste stood out, the goat tang. My friend, Terry, who was part of our cheese-tasting, says he was put onto it by his son and that it is his favorite cheese. He brought a wedge of it to find that we already had some as part of our tasting samples. I prefer the Iberico to Manchego and Idiazabel, other Spanish cheeses I've tried recently.

I found some Iberico cheese at Trader Joe's, 
aged four months, and had to try it. What a difference a couple of months make! 
Where I really loved the Iberico aged for six months, I was only so-so on the Iberico aged four months. 
It was much softer and not anywhere near as flavorful. 
I was surprised that the sheep and goat milk tastes did not stand out more. I even tried some on a grilled cheese sandwich and was disappointed how mild it was. 
It was a wonderful lesson in how the aging process really impacts the taste and texture of the cheese. So for me in the future, my Iberico needs to be aged at least six months!