Le Tastevin Wine Club - Notes on Cheeses – April 13, 2016

Tonight's cheeses are from Whole Foods, the bagettes baked by Zingermann's bakery, both in Ann Arbor.

Saint Soleil (cow’s milk) is our night's tasting experiment. Apparently Burgundians enjoy delicate, aromatic Pinot Noirs with Epoisses, a robust cow's milk cheese from the same region. Many find the mix abhorrent, but perhaps they know something we don’t. Let's see if some people in France lack common sense. Pungent, washed in a grape-pomace brandy (marc de Bourgogne), the rind cloaks a semisoft ivory interior. St. Soleil is, essentially, an Epoisses made on an artisan scale and given the attentions of the expert affineur Hervé Mons. The small Burgundian creamery that makes the cheese uses a slow-acting culture and minimal rennet, slowing acidification and coagulation, with slow fermentation producing more flavor and a suppler, more spreadable texture. The cheese is about 10 days old when it arrives at Mons for maturation. Over the next few weeks, the Mons crew washes it twice with a dilute solution of brandy to encourage the moist, tacky rind. The half-pound cheeses are nestled in individual wooden crates with a cellophane window - costly packaging designed to preserve humidity - then sent by air to the U.S. The thin, flesh-colored rind is damp and wrinkled, the work of beneficial bacteria, cloaking a semisoft ivory interior. The fragrance blooms as the cheese warms. Described as "yeasty and garlicky," some peanut, perhaps it might be a nice compliment to “barnyard”.

A safer bet is Comté (formerly Gruyère de Comté) made from unpasteurized cow's milk in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France. Our cheese tonight is from Les 3 Comtois in Poligny (near Lons le Saulnier), a union formed by 2 well-known affineurs of Comté and Jura cheeses: Fromageries Arnaud and Rivoire-Jacquemin (the oldest Comté manufacturer). Economics and the international market perhaps drove them together, but today Les 3 Comtois accounts for roughly 20% of the total Comté business. They specialize in mountain cheeses, the milk collected from fields at >600 m altitude. Moo! Made in flat circular discs weighing up to 50 kg (110 lb) with a fat content around 45%, the rind is usually a dusty-brown color, the internal pâté a pale creamy yellow. The texture is relatively hard and flexible, and the taste is strong and slightly sweet. Fresh from the farm, milk is poured into large copper vats where it is gently warmed. Each cheese requires up to 600 liters (160 US gal) of milk. One of the first cheeses to receive AOC recognition in 1958, with full regulations introduced in 1976, only milk from Montbéliarde or French Simmental cows (or crosses) is allowed. Being France, there are regulations pertaining to grazing density and food quality, field fertilization, transportation, rennet controls according to timing and temperature. Two different quality markings exist: Comté extra (the highest, designated with a green bell) and Comté, each cheese is inspected according to appearance, rind, internal appearance, texture and taste.

Often we enjoy aged Gouda cheese from Holland, but I was intrigued with an offering of Organic Artisan Gouda Mossfield (pasteurized cow’s milk) from a 300-acre farm located just outside Birr, in the County Offalay, Ireland. The Haslam family has been making this cheese since the early 2000s, and their operation is certified organic using milk from Friesian cows. This is perhaps the only Gouda-style cheese made in Ireland. Very smooth and buttery, there are persistent notes of caramel, cherry, nuts, and earth. It is tangy, a little sweet. The mouth feel is very smooth and a little buttery. The Haslam family Gouda has won many awards in Ireland, and their operation has a strong focus on sustainability and biodiversity as well as consumer-friendly packaging for retail.

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