Cheese is one of the oldest foods produced by man. Its recipe traveled from the Middle East to Europe via caravans on the Silk Road. During the Dark and Middle Ages, cheeses were produced in monasteries, including those in France 1,000 years ago.
Through Cheeses of Europe (currently developing their website) and Interval, one of mankind's most treasured arts is being shared with the world! They've exhibited the artistic food creations at SxSW. I was very glad to be hosted to experience them!
France is considered the jewel in the crown of European cheeses. I'm always impressed with fine French restaurants that offer a cheese course, served on a cheese cart from which I can select new treats and favorites.
Now, depending on the restaurant you go to, some of those cheese portions can be, well, skimpy. I suggest you serve cheese courses at home! Certainly, you'll come off like quite the little host or hostess, with very little effort. If you're solo, a nicely plated cheese course will make you feel pampered without a boatload of cleanup.
Think about presenting your cheese course with some dried fruits, nuts, plain water crackers, matzo. You can also pair it with a delicious red wine, dessert wine, Armagnac, etc. Even though cheese courses are served near dessert courses or in lieu of, I wouldn't suggest pairing them with coffee -- that's terrible.
You should let your cheeses come to room temperature before serving and really, it's fine and desirable to let them sit out for a while: all the fine restaurants do!
Variety in a cheese plate is tantalizing. Here are three very different, yet uniquely delicious French cheeses:
Fromager d'affinois from Guilloteau (cow's milk soft ripened cheese) - The great cheese shop, Murray's, describes it like this:
This French innovation may look like pudgy brie, but it's actually much creamier. The mild, buttery flavor has a sweetness that goes very well with champagne and fresh fruit. Fromage d'Affinois may remind you of a triple-creme, so loaded it is with silky fat. But that texture is achieved by ''ultra filtration,'' which breaks down the fat molecules in the milk in order to further disperse them through the paste. The result is a thick, nearly whipped spread of tangy, milky goodness. It's one of Our Top 10 sellers, every year, without fail.
This is how I describe it: It's got a bare suggestion of a powdery rind, softer and creamier inside. It's 30% double cream, decadent. It's buttery but flavorful with grassy notes. It's got a touch of taffy-pull on a cheese knife, indicating even more richness.
Here is some official information from Interval:
- A consistent, extremely creamy and succulent texture
- Even pre-matured, the cheeses have a very creamy centre
- A very mild taste
- A consistent quality, from one production to another
- A very thin and soft edible rind
- Exceptional nutritional benefits
On a cheese plate as a dessert course, or a light meal with salad and fruits.
Stuffed in tomatoes, potatoes or pears and then melted in the oven.
Raw milk raclette from Tounette (cow's milk semi soft cheese) - I defer whenever I can to the expertise of Steven Jenkins, the first American to be awarded France's prestigious Chevalier du Taste-Fromage. He is the author of Cheese Primer and here's what he says about French raclette:
Inedible rind [Though I've been known to break that "rule"!], brownish-beige rind, buff- colored inner paste [That's what they call the edible part of cheese.], full beefy flavor (unmelted) that intensifies when melted.
Jenkins suggests fruity red wines with this cheese. I found the cheese to have a thin, white powdery rind with a grassy note that opened up into butterscotch/vanilla notes. I also detected some raw walnut flavors.
Here is some information about it from Interval:
Raclette cheese is originated in the French speaking area of the Alpes region in Switzerland. The process of melting cheese has been around since ancient times. According to legends, local farmers in the valleys of the Swiss Alps set up camp for the night. The cheese that was laying around on stones at meal time, melted near the open fire and some farmers scraped it off the rock. They discovered that melted Raclette tasted divine. This brand new idea spreads throughout the valley and so the Raclette has been quickly considered as the most ideal cheese to melt.
Raclette is considered as the best cheese to be melted on top of bread; potatoes and bacon; zucchini; steak; shrimp…
Raclette can be melted in different ways: in the oven or in a pan.Using the famous Raclette grill is the best way to have fun making your own dish while having a great time with your friends or family! On the grill you can add potatoes, bacon, ham, prosciutto, chorizo and pickles.
Bleu d'auvergne from Livradois (cow's milk blue cheese) - Jenkins pronounces all brands of this cheese to be "good". He describes it as having a salty exterior, with white to beige colored interior and liberal blue. He suggests pairing it with "Big, chewy" red wines from the Rhône region. The cheese has some air holes, creamy with a touch of crumble. It has a touch of salt, with pungent flavors in the mouth. I also noticed a bit of spice.
Here is some official information from Interval:
Bleu d'Auvergne came into existence thanks to a peasant farmer. In around 1845, Antoine Roussel, a French cheesemaker from Auvergne had the idea to give the cheese curd a blue mould that he had found on rye bread. He used a needle to make holes in the cheese, allowing air inside, facilitating mould veins to develop and resulting in an agreeable taste. Antoine continued to refine his manufacturing processes and standardised the format of what would become, in 1975, the AOC Bleu d'Auvergne.
Bleu d’Auvergne is a cheese with a robust heady flavor. It is still produced by centuries-old traditional methods, salted by hand and ripened slowly. This unique cheese comes solely from France’s Auvergne region, a mountainous land with a harsh climate. The volcanic lands provide rich soil perfect for pastures. There the cows graze on an abundant and varied selection of plants. A truly regional product, Bleu d’Auvergne derives its rich complex flavor from its wild origins.
Bleu d'Auvergne is best served at room temperature. It is perfect in salad dressings. It goes very well with nuts and raw mushrooms. It is a good choice as an aperitif, when added to buttered canapés served as cocktail snacks. You may also try a small piece of Bleu d'Auvergne on a slice of apple!
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