Friday, February 3, 2012

Delice de Bourgogne

This decadent triple-cream cheese is unapologetically rich, with a silky smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Covered by a thin rind with a light coating of mould that will delight cheese lovers with its velvety, mellow taste, without the excessive salt that diminishes the enjoyment of some triple creams.

A tribute to small scale industrial French cheese-making, Delice de Bourgogne is made by Fromagerie Lincet, who also produces the beloved Brillat-Savarin. Delice de Bourgogne is a triple cream too, which means that the fat content in the dry matter - the cheese minus its water - is at least 75 percent. Made with whole cow's milk alone, a cheese typically measures about 45 percent fat, so to achieve the elevated richness, the producer has to add cream or creme fraiche. The tangy, sour cream-like tartness of Delice de Bourgogne is one clue that Lincet uses creme fraiche, France's famous cultured cream. That acidic note keeps this unctuous cheese from being cloying. Makes a dreamy breakfast, lunch or dessert - just add champagne!


Gabietou hails from the steep pastures of the Western Pyrenees. During the summer cows and sheep alike graze on alpine grasses, wild herbs, and flowers high in the mountains. The french have a term for seasonal cheese production: devette.

Devette comes from the verb devetir, meaning "to undress." It's used to describe the practice of moving a herd of ruminants up into high, mountain pastures to graze on the lush and varied grasses that become exposed as the winter snow melts away. Every spring the herds are unleashed to "undress" the mountain.

The practice evolved in valley settlements that are surrounded by mountain ranges. Farmers had to be astute planners to feed their herds year-round. So in the spring, when grasses on the mountainsides emerged from the snow, farmers would lead their herds up to take advantage of the new growth -- and thereby reserve more of their easy-to-harvest valley pastures for hay production, which could keep the cows fed through the winter.

All that fresh, verdant grass results in rich, flavorful milk and, in the right hands, cheese. Gabietou (gah-bee-ay-too) is a prime example. Made in one of the valleys running through the French Pyrenees, a region known for its shepherding and cheesemaking traditions, it made its debut in 2001. The cheesemaker, Gabriel Bachelet, was obsessed with finding the perfect blend of spring milks for his cheese. After much experimentation, he settled on a combination of one-third sheep and two-thirds cow's milk. The combination gives the semifirm cheese a luscious texture (think fontina, but more luxurious) and a wonderful bouquet of aromas and flavors, including hints of hazelnut from the sheep's milk.

Wheels of Gabietou are made in late spring, and at one week old they are moved to the aging caves of famed affineurs (experts in cheese aging) such as Herve Mons. There, they are washed weekly to keep their rinds supple and encourage the activities of beneficial bacteria called Brevibacterium linens, aka B. linens. These bacteria give Gabietou's rind its lovely light peach hue. The affineur tends to the wheels for three to five months, releasing the first wheels just in time for harvest in September.

Silky, nutty and altogether bewitching, Gabietou will allow you to bring a hint of vibrant spring pastures to your fall table. The texture of Gabietou is semisoft, smooth and supple with occasional holes, or "eyes." The rind is a thin orange, copper color, slightly pungent but not overwhelming. Flavors are dense, rich, mellow and creamy with notes of fruit that are balanced by earthy, mushroomy notes.

Robiola Rustica la Casera

"Robiola" is the general name for soft cheeses from Northwest Italy. Varieties of Robiola are produced across Piedmont from the provinces of Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria and into Lombardy. It is one of the specialties of the Aosta Valley. The taste and appearance of Robiola varies depending upon where it was produced.

Made by La Casera in Lombardy, Robiola Rustica is a soft, cow’s milk cheese with an eye catching orange, red rind, similar to Taleggio. Beautifully wrapped with a rustic ribbon of straw, this small-format washed rind cheese is generally cave-aged for two to three months. The aroma is pleasantly pungent and the pâte is soft, velvety, and intensely-flavored, with bold fruity notes. The soft white interior has a rich, earthy flavor reminiscent of mushrooms and cream, with a nutty finish. The colorful rind provides a textural component and adds a subtle crunch to the cheese. Simply divine.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


By the time they're shipped form their makers, some cheeses are fully aged and ripened, while other may need days, weeks, or even months to reach their peak. Traditional cheesemakers often relied on specialists called affineurs (ripeners) to bring their cheeses to the final ready state. Such arrangements were part of a tiered system where dairy farmers supplied their product to larger dairies or cooperatives where smaller producers benefit from economies of scale, increased marketing clout, and faster cash flow.

This tiered system is still in effect for many of the larger Alpine cheeses as well as Roquefort and other famous old world types. Many of the top Italian cheeses are selected, ripened, and exported by Guffanti.

Many relationships between cheesemakers and affineurs are historical and regulated, so you can be assured your cheeses are authentic. Roquefort's appellation rules specify not only the breed of sheep form which the milk must come and the permissible production zone but also its ripening, which must occur in the caves of Combalou beneath Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Many of the cheeses are made outside the town itself, but all of them are ripened by producers who own sections of those caves. Roquefort ripening is a well defined procedure, lasting at least 3 months but often as many as 8.

Affinage is about nurturing cheese and letting them ripen in their own time in order to bring out their best qualities. To be successful, an affineur must have full knowledge of the entire equation, beginning with land stewardship, animal husbandry, and milk production, and extending right through each step of cheesemaking. The affineur's skills include selection, tasting, and the application of ripening treatments.

Vendeen Bichon Pascal Beillevaire

Vendéen Bichonné, a pasteurized cow's milk cheese from Brittany whose name translates as "the pampered cheese from the Vendée region." The person doing the pampering is Pascal Beillevaire, an affineur (cheese ager) who buys 6-week-old wheels from a cooperative near Nantes and transports them to his underground cave, a former railroad tunnel, in the Auvergne. The wheels stay in this humid environment for two months, during which time they are turned and brushed occasionally to clean them up.

The wheels, which weigh 10 to 12 pounds, arrive in the Bay Area with a healthy cloak of gray and white molds. Before Beillevaire buys and matures the wheels, the cheese is known as Halbran, a name that few French people would even recognize. It is primarily a local cheese - at least until Beillevaire matures it, rechristens it, puts it in his retail shops in Paris and ships it overseas.

The Beillevaire business is an active part of the community of Machecoul and the surrounding area and is deeply connected to Pascal’s roots. In fact, the dairy is located only 6km from Pascal’s family farm “La Vacheresse” where Pascal was born. Pascal began working on his parents’ dairy farm as a young boy. When selling family milk and cream at local market places, he quickly discovered a passion for the trade and for the products themselves. From the age of 17, Pascal has worked tirelessly to develop what is now a broad offering of dairy products under the Pascal Beillevaire brand including fresh milk, cream, butter, yogurt, crème fraîche, mousses and cheese. All of these products are made using raw milk that is brought to the dairy twice each day from local farms all within 10km of the dairy. When the milk arrives at the dairy, it is still warm from the cow at the perfect temperature to begin production.


Following the success with his own dairy products, Pascal decided to expand his operation to include affinage – the art of aging cheeses. His approach is entirely consistent with his roots as he works closely with small farmhouse or ‘fermier’ producers who send their young cheeses to him in order to be carefully aged and sold both within Europe and now to their U.S. customers. In choosing to pursue these farmhouse cheeses, he is actively contributing to the maintenance of an important rural artisan trade and helping to preserve ancestral know-how. Today, 200 producers send more than 400 cheeses to the ripening caves of Pascal Bellevaire.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Since 1968, when her parents founded their goat dairy "Redwood Hill Farm" in Sonoma County, Jennifer Bice has been intimately involved in raising, milking, and making Certified Humane goat cheese. Located in warm and verdant Sebastopol, Jennifer's herds of Nubian, Alpine, Saanen, and LaMancha goats clamber around green pastures when the weather is fine but, are kept snugly inside when the winds and rains buck up.

Named after one of their favorite does, Camellia is a luscious, Camembert-style goat milk cheese. It has a mild, buttery flavor and firm texture when young, becoming softer and more complex with age. The white, edible penicillum candidum rind ripens the cheese from the outside inwards, becoming fully ripe when the center is soft to the touch (like a ripe peach). This usually takes 5-6 weeks, though the cheese is delicious at any age.


Cameo is the slightly more rambunctious sister of Redwood Hill's famous soft-ripened Camellia. Larger in size and adorned with fresh peppercorns and local herbs, Cameo makes its presence known on a cheese plate. Rich, with whispers of the classic pungency goat's milk is so well-known for; the paste is incredibly luxurious and melts lovingly on your tongue. The fresh peppercorns add a bright floral note which is a delightful contrast to the darker flavor profile it accompanies.

A ripe Cameo will give when probed in the center, like a ripe avocado. The bloomy rind should be white, not rusty or brown, which means the cheese is probably heading south. But if you like more pronounced flavor, don't refuse a wheel with a little browning on the edges. Cameo pairs well with sparkling wine and with a moderately intense Pinot Noir.

Cameo, like Camellia, is a farmstead cheese, made with milk from Redwood Hill's 300 goats. These lucky goats reside at the country's first certified-humane goat dairy. 

Pecorino Toscano

The word for sheep in Italian is pecora - hence the name Pecorino. There are many different types of Pecorino produced throughout southern and central Italy where the rugged landscape lends itself to dairy sheep production. Production is concentrated in the craggy hills of the Maremma, the wild area that extends from Sienna on down to the coast.

Although cheeses vary from producer to producer, the characteristics of Pecorino Toscano are a firm texture, intense flavor and a mildly peppery finish. Flavors become more savory and intense with age, while retaining an underlying sweetness and mellow quality. It can be either raw or pasteurized milk, but it is always made with milk from animals who graze or are fed hay or dried grasses. No silage is permitted. 

The cheese usually takes the form of a semi-flattened sphere. The outer rind is often ochre coloured, but there is considerable variability according to how the the cheese has been washed during maturation, generally with a combination of crushed tomatos, ash and/or olive oil.

Fresh Pecorino Toscano is quite mild, and rather creamy, though it does have some nutty oak leaf overtones, with underlying savory and sweet flavors that intensify with age. With time Pecorino Toscano becomes firmer and sharper, though it never approaches the sharpness or the saltiness of pecorino Romano. Try pairing with olives, Italian cured meats, and with crisp white wines, or Italian wines from Chianti.

Pecorino Romano

Few cheeses in the world can boast of such ancient roots as those of Pecorino Romano. For over two thousand years, the flocks of sheep that freely graze in the countryside in the regions of Latium and Sardinia have produced the milk from which this cheese is made. In ancient times, Romans already appreciated Pecorino Romano. 

Romano doesn't refer to Rome the city, but to the Romans. In the imperial palaces it was considered just the right touch to banquets, while its preservation capacity made it an ideal ration for the Roman legion in its journeys. Its use was so widespread among the Romans that a daily ration of 27 grams was established for Legionnaires, in addition to the staples of bread and einkorn soup! This cheese gave renewed strength and energy to the tired soldiers and today we know why: it provides an easily digestible source of energy.

Pecorino Romano is most often used on pasta dishes. Its distinctive aromatic, pleasantly sharp, very salty flavour means that in Italian cuisine, it is preferred for some pasta dishes with highly-flavoured sauces, especially those of Roman origin, such as bucatini all'amatriciana or spaghetti alla carbonara. The sharpness depends on the period of maturation, which varies from five months for a table cheese to at least eight months for a grating cheese. On the first of May, Roman families traditionally eat Pecorino with fresh fava beans, during a daily excursion in the Roman Campagna.