Monday, March 5, 2012

Say cheese

Living in France, one ends up acquiring a taste for particular varieties of cheese, and usually settling upon a group of favorites. As I've often said in this blog, it could hardly be otherwise for somebody like me who's settled not far from St Marcellin. For some time, I've narrowed down my all-time favorites to three varieties: one made with cows' milk, and the other two with sheep's milk.

In view of its round shape and orange color, mimolette might appear to be a Dutch cheese. In fact, it's a traditional product from the region of Lille in the north of France. The name "mimolette" is a corrupted derivative of the French adjective mollet that designates the soft texture, say, of a soft-boiled egg. It's a fact that the dull three-months-old cheese is of an unpleasant plastic nature. A year later, it has evolved into a hard tasty product with the texture of white milk chocolate. The orange color comes from a natural colorant, achiote, which is the same agent that is used in English cheddar. As for the hard crust of mimolette, its curious moonlike aspect is obtained—believe it or not—by the intentional inoculation of flour mites... which also enhance the flavor of the cheese. [I've no doubt said enough, there, to turn my Australian and American readers off mimolette forever! Incidentally, mimolette is imported into Australia by wholesalers named European Foods, whose elegant website can be accessed by clicking here.]

World-renowned Roquefort is an ancient blue cheese made from ewes' milk, which is produced in a limited region of south-west France, in the Aveyron department. Although milk is collected from many farms in the vicinity, the actual ripening of Roquefort is carried out exclusively  in the tiny village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, in the caves of Mont Combalou, whose fissured rock walls give rise to a unique system of natural ventilation.

Finally, my personal cheese champion of champions is Ossau-Iraty, also made from ewes' milk, produced in south-west France at the foot of the Pyrénées. In the name of the cheese, Ossau designates a mountain in the Béarn province, whereas Iraty is a forest in the French Basque region, and these two landmarks delimit the official territory in which this cheese is produced. The environment looks much like this:

Over the last few years, I've acquired a taste for this extraordinary smooth cheese, whose milky flavor has an indescribable nutty redolence. Here's a slice I bought yesterday at the local supermarket:

I've often talked about this cheese with people in shops, because I've never understand why such a fabulous product seems to remain relatively unknown. This morning, I was thrilled to discover that, in Britain recently, Ossau-Iraty was crowned the 2011 world champion cheese. Click here to access the relevant page of the Guild of Fine Food.

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