Showing posts with label cheese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cheese. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Say cheese... with an echo

For several years, my favorite cheese has been Ossau-Iraty, produced from unpasteurized ewe’s milk in the Béarn and Pays basque region of south-west France. In 2011, at an international cheese fair in England, a cheese of this variety was awarded the prize of the World’s Best Unpasteurized Cheese.

Even in France, this product is not nearly as well-known as celebrated cheeses such as Roquefort, Brie, Cantal, St-Marcellin, Comté, Gruyère, etc. Maybe the double-barrelled name is a minor stumbling-block, in that it’s slightly complicated, and many French people wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to pronounce it. At the supermarket, I’ve got into the habit of simply asking for Ossau… and the cheese lady knows immediately what I mean.

Well, that’s going to have to change, because the producers of this cheese have launched a TV campaign designed to demonstrate how the name of their product should be pronounced. And the least that can be said is that this is likely to give rise to a lot of decibels in French supermarkets. In fact, the next time I intend to request a slice of Ossau-Iraty, I should probably think about taking along a megaphone, combined with an electronic echo box.

I’ve noticed, too, that the various demonstrations of cries of “Ossau-Iraty” in the valleys are all performed by young women. I believe that this reflects the fact that barefoot nymphs used to work as shepherdesses in the valleys where this cheese is produced.

Meanwhile, the males of the villages were busy making cheese… and playing Basque pelota.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Cheesy awards

In the cheese domain, my native land seems to have invented the equivalent of the Eurovision Song Contest. At the annual dairy awards of the Royal Agricultural Society in Sydney, the major prize-winner was neither from France nor even from Australia. Maximum awards went to an international chain of discount supermarkets, based in Germany, named Aldi. That choice strikes me as weird in the sense that I didn't even know that Aldi produced cheese.

I'm told that Australia has many excellent artisan cheesemakers (which doesn't surprise me), but their products were swamped by those of the giant low-cost multinational.

Michael McNamara, cheesemaker at Pecora Dairy in Robertson, NSW
— photo Sahlan Hayes, The Sydney Morning Herald

I wonder whether horsey lasagne from the French Spanghero company would be an award-winner in Australia

BREAKING NEWS: Many people in France (and elsewhere, of course) have been shocked by the lasagne affair. In their eagerness to get to the roots of the problem, French authorities have been jostling with several key concepts such as credible and complete labeling, traceability (enabling consumers to know the origins of foodstuff) and DNA testing (to distinguish horsemeat from beef). This morning, people concerned with dairy products have drawn attention to the astonishing fact that 90% of French cheeses are made with milk imported into France. Ideally, consumers should be aware of the origin of milk used by French industrial groups in the dairy products domain. They should be informed as to how the dairy cows were fed, and how the milk was collected. For the moment, this is not at all the case.

A few days ago, on French TV news, journalists presented the "Australian made" phenomenon as an exemplary system, which might serve as a guide for France. Fair enough. I trust that Aldi's award-winning dairy products bear this celebrated green and yellow logo.

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.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cheese production in Australia

As a fortunate Australian (from a cheese viewpoint) now settled in France, and living just a dozen or so kilometers from the prestigious cheese center of Saint-Marcellin, I feel it my moral duty to air the following video:

This campaign is being promoted by the following fine organization:

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Source of the cheese industry

In the nearby town of Vinay, the old-fashioned façade of this modest white building, which looks like a reconverted house, is studded with air-conditioning units. In the driveway, the entry of a huge garbage-collection truck suggests that the activities carried out inside this building must give rise to a lot of waste stuff.

The name panel carries a single term, Danisco, with no further explanations. Old-time residents of Vinay are nevertheless aware of the industrial operations carried out by some 32 employees inside this unobtrusive building. This biochemical production unit, whose present owner is a giant Danish-based corporation, might be considered as the source of the cheese industry throughout the world. I hasten to add that not a gram of actual cheese is manufactured here on the Danisco premises at Vinay... although the town of Saint-Marcellin, whose name is associated with a world-famous cheese made from cows' milk, lies just a few kilometers down the road.

A century ago, a Vinay man named Joseph Carlin [who would later become the mayor of this small but prosperous Dauphiné city, at the heart of the walnut region] invented a process for extracting the milk-curdling enzymes found in the stomachs of young calves. The final product, called rennet [présure in French], is the ingredient that causes milk to curdle: the primordial step in the making of cheese.

To produce this magic potion, the biochemists at Vinay import huge quantities of frozen calf stomachs from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Brazil. After being thawed out, they are ground into small fragments and pressed like grapes. The precious liquid obtained in this way from the tons of calf stomachs is finally subjected to a lengthy series of processes [whose exact nature remains a company secret] of filtering, purification, concentration and quality control. And Danisco's world-famous rennet products for cheese-making are finally exported from Vinay to more than a hundred countries [including China, Uganda, Yemen and Mauritius].

As indicated in the company banner [click to visit the cheese pages of their website], the Danisco recipe is not a total secret. They reveal, at least, its initial ingredient: First you add knowledge...