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French Blue cheeses: Cheese of the Month January 2014

  • r

Microorganisms have a big impact on cheese flavor (cheese itself is milk transformed into another state of being by bacteria). This is an interesting discussion on cheese microbiology:
http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTM...

In Novembers COTM we tasted washed rind cheeses which have umami flavors imparted by bacteria growing on their rinds. Blue cheeses are flavored by fungi, specifically the mold Penicillium roqueforti (sometimes other Penicillium species are used) inoculated into the cheese. Holes are introduced into the cheese to encourage growth of the fungus which requires air. The Blue of Blue cheese are the spores of the fungus.

June’s COTM (which I sadly missed) featured Gorgonzola. During October’s COTM, which featured North American cheeses, we sampled several domestic blues. This month let’s explore the world of French blue cheeses. You will see many French blue cheeses labeled as AOC. This translates into controlled designation of origin and is a way of protecting the quality and origin of a product (see here for more information: http://www.culturecheesemag.com/ask_t...

)

As in the Washed rind moth I will post different cheeses as an independent post. Reply to the post when discussing a cheese or add a new post (with the cheese name in CAPs) if discussing one I have not started a post about.

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  1. BLEU D'AUVERGNE.

    This is a blue cow’s milk cheese.

    Se here for more information:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bleu_d%2...

    5 Replies
    1. re: Ridge

      Tried some BLEU D'AUVERGNE tonight. We really enjoyed it. It had a smooth semi soft texture and a very classic blue cheese profile: salty, earthy, slightly tangy, slightly sweet and an assertive but not overpowering fungal funk that ensured you know you are eating fungus. It was our favorite of the 3 blues we tried tonight.

      1. re: Ridge

        Do you know which producer made the AOP Bleu d'Auvergne? And was it a raw or pasteurized milk example?

        http://www.travelfranceonline.com/wp-...

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Unfortunately I don't know. I got it from Andronicos and there was none of that information on the package. It's frustrating how many supermarkets often provide very little information about the gourmet cheeses they sell.

          1. re: Ridge

            Unfortunately, too common. I was in Sonoma Market yesterday and the labels on their cut/wrap cheeses do not indicate origin or type of milk that some other supermarkets do. And though there were staff on hand, they couldn't answer my questions.

            And having been burned a few times buying pre-cut/wrapped cheese, except for certain hard cheeses, I've stopped buying pre-cut unless there's someone on hand who can taste me on the cheese. When I am able to taste, I'd say that about half the time I reject the piece of cheese I tried due to condition.

      2. re: Ridge

        Tasted a raw milk sample of this cheese while out shopping. I did not care for it - a little too sharp for my taste.

      3. BLEU D'AFFINOIS.

        Described as being similar to a French blue brie.

        See here for more information:

        http://www.aoap.com.au/content_common...

        http://cheesechatter.wordpress.com/20...

        4 Replies
        1. re: Ridge

          Tasted some BLEU D'AFFINOIS tonight. It definitely tastes like a blue brie. Perhaps more brie tasting than blue. Buttery melting paste. Mushroomy. Blue cheese taste present but not strong. We liked it but didn’t love it. It had one attribute which I sometimes encounter in soft blue cheeses that I don’t like. That is when the blue veining of the cheese gets a harder more fibrous texture than the rest of the cheese. Overall it was good but at the end of the day I would rather enjoy a really good brie or a really good blue cheese rather than a cheese that tries to be both.

          1. re: Ridge

            How would you compare this to the non-French Cambozola?

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              As I was tasting the Bleu D'Affinoise I thought it reminded me of Cambozola. I would like to say that the Bleu D'Affinoise is slightly more brie like and that the Cambozola has a slightly stronger blue cheese flavor but it’s been a while since I have tasted a Cambozola so it’s difficult for me to say how it compares. They would be good to taste side by side.

              1. re: Ridge

                Talking about these soft-ripened, buttery blue cheeses, I was reminded of Pipo Crème. When I was in my 20's, putting a piece on this (industrial) French cheese on a party plate used to make me feel so worldly. I have not seen it for many years. Trying to search for it on the web, the most common result is that it was memorialized in the Monty Python sketch.
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/918390

                I don't think that Pipo Crème had a bloomy rind though. It was soft and very creamy with a mild bluing. Is it still around?

        2. SAINT AGUR.

          A relatively recent (developed in 1988) very rich cow’s milk blue. I think it will appeal to people daunted by strong salty pungent in-your-face blue cheeses. This is one of the cheeses I get most often on a regular basis although I am not sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing- it tastes almost too perfect, perhaps a bit too engineered for mass appeal?

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Ag...

          11 Replies
          1. re: Ridge

            My favorite French Bleu. It Bleu me away.

            1. re: Ridge

              Tried some St. Agur tonight. This cheese is usually consistently good but the batch we had seemed saltier and not as well balanced as previous batches we have tried. It was still good but not as good as it usually is.

              1. re: Ridge

                Until you selected this month's category of cheese, I was not aware of St Agur's history. It makes sense to me that it's a creation driven by market research, as you say, it's almost too perfect. I've always loved the creamy texture and voluptuous richness of the double creme level butterfat. And now it makes sense that it was designed to overcome the grainy/dryness associated with blue cheeses.

                As I've surveyed local cheese shops for French blue cheeses in stock, all but one of them have had St Agur, even if they have no others save for Roquefort. That speaks to its popularity. Prices have ranged from $19 to $28 per pound, which is a pretty big spread.

                http://www.sfgate.com/food/cheesecour...

                http://iledefrancecheese.com/index.ph...

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  It's a full proof dinner party cheese. Everyone loves it because it tastes so good but is not as sharp or strong as some blues. I use it in a Blue cheese salad dressing I make. There is another cheese I like that is similarly created by market research, in this case specifically to appeal to the American palate: Ewephoria Sheeps milk Gouda.

                  1. re: Ridge

                    Yes, St Agur's flavor profile has been tuned in to hit an easy going balance. Not too salty, a little bit of sweetness from the extra cream.

                    I tend to use stronger blues for salad dressing. Guess I think of it as a way to dilute them and use up any that have gotten too old and dry. I may be making vats of blue cheese dressing after this month, as I'm only half-way through posting about what i've tried for this ChOTM.

                    Here's a recipe specifically for sablés that specific to St Agur.
                    http://www.seriouseats.com/2013/03/sa...

                  2. re: Melanie Wong

                    I pay about $22 on average for St. Agur. I have to drive a ways to get it. I ate a wedge of Rogue River Blue yesterday that most mortals would have declared to be inedible - excessive blue veining, rock hard.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      I don't like to pay more than $25 per pound for any cheese. St Agur's creators hit the price point well too. The $20-25 price range signals premium product to consumers leading them to expect something special, and yet is not so high as to be unaffordable. It's a small luxury.

                      ETA: I'm surprised to hear that Rogue River was hard. Dense with bluing, yes, but I don't think of it as hard. Maybe too old?

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        That's a good policy. I was stung by the Cypress Grove truffle tremor @ $34/lb, and was extremely disappointed. I'm always on the lookout for a ripe taleggio in the $teens.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          Along that line, I've stopped buying pre-cut/wrapped cheeses at supermarkets other than a few relatively inexpensive hard cheeses. I'll find a staff person and ask them to unwrap the cheese and let me taste it if there's no cheesemonger on duty. I've not had a single store refuse me, that is, when I'm able to find someone to help. There's just too much stuff that's in bad condition sitting on the shelf for too long. Tasting first, I'm rejecting more than half of the samples I try.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            I was VERY please recently when there was a non-robot at the WF cheese area in Reno. She was around the case, talking to me about cheeses, opening things, etc. I too have been disappointed and also like you just don't buy expensive ones if I can't taste.

                      2. re: Veggo

                        The Rogue River blue I've had has been much more appetizing.

                  3. FOURME D'AMBERT.

                    Cow’s milk blue. One of my favorite blues.

                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourme_d...

                    9 Replies
                      1. re: Ridge

                        Just bought a wedge of Fourme D'Ambert. Creamy and mild - really enjoyed it.

                        1. re: Ridge

                          On Thursday I was in Carmel-by-the-Sea and had a chance to drop into The Cheese Shop to look for French blues. I was specifically hoping to find Bleu de Causses, but no dice. The only blue cheese from France besides Roquefort and St Agur on hand was Fourme d'Ambert. With the explosion of domestic cheesemaking, French classics are being crowded out of inventory.
                          http://www.thecheeseshopinc.com/

                          This was a pasteurized milk version from Paul Dischamp and it took a bit of looking for the cheesemonger to find the name on the wheel's foil label. The cheese was at a lovely place. Fully developed with blue intensity and savory elements, yet the sweetness of the milk creates a milder impression on balance. Not as silky/buttery as St Agur, but still pretty creamy mouthfeel and none of the dry crumbles or stiff blue tubes that other blue cheeses display. The soft fudgy paste spread beautifully on the flute I'd purchased from a local French bakery. Just a bit of ammonia on the outside crust that I scraped off. The small wedge being sliced off with a wire cutter in the photo cost $2.93, and was just the right amount for my small loaf of bread to make a pre-dinner snack for two people.
                          http://www.dischamp.com/nos-fromages_...

                          I hope I can find a fermier production unpasteurized version to taste for comparison.
                          http://www.fourme-ambert.com/

                          Here's my earlier post on Fourme Affinee au Moelleux, the version injected with sweet dessert wine.
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9105...

                           
                          1. re: Ridge

                            Hervé Mons Fourme d'Ambert, raw milk. I tasted it today at The Pasta Shop on College in Oakland, CA. This was softer, creamier, and even sweeter. And the flavor just bloomed in the mouth with bigger volume. And it's the same price, $20/lb, that I paid for Dischamp pasteurized version in Carmel.
                            http://www.greenleafsf.com/wp-content...

                            The pasteurized version from Rodolphe Le Meunier was also available at the same price. But I didn't taste it.

                            I have not been in this shop for a few years. I've been frequenting the branch on Fourth St in berkeley from time to time. Today I learned that the two locations stock very different inventory. I met Alma, a lively and well-informed cheesemonger, at the College, Oakland shop, who is a decided Francophile. She has interned with Mons and with another French cheese family. Not much domestic cheese presence here. She said that Mons is doing an in-service for their staff on Friday.

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                Last year I had the Fromage d'ambert a couple of times and really enjoyed it. It had a smooth white cream-cheese like paste and pleasant sharpness, was sweet with a good blue cheese flavor. Last week I purchased one from whole foods that I did not enjoy as much. This one was labeled only as
                                "blue l'or des domes". The paste was firmer and had a more golden hue. It was overall more bland than the ones I had last year. I am going to try to go to the Berkeley cheeseboard tomorrow to see if they have other versions like the one Melanie tasted.

                                1. re: Ridge

                                  Here's the importer's page on F d'A, and it doesn't say whether raw or pasteurized. I'd assume pasteurized milk.
                                  http://www.dcicheeseco.com/la-societe...

                                  While you're in Berkeley, you might stop by The Pasta Shop on Fourth St too. While I imagine it's not as French leaning as the College Ave location, given that Mons is doing an in-service on Friday, it might have more than usual.

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    I will stop at 4th street also. Love that pasta shop. Only bad thing is that it's an easy place to run up your credit card.

                            1. re: Ridge

                              Because of the very low price, this is my go to French blue when Roquefort is not desired. An old AOC cheese, raw cows milk and aged in same caves as Roquefort and made in an identical fashion.
                              Sometime try a mini vertical of Fourme d'Ambert, Bleu d'Auvergne and this. If your taste buds are at all like mine this will be your fav.

                              1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                Finally located some Bleu des Causses. It used to be my go-to blue long ago too. So it was lovely to revisit an old friend. This one was made thermalized cow's milk. This had a dense, velvety and creamy texture and the strong blue intensity and depth of Roquefort. A little bit goes a long way. It's heavier, stronger yet not overly aggressive and doesn't have the sweetness of Fourme d'Ambert. I was seduced again by the power and that the mouthfeel is not gritty/dry.

                                I found it at Gourmet & More in San Francisco for $14.99/lb, what a bargain. While I've been in the shop a couple times with my mother, this was my first opportunity to step inside the cheese cave. Yeah, I know hard to believe! It was so wonderful to inhale the intoxicating scent of excellent French cheese and to be waited on by friendly and helpful French-accented staff. I only had 25 minutes on my metered parking, but I managed to taste, select and buy seven cheeses and a couple macarons in that time. Actually lucky that I was short on time or I'd be much poorer.
                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/817532

                                Then yesterday I was in Oliver's Market on Stony Point Road in Santa Rosa, which has an excellent cheese department. The same Bleu is there for $17.99/lb. that they buy from Gourmet & More, as well as stock of the other French blues it imports.

                                La Société Laitière de Laqueuille
                                http://www.fromages-laqueuille.fr/ble...