Happy hump day everyone! We’ve made it through monday, tuesday, and most of wednesday consequently a sensory vacation is much deserved. My mid-meal sandwich of pork sausage and butter says “be happy you have food to eat.” This iddle sandwich with happy sausage features was a great way to finish the day. The sausage was generous, doux, softly meaty, strong but yielding, balanced pork-ly, and with subtly sweet pepper colors. High quality stuff right there aka better than the $1.30 chorizo I buy at carrefour city – this sausage (which is not cheese I realise and this blog is not called sausageisgood because ehhhh) was refined, not overly oily or fatty, and did not remind me of anything Upton Sinclair ever wrote about. Also this sandwich came after several of a pâté persuasion; I had a good carnivorous time with these toasts such as the pâté heated by the toast turned into a velvety dynamo of melty flavor. Hints of sweet onion too. Very fine texture, made even more fine by the fact that it’s melted pâté on pain rustique mmmm I love putting french words into english sentences.
Anyway then also last night I had a tasting feast to myself. I got home a little late for dinner because I had been clear across the city getting a hair cut from the host mother of one of my fellow study abroad students. Hence I walk in the door and this beauty is a-waiting me on the kitchen table (thanks Daniel for cheese conquering this weekend):Here we have cantal vieux (big yellow block), époisses (orange wavy round), cranberry chèvre (looks like cranberries stuck on a chèvre ball), camembert (duhh the camembert), and chèvre tropical (the orange chèvre ball – mango, papaya, and apricot – still haven’t tried it but I’m excited for pure simple indulgence). I set myself to work with my salad entrée and plat principal of pâté and sausage sandwich as described in the earlier paragraph. I got through those courses with immense and mounting anticipation for the dairy fantasies that awaited me, all the while shooting glances and imagining what tastes were in store for my tongue buddies. When the time came, I started with the cantal vieux. Aged over a year, the rind is actually blackened by oxidization and mold has started to appear in the center of the cheese. Daniel had told me that the cantal jeune (young) and cantal vieux (old) are entirely different cheeses and yes I do concur. I carved off a little of the interior corner and inspected my gold nugget. Strong dairy parmesan scent, firm grasp, texture is almost crystalline with flaky layers. I spotted a deep cream color that could even be mistaken for butter. The cheese crumbled in my mouth and I tasted an instant acidity and felt a warm fuzziness spread all around my tongue and mouth. There were seafood notes (weird yes but curious enough in a small portion to be interesting and not offputting) and warm peppery senses. Paired with the cab sauv on the table was a gift from another world – the strong savory cheesiness melted away the tannins and lushness of the wine. MMM. After a couple more bites the cantal tasted like a sharp, piquant white cheddar.
Then I had another morcel the day after and I tasted more floral fragantness (very faintly o’ course, kinda farfetched) and fuzziness. I had a bit of the rind and what surprised me was the major differences between the rind and the interior: the exterior was dry crumbly (fat all oxidized?), salty, roundly fishy taste, and had none of that fuzz that was so present earlier. I definitely prefer the interior but it was refreshing for research’s sake to understand the whole of the cheese, the context of its existence.
And shnowwwwww we hath arrived at the époisses. Époisses époisses époisses époisses! Having never heard of this cheese before, I was eager beaver to get my sampling started. Cutting the cheese (hehe) I saw the ivory crumbly paste in the center surrounded by a gooier, opaque beige. The smokey orange rind with gyri let reminded me of brains like langres (which I still gotta eat with some brandy.) I smelled cheese, mildewy and acrid. THEN I PUT THE CHEESE IN MY MOUTH. All I could think of was “creamy creamy almost bitter hinting at vegetation and the color green.” There was a lingering fermented note with almost bitterness associated. I felt a faint ammonia taste that was not at all unpleasant but reminiscent of brie although that is a soft-ripened cheese and the époisses is washed-rind (usually with brandy yurmmmm). The round, mellow, interacting/connected flavors of sweet cream and walnuts were foremost in my taste organs. I enjoyed this cheese with a muscadet wine but wikipedia said that a sauternes (verrrr sweet) would be very pleasant and I can empathize completely. The acidity of red would do no good for mr. époisses. Interestingly enough, I though of mac and cheese when eating this guy. Albeit high-quality mac and cheese like trader joes white cheddar shells and cheese so phewww no worries. Day 2 of eating époisses showed me continued instanes of tangy, grassy, savory, and pungent flavor characteristics that were heartily welcomed back. Full disclosure: époisses may be my new favorite cheese (sorry morbier/taleggio/paprika chèvre from cypress grove/étorki/cougar gold).
This is such a long post sorry (cept not sorry because these are my thoughts and like take em or leave em but preferrably take em because then maybe you’ll know more about cheese or like it more or want to get in touch with your local creamery and get into some serious déguster-ing) BUT it must be said that these cheese situation last night was one of the most sensory fulfilling tasting experiences of my life. I spent a long time on just a little bit of cheese, and I think I understand that what is amazing about cheese isn’t the creamy notes or high fat content or meltability or complement on so many sandwiches but rather that there is such a variety of detectable flavors. What other food brings to mind meat, fruit, nuts, seafood, dairy, dessert, even chemicals? Cheese can be a door to so many other experiences and its just a hunk of altered dairy. Earlier during my stay in france, I would take a bunch of strong cheese and eat it all fast because you can do that with milder, simple cheeses like gouda or cheddar or havarti (not that those are any less valid – I would never denounce havarti) and not really have a great time with the strong cheese I was consuming (in some cases imbibing…) Maybe i’m just a high-brow snob now but for me the challenge of strong cheese and the spectrum of surprises they contain is exhilarating. The age of a cheese, the method of production, the chemicals or ash or herbs introduced, the humidity of affinage climate, etc etc all have wild and sometimes unpredictable effects on the pot of cared-for milk. I think my love for cheese is akin to my love for pokémon as a younger Brett – gotta catch em all but really gotta eat em all.