Crottin stateside

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Earthy and umami: Quail Croft crottin (say that 10 times fast!)

Sometimes you get real excited seeing a cheese at a market and then you buy the cheese and it feels as hard as the ash-covered/rhomboidal exterior suggests and you say “I hope this cheese was accidently frozen even though I really don’t want it to be frozen” and then you unpackage it and let it breathe for a couple of hours and then it’s the moment of truth and you cut it open and it separates beautifully and you detect a heady waft and have the littlest of slivers and just like that all is well. This was my experience this morning, as I stumbled upon a french-style crottin at the stand of Quail Croft Farms during a visit to the Friday Harbor farmer’s market with the gamins from camp. Our mission was to buy some chèvre for a tartine dish tomorrow, and we came home with garlic-basil fresh chèvre and an enigmatic lump o’ crottin, per left photo.

The granite-like, blue/grey/brown exterior poses a challenge to comprehending the enigma inside. The pâte is very consistent throughout, showing and even ripening and just the slimmest of oxidized surroundings. The first wedge nibble made the phrase “threateningly dry velvet” come into my mind, and I think that is a good description of the initial texture. Mushing the morsel around in my mouth yielded a salty, granular paste. Then came tastes of roasted root vegetable or chestnuts, moqc crottin slicesstly in the form of a peculiar mild sweetness that fluxxed from bitingly tart on the front of the tongue to a crumbly blue sour salt feeling in the back. While tasting I had an undescribable flavor on the tip of my tongue that escaped identification until I pegged it as the weird flavor combination that comes when you spread margarine and syrup (the fake corn syrup kind) on a eggo waffle and some of the margarine gets on top of the syrup and it turns into this funky savory weirdness. I thought that this was a common childhood experience but none of my fellow tasters empathized with me hmmmm. In essence, the Quail Croft crottin is a complex piece of aged dairy that exudes wiseness and escapes cliché.

Also something decadent and head-emptyingly wonderful: camembert au four! Aka a round of camembert put in the oven for 30 minutes ish at 350 F ish (essentially until hot and melty) and removed and top croute cut off and hunks of bread dipped in the molten pool of satiny surface-ripened cheese. Perfect for camping trips and camp counselors on 36-hour vacations on Orcas Island. Just perfect.

camembert au four

not-so-poor man’s simple cheese course

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Taste the world in 4 cheeses

The elation that comes before a meal that you know will challenge and expand and stretch and regale your taste buds = exactly what I felt last friday afternoon. On a break from 3 weeks of work and in a mood to burn money on things that float my very own boat, I put together a cheese feast with some coworkers. We picked up 7 varieties, of which I will write about not Taleggio, Morbier, or Saint Nectaire. The biggest pity is that my iPhone with pictures of all these albuminous protein chunks from the Netherlands, France, Spain, and wisconsin was lost to the Salish Sea, so the only fruit for the brain buds will be concise descriptions of what I savoured.

First was the Pave de Jadis, an ash-covered chèvre from the Pays de la Loire. It was weeping moisture in the way only the heat of 5 PM in late july can coax out of a tranche of cheese. It had a slow to come on, rather fuzzy way of conveying citrus, mild dairy, and mellow grasses.

Second was the Garrotxa, a Catalonian aged goat’s cheese. Funky and bleu-chestnut rind colored with fishy tasties in my olfactory part influencing the chalky earth salt taste. A little mold funk made me think that this cheese is confused but in a “share my delirium” sort of engaging way.

Third was the Ballerina, by far the most expensive of our cheeses. It is an aged gouda that has a wonderful dark amber interior and translucent cheese crystals. I am not sure how long the affinage process lasted but I would venture somewhere in between 15-27 months (big range I know). It seemed like a wonderful vessel that someone poured delightful essence of garlic, molasses, salt, and roasted shrooms. The range and developing flavas was just so exciting and I highly recommend this cheese and other friends who like to talk about what they taste for a good time.

Last was Honeybee, another aged gouda. Somehow the sweetness and citrus of a teriyaki chicken skewer were the very first analogies I could find. This cheese finished with such a fun creamy nut sweetness that would have been both a muted dandelion yellow and earthy violet were they to be colors instead of (or in addition to) tastes.

These cheeses were fun to eat. We spent $70 on cheese (and sancerre) and I can’t think of a more amusing way I have spent my money in months.