Glorious glorious spring break number 2! The sun was smiling down on all of Paris during our trip, the jardin de Luxembourg was brimming with life and green expanses, and the jambon gruyère baguettes were croquant and cremeux. We started off our first day in Montmartre wandering, seeing the beautiful cobblestone streets that will me manque oh-so-terribly when I return to the US. After looping around the quartier, we ended up at the Fromagerie Quatrehomme in the 18th arrondissement. The offshoot of Marie Quatrehomme’s original shop on the Rue de Sèvres, it is a cave of quite some magic.
I walked in and heard some American tourists asking if the camembert was strong or what a good tasting cheese was and I felt immediately thankful not to be wearing a red flag of cheese/France unknowledge… I set out to look for the house specialty of 30 month aged Comté and was swept away by the beauties of Valençay and Banon on the other side of the shop. Because we were only eating for two, I picked up the Comté and Valençay and VOILÀ the resulting cheese plate/crappy hostel lights
The Comté… In fact I read about this one on another food lover’s blog and like that was some good advice. Like SUCH A FUN CHEESE. As you can see in the photo above with the big yellow hunk, I cut it into thin tranches, watching the crystals shave off onto the plate and feeling l’eau dans la bouche. Almost opaque in spots, you can tell that this is a cheese that has seen things. I had immediate tastes of savory and garlic and such a pleasing crunch in some spots. Then there was a flavor development into the realm of a well-stocked plate of spaghetti bolognese; my mouth was left with a comprehension of age and onions. Absolute, hands-down, undeniably the best comté that my life has ever had. Thank you and to whoever is reading, I EXHORT you to search out and aged comté of this caliber. Preferably at this shop.
Also interesting note: if a comté is scored at less than 12/20 overall by the french cheese police, it cannot be called comté and is instead sold as gruyère in France! Cheese hierarchy exists = woah conspiracy theories abound.
The Valençay, seen in the background behind the Comté, was a calmer addition to the plate. I felt/tasted/saw a beautiful ivory interior, dry texture in a clean and cool way, and flavors reminiscent of pretzel flavored salt. I had really been hankering to try it because it has a cool charcoal-covered exterior and comes in a cool 3D trapezoid shape (legend has it that it enraged Napoleon so he cut off the top and voilà we have the lasting shape to this day). I wasn’t as blown away by the Valençay as I have been recently with other unpasteurised chèvres; I think I really like them moelleux and grassy and fresh or pungent, dry, and peppery almost. Hmm particular tastes.
K so then it was out of Paris and into the South, where we visited the beautiful towns of Dax, Labatut, Bayonne, Biarritz, and St. Jean de Luz. It was in St. Jean de Luz that we stopped at Maison Adam, a purveyor of fine local goods including ham, cheese, pastries, dairy products, and pepper. The front of the store is an invitation to culinary whimsy and high quality, complete with a wall of aged piment d’espelette (spicy delicious peppers that are the local speciality of Bayonne). I also bought a bottle of piment d’espelette olive oil and sel de piment and I am oh-so-excited to spice up my cuisine back in ‘murca.
In the shop I was delighted to see a wall full of aged sheep’s cheeses; I picked up a wedge of “brebis fermier” which is prets much the run-of-the-mill sheep’s cheese of the region (and by run-of-the-mill I mean delicious and artisanal and delightful) and also a wedge of REAL Ossau-Iraty to bring back to the states with me because that dank is worth its weight in gold in my palate (and by worth its weight in gold I mean 32.60 euros/kg haha).
So in Biarritz later that night, after our beautiful apéro of Jurançon sec and jambon de bayonne, I sliced up my recent purchase and ate some tranches watching abstract short-films on an artsy independent channel. I was more engrossed with my cheese and quite easily because 1) there was a strong sheep dairy taste all throughout my mouth and 2) more fun flavors than I had anticipated! The cheese was medium firm and yielding, grainy in a delightfully-crystal-hinting manner. The tastes started off tight and pert, like a young gruyère, but developed into fuzzy piquant multi-faceted protein flavor. Weird? Not if you were to taste it. What was tho interesting was that although yes the rind was drier and earthier than the interior of the wedge, there was a distinct hint of blue/ammonia along the exterior. The flavors changed cleanly and distinctly and I thoroughly enjoyed the taste transitions. Good stuff Brebis Fermier. You can see the artfully arranged slices below; I ate them all.
Also in St. Jean de Luz I was given a little slice/sample of Fromage Mixte = sheep and cow milk; I found it to remind me of a creamy monterey jack with hints of sheep’s dairy. Lighter in color and softer in hold as well. Moyenne in flavor/quality but would make a good mac and cheese or melted on top of chili mmm the husky sheep scent would make a crowd go wild. Until next time then, cheese lovers!