Friday night was Cheese Club night, and on this night we shared it with Suzanne, aka essjay, some lovely wine, the usual accompaniments and were aided by a copy of French Cheeses by Kazuko Masui and Tomoko Tamada (which we will return shortly, promise). As Cheese Club goes, this was heavy on the semi-hard and hard cheeses and with a preponderance of Appellation d'Origine Controlee cheeses. AOC, for those who don't know, is a French expression translating roughly as "we know where it came from because it says so on the label". This edition of Cheese Club was an intense, high-powered occasion with some strident flavours wearing the gastronomic equivalents of shoulder pads and power suits, and was joined with some vin-not-so-ordinaire, including a jolly 2005 Curly Flat Pinot Noir. Noice.
Saint Marcellin - Superficially, this comes from the same family as the Saint Felicien we've previously loved. But this is the younger brother - the one with short-guy Napoleon complex. Like the Saint Felicien, it comes in its own ashtray and looks like its skin is the only thing holding it together. Underneath, however, it's aching for a fight and is ready to punch you in the face before running away and taunting you from *just* outside striking distance. Like the best French cheeses, it comes with a legend involving a bear, a future King, two woodsmen and a particle accelerator (OK, so I made up the last bit) but the legend is more than 500 years old and so can be described as "venerable". The cheese is smooth and thin-creamy like the Felicien, but has a much stronger and intrusive flavour.
Agour Pur Chevre - This has the lovely white, near-translucency of a semi-hard goat's cheese and is from the Basque Pyrenees in France. Amazingly nutty and smooth, almost-hard texture with just the barest whisker of crystalline crunch. If it wasn't for the ivory colour, I would have assumed this was cow's milk. Nutty and smooth like a cooked curd cheese, but with a lighter finish. Lovely.
Will Studd Select Comte (AOC) - This is a Gruyere of mighty power and lusciousness and is the most popular of all cheeses in France (I read it in a book so it must be true). It's a Gruyere, so it's smooth and a bit nutty, but this one was stratospherically luscious, moist and sweet as well. The flavour had a slight caramel and the texture was as smooth as a very smooth thing that was having a particularly smooth day. Fondue heaven awaits, and it's not in the back seat of a limo - it's in a slice of this.
Heidi Tilsit - This is a Tasmanian semi-hard washed rind cheese of cow's milk. In previous editions of Cheese Club, I've mocked Heidi as various Swiss cheeses have come up, but I haven't actually had a cheese named after the lass herself. This is much more of a soft, elastic cheese than most Swiss-style cheeses, and although it has a rich flavour with a nice follow-up tang, it just didn't come together as well as some of the others. A good cheese, to be sure, but on this night we tasted so many similar cheeses that were much more intense and exciting. The RHCL tasting notes talk about a wet-hay flavour, and who am I to argue? But equally, who am I to care?
Abondance (AOC) - From the same family as the Comte, another mountain cheese. This one's made from raw cow's milk, so in theory (according to Quarantine), this one should taste of instant lactic death. While many of the cheeses in this family look pretty similar, this one has distinctive concave sides and it is obviously a drier cheese than the others. Of the four semi/hard fondue-style cheeses, this is far and away the most intense, with less nutty-smoothness and more a vigorous tang. This is a sharp and big, pointed cheese which should be approached with caution and much respect.
Bleu de Laqueuille (AOC) - When I was growing up there were (as far as I can remember) about three different types of cheeses. One of them was a blue cheese, and it tasted remarkably like the Laqueuille, although it was called "Danish Blue". This is a lovely cow's milk blue cheese that has soft and rich paste without being buttery and can still crumble, and a strong but not frightening degree of blue mould. Not quite the blue cheese of my childhood, but a lot like it.
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