Now on to the tasting part of the Jean d’Alos discussion. As we moved from one cheese to another, M. Grosdidier described the history and particularities of each cheese.
M. Grosdidier exlained that the production of Comté grew out of necessity in the mountain region of the Jura. Because of the isolation facing local farmers, they were forced to band together in contributing milk to create these large wheels of cheese, which would help them face spartan winter months. Now, as was the case then, Jean d’Alos prefers Comté made from summer milk, when cows are able to craze on fresh grass and flowers. The rich yellow paste of the finished cheese on my plate (the long, rectangular-cut cheese) is a telltale sign of nutrient-rich milk. The milk of 30 cows, only Montbelirade and Tachete de l’Est breeds, is used to make one wheel of Comté. Jean d’Alos only buys Comté that is actually made in the mountains where the cows graze (alpage). M. Grosdidier stressed the importance of choosing cheeses made near where the cows graze, to have minimal milk transport.
This particular Comté possessed a smooth, luminous, rich yellow paste (summer milk!). It had a sort of crustiness in the mouth, with the classic cristallisation of proteins, and long-lasting flavor. It was typical of Jean d’Alos Comté, meaning it was rather fruity, nutty, sweet, very rich, and with, he said a “high volume in the mouth.” M. Grosdidier estimated the age to be around 18 months, saying older cheeses have a higher tendency to crack. This cheese was smooth everywhere.
This cheese has its beginnings in the Franche-Comté region of France, and as a cheese made of leftovers, as in leftover milk from making Gruyère. Apparently, leftover curds were smeared with ash to keep moisture in overnight, and then the next day’s excess curd would be layered on top of that. Hence, the beautiful black line of ash through the center of Morbier! M. Grosdidier explained that current Morbier is not often made this way; in fact, only one farm makes Morbier this way, on-the-spot, with its own (Montbeliarde) cows–Ferme de Teigne, by a certain M. and Mme. Chambon. This cheese was used as an example to highlight the importance of making cheese on the spot, where the animals graze, and quickly after milking.
This particular wheel we tasted from was about 4 months old, but M. Grosdidier felt it could have been aged more. He noted it was rather sandy/chalky in the mouth, apart from the grit of the ash through the center, a lingering mouthfeel. The taste was rather gamy, highly concentrated. I personally thought it was one of the best, richest Morbiers I’ve ever had, maybe because I’d only been exposed to rubbery, somewhat bland, animal-smelling ones. Compared to that, this Morbier was just incredible. It had a gaminess, but almost a regal one, and an underlying creaminess. Loved it. That line of ash through the center was real, not just for show . . . my cheese broke through the center because it was so substantial.
Here, I learned the difference between Ossau, Ossau Iraty, and Abbeye de Bellocq. THIS cheese that we tasted, Ossau, comes from Béarn; all of the milk is from one valley this Pyrénées region. It is a raw milk cheese, and it is a summer milk cheese (called estive). Ossau-Iraty, raw, regulated by AOC, allows for the mixing of milk from different areas in the Pyrénées, not just Béarn. Abbeye de Bellocq, another similar sheep’s milk Pyrénées cheese, is from pasteurized milk, and is considered “artisanal,” which does not fall under the same standards of AOC. Again, this cheese’s production allows for the mixing of milk from different regions.
M. Grosdidier explained that there are so few producers of Ossau, that when they mark their cheeses to identify which are theirs, they can use the letters of the alphabet without danger of running out of letters. This particular wheel graced a cursive “L.” He also explained that for this type of cheese, the best grazing areas are actually in Spain, not France! Indeed, every year, local French and Spanish officials have a ceremony to grant the French sheep permission to graze on Spanish land.
The notes on this cheese were short–it was very sweet, clearly sheep milk, complex, and a bit chalky, which seems to be a very desirable trait!
Tome de Bordeaux
This beautiful, colorful, aged goat cheese is a new creation by the Maison Jean d’Alos. It’s essentially a Tome d’Aquitaine dressed up in a crust of thyme, savory, juniper, coriander, fennel and cayenne pepper. The inspiration for the cheese is the herb-encrusted Corsican cheese called Brin d’Amour (which I love as well!). M. Grosdidier explained that this cheese comes from pasteurized milk because of its unique aging process. It is deliberately kept in a very high moisture environment (about 80% if I remember correctly) to keep its characteristic souplesse. Since raw milk tends to go bad quickly in such a moist environment, pasteurized milk it was. He stated that the trick to producing this cheese was in mastering the surface humidity. For the first two months of aging, the wheels are washed in a mixture of water and wine. It is then wrapped in the herbs and monitored for the following two months.
AMAZING. This cheese felt and tasted amazing! The high acidity allows the cheese to age longer, which allows for the herbs to infuse more into the cheese. It was indeed very moist and supple. I could taste mainly thyme, juniper, coriander, and fennel, and not so much the savory in cayenne, but maybe that’s just my palate! Apart from its wonderfully moist paste, the sheer beauty of the cheese is enough to make jaws drop. After reading about the Tome de Bordeaux in Culture Mag, I knew I had to have it, and now that I have, I feel like I’ve reached a cheese milestone!
With this delicious last taste, the discussion was over. I had the chance to introduce myself to the Jean d’Alos representatives, but I knew I had plenty of things to see and taste downstairs, so I was out the door fairly quickly. But boy, what a fantastic learning experience. And this was just day 1!