When I was at the cheese shop, once in a while we’d get a beautiful, oozy square of Brebirouss d’Argental. It arrived in its brilliant, orange glory, which I think is what scared some people away. For some reason, it never really sold well, even though it was lush and delicious.
Mr. Cheesemonger and I were out on Haight Street, and as we walked past a guy yelling “MARIJUUUAANNAAAA” and another (apparently stoned) guy asking for cash, we came upon the Haight St. Market. We needed cilantro anyway, so we walked out with some Brebirousse d’Argental, Point Reyes Toma and cilantro.
It was surprisingly tough to do the research on this cheese! There isn’t much out there, apart that it’s sold by the Fromi Group from France. It is a soft ripened ewe’s milk cheese that’s aged for 3 weeks. The cheese is washed twice during aging with a brine solution, resulting in that beautiful coloring. If I’m to believe that this cheese is actually made in a French place called Argental, that would be Bourg-Argental, in the Loire Department (slightly different from where the renowned Loire Valley castles are located).
What gives the cheese that ultra-spreadable texture is the ultra-filtration process the milk goes through, like the fromager d’affinois made by Guilloteau Fromagerie, which developed the process. As a result of this filtration, bacteria get filtered out, increasing the shelf life, and the milk is concentrated—there are more solids (curds) in proportion to the liquids (whey), and the cheesemaker gets to maximize her cheese. From what I understand, the process is not the same as pasteurization, so the milk isn’t cooked. (Hey, cheese techies, I’d love to hear more about this!)
I never did a written review of Brebirousse while I was a cheesemonger, so I may as well do it now!
Aroma: It so mild, I didn’t really even wouldn’t have guessed it’s a washed-rind cheese. It’s washed only a hint, so to me, I wouldn’t even classify it as stinky cheese. Others may disagree! There was a slight mushroomy aroma, but it was definitely also lactic. There were slight tangy and grassy elements there.
Appearance: The entire Brebirousse d’Argental is a about the size of a small, square dinner plate. The cheese has ridges throughout the whole square, and from the washing is tinged orange. The orange is more pronounced along the edges. As the cheese ages, the edges seem to pucker up, giving the whole square a more “architectural” look. The paste is a cheesecake color—the palest yellow, almost white. It is smooth, and begins oozing when it’s been out of the refrigerator.
Flavor: For a cheese not made of raw milk, I think it has great flavor, which develops slowly as you eat it. First, I sensed it was slightly sharp and salty, but this faded into an amazing lactic quality that gets gradually sweeter. The rind gives the taste a little bit of a mushroomy element that wafts up into the nostrils ever so gently. As the mushroom fades, it combines with the paste to linger a little bit on the tongue. And then you want another bite. Like the other ultra-filtered cheeses I’ve had, this has a definite lactic quality. I don’t really get a sense of terroir, as in, I don’t really sense what these animals must have eaten, but it’s very delicious. If you know someone who hasn’t had sheep’s milk cheese, and is afraid to try, you might consider offering this one to taste.
Texture: As I’ve said before, Brebirousse d’Argental’s texture is smooth and slightly gooey, but it can still kind of hold its shape on the plate if you don’t leave it out too long. Like the Fromager d’affinois, which is a cow’s milk treated with ultrafiltration, the paste is extremely smooth. I wonder if the paste texture is a result of the filtration process. The only “tougher” parts of this cheese are in the rind, but I think it adds great balance to the otherwise uniform consistency.