One of the advantages of having French friends is that they offer to bring you cheese when they visit! A longtime friend did just that, so when he arrived, with great flourish, he extracted from his suitcase three neatly packed containers containing cheese and carrots.
Our week of cheese sharing was rich and insightful! When my friend tasted Redwood Hill Farm’s Terra, which is inspired from the Loire Valley French cheeses, he found it extraordinary. “It has its own unique quality!” he exclaimed. “You can really tell the terroir is different from in France. It’s extraordinary.” I agree! I could almost sense the apples like the ones I helped turn into apple juice on the farm just the previous week. There is an earthy quality that just feels like Sonoma. He tasted Bleating Heart Cheese’s offerings, including Funky Bleats and Ewelicious, Bleating Heart’s new blue. He was intrigued by Funky Bleats’ mixed milk composition (goat and sheep) and washed rind, and loved the unique flavors in Ewelicious. He found all of them utterly distinct from the French cheeses he knows so well.
As for the French cheeses! I thought I would go into some more detail about them with you. On our platter were: Brie de Melun, Brie de Meaux, and a non-AOC Salers. There was some Dutch representation in the form of an aged gouda.
Brie de Melun
It looked like it was perfectly ripe—the striated bloomy rind was slightly yellowed, the butter-colored paste looked creamy. There was some slight ammonia scent as we sniffed, along with salami. Biting into it, I could feel a grainy quality in the rind, and taste a yeasty undertone to it. The paste was fruity, and oh so salty. My friend explained that this kind of Brie is generally pretty heavily salted compared to other Brie varieties. It was maybe a little too salted for my taste. On top of that, it didn’t survive the voyage that well, drying out a bit on the plane ride over.
Brie de Meaux
This cheese, because of its massive size, DID survive the trip in top form, apart from developing some cracking along the rind. It smelled like earth; my friend said it smelled like the clay along the Marne River, where the cheese is made. Mud and clay, and we were drooling all over it. It tasted so full—lush, creamy, rich—all of these things! The texture was like velvet. It just coated the tongue completely and stayed there forever. I fell in love with this one. Good thing, too, because I now have about 3 lbs. of it!
This last cheese came as a surprise. It isn’t technically a Salers because it’s made in a town just next to Salers (as opposed to in the town itself), but the method is the same. As it turns out, I completely fell in love with this one, too. It was a stunner from the moment I saw it thanks to its dusty grey rind. It even had half of an identifying seal fixed to its side. I sniffed it, and picked up what seemed like dried shrimp scent, but is probably more a mix of hay and cows. Tasting it was such a treat! It was so delicate. I felt like I had to really pay attention or else I would miss something. I sensed a strong floral/fruit element (maybe pears?) that gave way to a sweet grass flavor. The dusty, earthy tasting rind provided a perfect foil to that spring-evoking paste. That was exquisite. I’m not sure you can find this cheese on this side of the pond, but I bet the lucky ones among us can find some Salers.
Our final cheese, the Gouda, was perfect as a dessert. It smelled like dessert, evoking candied ginger and caramel. And then it tasted like dessert—one that has nectarines, apples, butterscotch, and caramel. And that finish was like the icing on the cake. Oh boy. M. Cheesemonger and our friend clearly enjoyed this cheese the best, and munched away happily, biting into those crunchy protein crystals with gusto.
Happy visit, happy tasting, happy bellies.