Happily, August is nearly over. I say “happily”, because August is the month that most merchants, including my favorite fromagerie, close for two to four weeks as their owners and all their staff take their annual leave (“congé annuel”).
As you might imagine, I haven’t exactly suffered from a lack of cheese. In fact, the closures gave me the opportunity to explore a little. The first place I went searching was Levallois’ large and well-patronized covered market, directly across the street from our apartment. I am delighted every time I walk through its doors, as I know I’m going to find something good. Toward the southwest corner in a little niche near the doors is the Fromagerie Luna.
While it didn’t have the largest selection, Luna had enough variety to be interesting. The staff was pleasant, and although they were not initially forthcoming with recommendations, I nevertheless walked out with three cheeses.
The first I selected was Chevrotin, a goat’s cheese with a medium grey/brown rind pressed and aged to where it bears dull yellow color. In every visual respect it looks, down to its semi-hard texture, it resembles Tomme de Savoie. I found some similarities in the earthy, almost peppery taste as well. The analogy stops there though: Tomme de Savoie is made from cow’s milk whereas Chevrotin is eponymously named. The Chevrotin had the characteristic light tang and smell I associated with goat’s cheese—not too overpowering, but enough to clearly indicate its origin.
The second was Montbriac, also known as Rochebaron as I discovered. Montbriac is made from pasteurized cow’s milk that is pressed through aging. Unlike the other cheese I've tried to this point, this one is a fromage industriel, meaning that it is made by one of the gigantic milk product producers in France, in this case, a company called Bongrain. Montbriac is, like its better-known counterparts from the Auvergne region, Bleu d’Auvergne and Fourme d’Ambert, a blue cheese. The blue streaks in the otherwise creamy pale yellow cheese are created when the cheesemonger pierces the cheese whose milk has previously been innoculated with an aerobic mold (a variant of penicillium). The act of exposing the mold to air turns it blue. The flavor-texture combination is distinctive: imagine a warmed Brie in terms of texture and creaminess but the taste of a mild blue cheese. Mme Fromage and I liked this a lot.
Chevre Fermier (Launay)
There must be thousands of individual types of goat’s cheese made in France alone. Production is artisanal: farmers will take raw goat’s milk, shape it into small rounds or ovals or obelisks or whatever. This one happened to be from a small farm in the Launay commune (Poitou-Charentes region). It was semi-soft, a little crumbly but definitely on the moist side for chèvre, with that characteristic smell and moderate tang. While it was good, it was a rather typical representation of chèvre and a little less interesting than the others. I also later found out through strict control tests that it didn’t exactly agree with my constitution. A couple Tums solved the problem.
I was pleased with the selection at Luna and would not hesitate to return there, though I’m more likely to head back to "my" fromagerie, which happily just reopened. I’m working from home Friday to make sure I get enough time for a long visit!
About the Cheese: Montbriac/Rochebaron
Milk: Cow, whole (pasteurized)
Defining characteristics: Ashy grey rind with a perfectly creamy interior streaked with blue.
Traditional accompaniments: As with most cheese, a crusty baguette will suffice. The cheese spreads beautifully. I have heard of people drinking wine that is on the sweeter side with blue cheese, like a Sauternes. I’ve never tried this. I’d probably land on a white wine on the round, fruity side, like a white Burgundy.
Origin: From the Haute-Loire department in the Auvergne region.
Special facts: Montbriac is a brand name reflecting the fact that this cheese is a fromage industriel, meaning it is mass produced by a gigantic milk products company (in this case, by the French company Bongrain).
Recipes: Surely great in a quiche or a tart, but you'll need to find your own recipe!
About the Cheese: Chevrotin
Milk: Goat, exclusively “fermier” (meaning raw whole milk)
Firmness: Semi-soft to semi-firm. Mine was a little more aged and thus I think firmer.
Defining characteristics: Dull yellow rind, pressed, with a light yellow interior. The smell and taste reflect that its made with goat’s milk, but the cheese has an earthy, almost peppery flavor.
Traditional accompaniments: As with most cheese, depending on your mood you can pair it with grapes, raw vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes… really the sky is the limit. Chevrotin will pair with lighter reds (from the Loire, for example) as well as lighter whites from Burgundy and the Loire.
Origin: From the Savoie region of France.
Special facts: Chevrotin is the only cheese from the Savoie region that is recognized as AOC, or appellation d’origine controlée, meaning it is subject to strict guidelines under French law related to geographical origin and fabrication. These guidelines are designed to guarantee the continuity of traditional food products. It has holds the AOP distinction (appellation d’origine protégée), a European Union designation essentially equivalent to AOC. For more facts, see the Chevrotin website.
Recipes: I haven’t tried any of these recipes, but I aim to soon—not just with Chevrotin either. Brochettes or bruschetta with cheese is always a home run in my book.
Note: I'm grateful to Sue Sturman of Academie Opus Caseus for correcting my explanation of how blue cheese turns blue.