Best Moments from the Salon du Fromage (part 1)
Though I was only able to attend the first two days of the Salon, I found it to be an excellent experience, my first with the professional industry. I met a lot of people and tasted a lot of cheese at the show. Below are my favorite moments, in chronological order.
Owing mainly to my choice to start on the left rather than the right side of the hall, my first memorable moment was not with cheese but with butter. Maï Nguyen happily explained Bordier’s butter-making process and gave me a tasting of, among other things, a seaweed butter with a rich, creamy saltiness that could instantly transport anyone to a sandy beach. Her colleague showed a small group of us how they fashion the butter with wood paddles by hand.
Fromage Fermier Les Tourelles
I spent a delightful half hour with Mr Lionel Dosne, proprietor of Les Tourelles, a farm in the Aube department (southwestern part of the Champagne-Ardenne region). Not all of the people at the exposition were interested to speak to me, but Mr Dosne was both kind and generous with his time.
Les Tourelles produces fromages fermiers, meaning that they start from the animal itself (as opposed to receiving milk or already formed cheeses for aging or “affinage”). We tasted his perfectly ripened and gorgeously creamy AOP Chaource, a cylindrical cheese with a blooming rind that’s soft and white inside, accompanied by a cool glass of Chablis. We also tasted Ervy and Le Bouchon, which, though fundamentally the same cheese, can’t be called Chaource due to the strict guidelines of the AOP designation.
Much of our conversation revolved around the role of small producers in the long delivery chain of the cheese business. He spoke passionately of his belief that, in the age of increasing industrialization and globalization, French cheeses would continue to be perceived as excellent only by assuring the continuity of small, local producers. Their commitment to ancient methods will preserve the perception and the reality of quality, while the proximity of a real person will instill confidence in buyers. If we allow production to become increasingly standardized, he argued, it will iron out the delicious wrinkles and nuances of flavor. I agree with his point of view.
Seignemartin receives comtés for aging and I tasted three of them: a young, “fruity” comté from 2015, a more refined 2014, and a strong 2013. The most interesting thing I learned speaking to the woman behind the counter (which was rather obvious once she mentioned it) was that affineurs are fundamentally investors. They add value in the sense that the final product is transformed, but they may not see a return (sale of the finished product) on their investment (milk or unfinished cheese purchase) for years. Implicitly then, anyone who might start an affinage business would need deep pockets.
Dongé's Brie de Meaux au lait cru (from raw milk) has won the Gold Medal in 2013 and 2015 from the Concours Général Agricole. It is, in a word, divine. Brie was the first French cheese I ever ate (knowingly), and as I’ve mentioned before, what we get in the States is a criminal representation. A Brie this beautifully creamy, rich and nutty, will forever be a revelation to my taste buds.
Fourme de Montbrison AOP
We can consider Fourme de Montbrison to be the forgotten relative of Fourme d’Ambert. From 1972, Montbrison shared an AOP distinction with Ambert (Fourme d’Ambert – Montbrison) and was, by dint of an order effect, basically forgotten. In 2002 it achieved its own AOP status with a separate set of rules. It is similar to Ambert in all but two respects. First, it’s aged in a hollowed out of a spruce log, which gives it an orange-ish color. It’s drier than its more well-known cousin, too.
L&L Plaquette Butter
This was another beurre de barette, this time from Belgium. Sweet, half-salted, or with other ingredients (like garlic and fine herbs), there is a nobility in the attention that’s paid to this oft-neglected condiment. To my American tastebuds, European butter is already a massive improvement to what we get the US. But even I can taste the difference, which is always somewhat astonishing to me. Mr Plaquette goes so far as to work with this farmers (there are 4) on what they feed the cows who provide milk for the butter to improve taste and quality.
End of part 1 of my best moments from the Salon du Fromage. Coming soon: part 2!