I wrote recently that I spend most of my Sunday mornings wandering around the 17th. A few weeks ago I discovered a place that doesn’t always show up on the map of cheese stars, but certainly should.
Residents of the Poncelet neighborhood of the 17th have at least two great things going for them. One is the Poncelet market. The narrow Rue Poncelet, stretching from the Avenue des Ternes down nearly to the Avenue de Wagram and around the corner to Rue Bayen, becomes impassable on market days as butchers, bakers, fruit and vegetable sellers and more spill out on to the street to welcome locals and tourists alike.
The second is Fromagerie Alléosse, named for its owner Philippe Alléosse and ideally located around the middle of the action on Rue Poncelet. The shop is long and narrow: customers enter through a door on the left, then turn right to face the displays of first of chèvre, then sheep and cow cheeses all perfectly arranged. There’s really no room to maneuver, but that’s fine. People shuffle happily along and point and exchange with the helpful sellers, who typically include the proprietor and his daughter.
A family affair
The Alléosse family is, as I found out shortly after my visit, passionate about their craft and articulate in their defense of quality and the cheesemonger’s savoir-faire (literally, the “know-how” that is acquired from years of dedication). One of our favorite television food personalities, former chef Andrew Zimmern, visited the Alléosse boutique and cave d’affinage, where Alléosse’s cheeses mature and develop their characteristic flavors and textures. There’s a scene in the cave where Philippe and his daughter (to whom Philippe is passing on his knowledge) speak simply and eloquently about the importance—the need even—of continuing the centuries-old methods that have endowed France with its well-deserved reputation for fantastic cheese. I couldn’t agree more.
I left with three cheeses, one of each milk source. The Corsu Vecchiu (Vieux Corsé, or Old Corse) was an easy choice: hard sheep’s milk cheeses are a crowd pleaser in our family. This one didn’t disappoint. It was not at all “sheep-y” in smell and had a lactic, slightly sharp and salty taste.
The Cabri des Gors gave a slight hint of its goat’s milk origin in smell. A blooming rind cheese, its interior looked like a moderately aged Camembert whose center was still a dense yet creamy white. It had a deliciously mild and earthy tang that charmed all of us.
The Abbaye de Citeaux, a washed rind cheese from cow’s milk, had a wonderfully rich and nutty flavor with a texture rather like Brie. If the Cabri de Gors charmed us, we were utterly besotted by this one!
An end that justifies the means
In writing this post, it occurred to me that these cheeses shared two things in common. One was that they were each developed from raw milk. The other is that it took some real skill in affinage (aging) to develop these flavors. These were really beautiful cheeses, hardly surprising given the beliefs of the people who brought them to fruition.
Fromagerie Alléosse, 13 rue Poncelet, 75017 Paris