Despite a busy week at work, I was able to cross over to Paris’ Left Bank to visit yet another of France’s famed cheesemongers, Marie-Anne Cantin.
I was really looking forward to my visit. I had eaten her cheese at La Fontaine de Mars, a traditional brasserie up the street from her shop, and remarked in my blog post about that experience that, while the cheeses were fairly “common” (in terms of availability and being well known), there was nothing common about their taste. Second, I had just devoured a copy of her book, Guide de L’Amateur des Fromages (Guide for Cheeselovers) and had come to learn more about her path through life and her approach to cheese. Her warmth and passion radiates from the page.
Madame Cantin does not come from a long lineage of cheesemongers. As she recounts in the book, her father should’ve been a fisherman, but an accident put paid this profession and he instead turned to cheese. So much the better for all of us who have ever eaten her cheese.
As for cheese, I think she would agree with me on the two essential principles to cheese making. One is to start with ingredients of impeccable quality, which she does. The other is to treat them and care for them, to respect and to nurture them, until they are perfectly à point and ready to eat. This is where she really excels. Cantin is an affineuse, which means she takes the excellent raw materials and coaxes out their nuanced flavors and inherent goodness through the aging process. Make no mistake: she has complete mastery of this craft.
She is also a very charming person. I had a lovely conversation with her and her husband, who offered me plenty of suggestions about developing my own understanding of the world of fromage.
As for the cheeses I bought at her shop, what can I say? It's impossible to choose a "best". They were all excellent. Pâte molle (soft) cheeses put any affineur to the test. Her Brie and a Saint Félicien were thus a reflection of her skill. They were amazing, the Brie especially with its deeply nutty flavor.
The blue cheese was really nice as well. As her husband said, we wanted to make a blue that wasn't aggressive. This was neither aggressive nor cloyingly rich, yet it retained its essential "blueness," if that's a word. The goat's cheese (Le Mervent) was right up my street: tangy without being overpowering, solid without being dry.
I'm ultimately a believer that the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. Thus if I had to choose a "best" of this group, it would be the combination of the middle-aged comté and the vin jaune (literally yellow wine) from the Jura region, which paired perfectly together.
Fromagerie Cantin, 12, rue Champ de Mars, Paris 75007