Day 3: Morning run, food safety, and the Château de Champing
Wednesday started with a 5k run at the crack of dawn. Yes, seriously! With the quantity of cheese we’ve been eating and the amount of wine we have been “obliged” to drink with it, we were all feeling a bit bloated by Tuesday dinner. After tasting our chef’s home-made pear eau-de-vie, Kym and I decided we would wake up for a 6:30 run on Wednesday. While neither of us were feeling terribly gung-ho by the time morning rolled around, we did make it out for a run along the cool dawn-lit country roads around Villerest.
We spent the morning of Day 3 discussing safety. I imagined that this would be a pretty dry discussion, but with two cheesemakers in the room it was quite lively. Hearing them talk about their own production processes and experiences was enlightening. I was able to appreciate the issues given my own parallel experiences, which include a summer working on a hazardous waste site, many years in restaurants, and my more recent jobs leading operations teams.
Safety is fundamentally about process control. It’s about defining goals, understanding the risks that stand in your way, prioritizing and measuring those risks, and then creating procedures that minimize them. In an industry that is fundamentally driven by bacteria and mold, it’s easy to understand why this is important. That said, mitigating risk is hard to do and requires discipline. Moreover, it isn’t just about the bacteria in milk. As we learned, even easier for bad things to spread in a clean environment (imagine putting a utensil used for yogurt that was merely rinsed into a vat of pasteurized milk): bacteria spreads quickly when it doesn’t have competition.
Our daily tasting brought us a couple of new cheeses to try from three familiar families. We had three washed rind cheeses. The best of these (in my opinion) was a nicely-aged Munster from Alsace that we tasted it without and then with whole cumin seeds. The cumin’s warm vegetal aroma and flavor really pairs nicely. We also tried a small Maroilles and a young Epoisses that I initially and mistakenly guessed was Soumaintrain due to its youth. From the pressed non-cooked family, we had a Salers (which as I mentioned in the previous post was brought out to compare with the fermented Romanian cheese), a Saint-Nectaire. The best of these was a beautiful Ossau-Iraty that had stumped me as well because I (and a few others) had concluded merely from its look that it was probably a pressed cooked cheese (I thought comet). I reminded myself after that to observe and not interpret when doing the sensory analysis lest I lead myself astray!
Dinner at the Château de Champlong
After a few days of dining at the hotel, the four of us (Alex, Ryan, Kym and I) decided to eat dinner at the excellent Château de Champlong. The restaurant is owned by Chef Olivier Boizet and his wife Véronique who happen to be very close with Laurent Mons and his wife, and by extension Sue Sturman, our instructor. The meals there are between four and six courses if we include two amuse bouches, and it was simply excellent. Among the savory items we ate were fresh lobster, duck breast, ribeye steak, and crawfish.
Naturally after our main meal we were obliged to eat more cheese since they were from the House of Mons! Our server wheeled over the cheese chariot (it was far more than a cart!) and we tasted virtually all of the items present. There were two non-Mons cheeses: a fourme blanc, which was identical to the familiar French blue cheese Fourme d’Ambert except that it was never pierced to create bluing, and a pressed noncooked cheese that, for me at least, was a bit too smoky. Of all the cheeses on that platter, the one I liked most was the Mons Fumaison, a pressed and smoked cow’s cheese that smells rather like charcuterie but remains very well balanced. Desert for most of us was a decadent chocolate mousse sat atop a sablé (a short-crust cookie) surrounding a vanilla mousse center, all of which was enrobed by chocolate ganache. It’s only downside, again for my taste, was the smoky foam that it sat atop. The smoke just didn’t work for me.
After we were done, we were invited to go downstairs to the restaurant’s wine cave to have an after-dinner drink with the Chef, which was surely the consequence of the Mons connection. Special XO brandy and a fine Marc de Bourgogne flowed as we shared our experiences with our host. It was a special end to an outstanding dinner in good company
Château de Champlong, 100 Chemin de la Chapelle, 42300 Villerest