Day 5: Sourcing, the Tunnel, and Au Revoir
While I had made plans to go for run again with Kym, I had also mistakenly set my alarm for 6:30, the time we were supposed to leave. There was no way after the heavy meal we had eaten the previous night (link) that I was going to be able to just throw my shoes on and go. Kym was understanding and I went back to my room for a bit more rest.
The morning of Day 5 again focused on retail and the sourcing of cheese for a store. We built on our conversation of consumer preferences from Thursday to talk about the supply chain, which is one of the aspects of the cheese industry that interests me most.
As consumers we tend to focus on the production of cheese and its influence on taste. The closer we are to the farmer and the cow, the better the taste. But this says nothing of how the cheese gets to market, how long that process takes, or how many companies handle the product. All of these factors influence the appearance and taste of the product. As importantly, both distributors and retailers influence the price to the consumer, which in turn influences how the consumer perceives the quality and affordability of the cheese. Needless to say, producers and affineurs must pay close attention to the supply chain: all of their care and labor can be for naught by the time their products hit the shelves.
Tasting at the Tunnel
Our last session of the week took us to the Mons affinage caves in the abandoned train tunnel at Collonges. The family bought and refitted in 2009, and the facility is pretty spectacular. Underground and strictly climate-controlled, the tunnel is a continuous curve where the family ages bigger cheeses like the Comtés and Beauforts we had tried earlier in the week. We donned hairnets, booties, and coats and went into the chilly damp cave. The first thing we were struck by (apart from size) was its impressive organization, as is the Mons way. In a world with no set formulas, you control what you can so that, if for no other reason, you can compare how you did it this time versus the last.
Our last tasting of the week was in the convivial setting of the dining room at the Tunnel. The plate included some of Mons’ best. On the lighter side were the Coeur de Berger, a mild creamy goat cheese, and a young Saint Félicien. The Morbier had an amazing rind that smelled of litchee. The Gabietou, my favorite on this plate, was mix of sheep and cow’s milk in the style of a tomme de Pyrenees and had a sweet, milky taste and nutty aroma. The fantastic Fromage de Maquis, Corsica’s herb-encrusted sheep cheese was at its creamiest peak, with an herbal, almost minty aroma and taste. Finally, we ate a Mons exclusive, the 1924, a blue mix of sheep and cow. Its creamy paste was speckled with blue-green mold for a beautiful texture on the palate, and a well-balanced taste.
We laughed and chatted happily over lunch. The entrée was a Mons-created tarte de fromages. The main dish was salmon with lentils and Romanesco, sort of a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. Little pots of Mons outrageously creamy panna cotta provided a delicious capstone to the meal.
We said our good-byes, which was really just a bientot (“see you soon”) since all but Alex were returning the following week for the Affinage class, and headed off to the Roanne train station.
A couple of people have asked me already how much I’ve learned and how I’d rate the classes. I’ll get to that in the following post. But the short answers to those questions are “A ton” and “Outstanding”. Stay tuned for that as well as next week’s daily installments from the Affinage class.