Day 6: Saint Félicien
Believe it or not, a good cheese plate is hard to find, even in France.
There are several issues. First is distribution. Unless a restauranteur is deliberately seeking out a specialist, there is just a lot of average cheese out there. Second is handling. A delivery that waits on a loading dock for just 10 minutes on a hot day could destroy years of craft. Restaurants are horrible environments for cheeses. Hot kitchens are as dangerous to cheese as they are to wine. The alternative is a walk-in refrigerator, which at temperatures just above freezing and unregulated humidity may lead to shrink-wrapped cheese sitting in its own cold condensate. Third is fickle consumer tastes. Because cheese is a relatively delicate product, unless the restauranteur knows s/he can move the cheese, buying it is a risk. This reverberates back through the supply chain. These three factors explain the typical costliness of a restaurant cheeseplate.
Today’s cheese comes in the form of a cheeseplate at my favorite new restaurant serving tapas-style food from France’s southwest. Saint Félicien is a bloomy rind or soft-ripened cheese around the same diameter as a camembert but not as tall. There is some irony here: the cheese in question comes from a Isère, a place that’s near Lyon in the Rhône valley which, georgraphically speaking, ain’t even close.
I find the rind has a bit of a floury or yeasty smell, a natural consequence of the flora. The interior though, particularly at the peak of its affinage, is creamy (almost gooey) and warms the mouth. This particular cheese smelled a bit of citrus and hay, with a bit of a metallic taste on the side of the tongue and cheek (a trigeminal sensation). I could have eaten the cheese without all the accoutrements, but the taloa (the tortilla-ish circular mouth delivery mechanism), the fennel jelly (below the cheese) and fig (on top) created a fantastic blend of salt and sweet.