Tumbleweed (Week 10)

San Joaquin Gold & Tumbleweed
Top: Tumbleweed. Bottom: San Joaquin Gold

Cheese: Tumbleweed

Producer: 5 Spoke Creamery

Where: Goshen, New York

I picked up 2 cheeses at C’est Cheese in Santa Barbara, and while I really did like the San Joaquin Gold, I thought the Tumbleweed was the winner in this match. I got a somewhat strange stubby piece that allowed me to cut it up in very thick slices and it went surprisingly fast. Tumbleweed is made with raw milk from grass-fed Holsteins and your tastebuds have to put in overtime to take it all in: it’s buttery, nutty, a little sweet and it somehow never ends. There is just a lot of flavor to be savored. I am sure it pairs great with a robust red wine (this cheese can easily take on a robust Bordeaux or so), I say leave it. Just have nothing but bread and cheese here – there is enough to keep your senses entertained.

Tumbleweed is made by the people at 5 Spoke Creamery in Goshen, in the county of Orange in the state of New York. Their name and their logo feature spokes in a bicycle wheel. The bicycle in turn is a symbol for taking time to do and to enjoy things. Their cows, Holsteins, are grass-fed and the milk used for cheese is raw. The website extolls the virtues of unpasteurized milk and they point out that 70% of all European cheese is raw. The cheese is aged up to 12 months and that of course helps the taste truly unfold. The creamery is in a farm that is over 110 years old but has been renovated to house a state-of-the-art sustainable operation that cranks out the dairy gold. Alan Glustoff owns 5 Spoke and you can see him at his farm in this video.

By the way, just because in my very informal taste test the San Joaquin Gold from Fiscalini’s came in second, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get some if you can lay your paws on it. They’ve been in the cheesemaking business for over a hundred years – and this particular cheese has a cow stamped into it – what is there not like ?

C'est Cheese
At the Cheese Counter in C’est Cheese
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Santa Barbara (Week 10)

Santa Barbara Pier
Santa Barbara’s Sterns Wharf

To us, Santa Barbara is always a treat. We have lots of fond memories (including a splendid little wedding and some heady college years) and we always come away as proud wannabes: one day, we say, we will be able to afford the overpriced real estate here, and the Californian Riviera will be our oyster. Until that day, we are happy to make the trek on a regular basis, and in the cheese year, we obviously had to visit C’est Cheese, the wonderful cheese store and café with an admittedly cheesy name (Eurosnob trivia: c’est, in French, is NOT pronounced ‘say’).

benedict c'est cheese
Breakfast at C’est Cheese

After a glorious breakfast, with great coffee, excellent breakfast potatoes, some of the best eggs Benedict I have ever enjoyed and friendly I-live-in-Santa-Barbara-so-I-really-have-no-reason-to-ever-be-crabby style service, a fine female cheese monger helped me pick not one, but two very nice, creamy cheeses, and we were off wandering the streets. It rained – not so strange in March – but that hardly mattered.

Carrots Santa Barabara Farmer's Market
At the Santa Barbara farmer’s market

We were reminded of the days before our wedding when rainshowers severely cut into the supply of fresh flowers at the farmer’s market. So in a way, through that memory, the rain drove us to the farmer’s market, where we procured an on-demand poem, written by a young woman with a typewriter who offered her services for a modest fee, and a jar of out-of-this-world raw avocado honey, too good to eat in any other way but by the spoonful. We also got some tangerines and then walked on. We stopped in at the Lost Horizon Bookstore, an excellent used bookstore that really requires a lot more time than we had, drove back to our hotel for a short while and went for another walk in the Douglas Family Preserve which affords views over the pacific and the Arroyo Burro Beach, with the restaurant that used to be the Brown Pelican.

Seashore Santa Barbara
At the Douglas Family Preserve

For dinner, we enjoyed the seafood at the Hungry Cat twice in a row. Yes, sometimes it is as simple as that: when the food is that good, why bother going elsewhere? The first night, there was plenty on the menu to choose from and we decided on the encore before we had finished our meal. Of course we ventured out to the waterfront at the harbor and at Stearns Wharf also – it is part of the tradition in Santa Barbara. All in all, we didn’t do an awful lot, but drove home along the Pacific Coast Highway very content and refreshed: Santa Barbara is good for our souls, we find.

Port of Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Harbor

Paški Sir (Week 15)

Paski Sir II
Croatia’s Cheesy Pride: Paski Sir

Cheese: Paški Sir

Producer: Sirana Gligora

Where: Kolan, Pag Island, Croatia

So here is a picture of Pag, an island just off the coast of Croatia. There are less than 10,000 people who call the island home, but there are some 40,000 sheep. They’re a little smaller than average, these Paška Ovca, and they are indigenous to the island. From the coastal Velebit Mountains of Dalmatia, the Bora wind barrels down, picks up a lot of salt from the air over the water and drops some of that salty moisture on the pasture where the sheep run around, mostly freely. The herbs and grasses on the island the sheep feast on are pre-salted, if you will, like the grass in coastal Normandy around Issigny, where the best butter in the world comes from. These roaming sheep produce about half a liter of milk a day, so half a quart of milk. That is little, even by sheep standards (half a gallon is sort of average, compared to three quarters of a gallon from a goat and 8 gallons from a cow). Add to that the fact that the sheep are still often milked by hand in the fields where they graze and you have one labor intensive dairy operation going. But at the end of that long laborious process, there is Paški Sir, the cheese from Pag, which wins medals all over the world and makes Croatians proud.  Depending on who you believe, the farmers on Pag have been making cheese for hundreds of years (some writers believe since the days of the old Romans) and of course there is the popular suggestion that at one point it was used as currency, which seems a little farfetched. I am sure it may have been a barter unit in some sense, but it is hard to see that someone would buy a cow and say: “I’ll pay you 34 cheeses for that nice animal there”. One way or another, the cheese from Pag has very, very deep roots. Alberto Fortis, an Italian who traveled around Dalmatia in the 18th century wrote about the salt, the sage honey, the wool and the cheese from Pag in his Viaggio in Dalmazia, but by that time, it had already been around for a good long while. The Gligora family has been at it since 1916 and towards the end of the previous century father Ivan and son Šie have begun to take, as they say, the cheese to the next level. Among other things, they send their products all over the world provided you’re happy to pay the rather splendid shipping fees. You may find that is it more prudent to just wait until you travel to Croatia to get some. A competitor, Paška Sirana has an excellent video. Great images, and with English subtitles.

Paski Sir Cheese
Vino, Kruh i Sir. The cheeses from left to right: Kozlar, Dinarski and Paski Sir

Paški Sir is a cheese that needs a bit of time to unfold in your mouth, don’t eat it hastily. At first, it is what you’d expect from a sheep cheese: it is hard, crumbly and drier than most cow’s milk cheeses. And then, as it melts in your mouth, your tastebuds tell you: “wait, wait, there is more”. I will leave it to experts to give the complex flavors names; I will simply say that there is a lot to savor in an innocent looking piece of Paški Sir, and only if you take your time, will you discover why it gets those accolades the Croatians like to tout. I am sure it tastes great in a variety of dishes, but it is expensive enough that you want to carefully cut it up and eat it with a glass of Croatian red rather than in the mac and cheese from the crockpot. It has a nice crunch – most if it hits the market after aging for about a year so there are the little white protein crystals that lend the cheese even more texture. Shave it on your salad like you would Parmigiano, or eat it with figs – if you can get them, from Dalmatia. Aside from the Paški Sir, I also had a taste of Gligora’s Dinarski Sir, a crumbly, salty cow’s milk cheese from the Dinaric Alps and their Kozlar, a semi-hard goat cheese, also quite salty but very creamy and if fact, I ended up liking it at least as much as the cheese of the week. But I waited until we had left Croatian territorial waters before admitting that aloud. I am sure the Croatians would seriously frown on my preference and I wanted to stay out of trouble.

Dalmatia (Week 15)

Krka Waterfalls
Waterfalls in Krka National Park

Of course, if I would title this post Croatia, it would just be a bit too easy. Dalmatia is much cooler, because it is a little less used and has a faint echo of dog to it. Yes, those spotty white dogs do come from this part of the world, originally. The bit with the 101 of them originates in England: a playwright by the name of Dodie Smith wrote the book, Disney turned it into a movie 5 years later. But back to Dalmatia. This week, the cruise ship I was on stopped there twice, first in Zadar, then in Dubrovnik. Zadar is a city as old as dirt, at least 2,900 years or so. They have ample old stuff to prove it too: there is a roman forum, the church of St. Donatus that is a cool 1,100+ years old and massive fortifications because a lot of people over the centuries have had their eye on Zadar. Alas, I did not see any of it, because I traveled by bus to the nearby Krka National Park which is know for some pretty impressive waterfalls. They are near the town of Skradin and the locals call them Skradinski buk. There, now you know that ‘buk’ is Croatian for waterfalls and the number of situations in which this knowledge will come in handy are legion. Water here flows over a series of travertine terraces and some very easy walking trails take you by a handful of historical structures, meticulously restored, and over, und and past myriad waterfalls. Best really to look at the pictures, they do the place much more justice that words can. Back in Zadar, there was just enough time to have a listen of the Morske Orgulie, a water organ designed by Croatian genius Nikola Bašić. He put 35 big pipes under a terrace at the waterfront and as the water moves in and out of the tubes, it creates some very random low whistles. Time was tight, but I could easily imagine sitting there for quite a while just letting the seas sing to you. It was beautiful. Bašić also created the roundish array of solar panels, which collect the light of the sun and gives it back during the evening and night in constantly changing colors. Two intrepid fellow travelers did stay behind in Zadar and we so kind to get me some bread, a bottle of Dalmatian red wine and three pieces of cheese from the Gligora cheese shop. And that can only mean one thing (wait for it….): week 15’s cheese had to be Paški Sir, the sheep cheese from the island of Paks, just off the Dalmatian coast.

Easter in Dubrovnik
Easter In Dubrovnik

Further down along that very same coast is Dubrovnik, probably the most visited city in Croatia by a wide margin. This is not just because it is such a popular cruise stop: Dubrovnik, with its massive medieval walls, its bright, wide and clean streets and its friendly people is a three dimensional postcard in many ways. Like other living and breathing cities, it has flaws and imperfections, but there are moments, such as on Easter Sunday when there was a stage with costumed dancers and musicians in front of the 16th century Sponza Palace, where you could be forgiven for thinking that you are actually in a really well done version of the EPCOT center – Dubrovnik is almost too perfect.

St Blaise in Dubrovnik
St. Blaise atop his very own church

Across from the modest palace is the church of Sveti Vlaho, St. Blaise, the patron saint of the city, a very elegant baroque church and between them stands Orlando’s column, with a bigger-than-life-size statue of a medieval knight who, according to legend, defended the city against the Saracens. Of course he did no such thing, but that’s too long of a story for here. Orlando and France’s Roland are one and the same person and in the Middle Ages, Roland/ Orlando became sort of a generic brand name for heroes of all shapes and sizes. The column, along with the surrounding buildings and the bell tower at the end of Stradun, the main street in Dubrovnik is the heart of the city. Not far from here is Rozario, tucked away a little behind St. Nicholas’ church. It’s a small friendly restaurant that serves splendidly simple fresh food at prices that are more than reasonable. Must…eat…their…marinated anchovies…

Dunbrovnik rooftops
Dubrovnik’s Rooftops from the City Walls

A few blocks further away in a street that runs parallel to Stradun is the place where you can get all the souvenirs you could ever want to bring home from Dalmatia, including ties with Glagolitic letters (yes, I have one of these and I will surely wear it one day. I will. I really will….). The shop is called Medusa and they’ll take all the money you want to spend on the local economy – they really do a good job in marketing Croatia. Not to miss is the Franciscan monastery from 1317, which houses one of the oldest pharmacies in the world that still functions as one – it goes back to that same year. Once you’re here, near the Pile Gate, the huge fountain is a curious landmark, and you are also close to a set of stairs that afford access to the massive walls, which you can walk all the way around town. They charge an entrance fee, and it is somewhat of a workout, but not doing it once you have made it this far is like – well – think about things where you are almost there and then, you retreat. You will leave Dubrovnik and always wonder how much more exciting your visit would have been with a walk along the walls.

Dubrovnik harbor
Dubrovnik Port

The harbor area, finally, is the best hangout in town. There is water everywhere, some teenagers jump into the azure waters from the rocks below the walls and there is a coming and going of small vessels, among them the tender boats of the large cruise ships. It is also the place to practice the most important word of the local language: sladoled. Ask for it, and ye shall miraculously receive ice cream. And the Croatians make some mean ice cream, just like their sheep cheese – more about that in another post.

Four Square (Week 9)

Four Square
Four Square at the Wheel House

Cheese: Four Square

Producer: Bleating Heart Creamery

Where: Tomales, California

At the Wheel House, I picked up a piece of Four Square along with a chunk of Hooligan (I went back for more of that weeks later, so see Week 21) and two other cheeses that were somewhat less remarkable.

Cheese Platter & Four Square
Clockwise from bottom left: Seascape from Central Coast Creamery, Hooligan, Humble from Parish Hill Creamery and Four Square

The Four Square was irresistible, because who would not want to try a four milk cheese? Seana Doughty is the driving force behind Bleating Heart Cheese, the company that creates this cheese (it will be available again this summer, but I got one of the very last pieces of it, it is a limited offering). She and her husband Dave Dalton appear to have a lot of passion for the art of cheese making, a healthy disregard for tradition if it suits them (I am sure purists have nothing good to say about a four-milk cheese) and a sense of humor about the whole thing. The best part about their website is the ‘stories’ section where they present the milk producers. The place that has the water buffalo is Double 8 Dairy and they have their own fun video that shows the daily work on the farm. That one definitely is worth a view.

Four Square is made with equal parts cow, sheep, buffalo and goat milk, ripened on redwood planks, washed with a brine every few days for 2-3 months. The squares have developed a very nice orange hue by that time. The cheese is fragrant in the best possible cheesy way and the semi-soft, pale ivory paste has a smooth, creamy texture and an easy, slightly salty taste. It is not overly complex but very pleasant – I may have been a tad disappointed with that, having expected something multi-layered that would take advanced placement classes in cheese appreciation to truly decipher. Instead it was just a very nicely balanced, full-flavored piece of cheese that can be enjoyed without or with rind, the latter for a salty flavor enhancement.

Four Square 2
Four Square: Buffalo, Cow, Goat & Sheep all in one!

Fourme d’Ambert (Week 16)

Fourme d'Ambert
Fourme d’ Ambert: slice of the old block

Cheese: Fourme d’Ambert

Producer: Société Fromagère du Livradois

Where: Fournols, Puy-de-Dôme, France

Think of this cheese as a blue with training wheels. That sounds a little unkind, as if the goal should be to graduate to the more challenging blues, and it’d be far from me to be the Penicillium Roqueforti Nazi. Fourme d’Ambert, as blue cheeses go, is not so sharp, very creamy and still has the musty flavor that comes with the blue mold. For some it could be an ideal gateway drug, others may decide that this is as moldy as they’d like it to get. Unlike its famous cousin Roquefort, this cheese is made with cow’s milk, which is a partial explanation for its smooth flavor; sheep’s milk often lends an edge to the cheese.

Legend has it that Julius Ceasar, on his way to Alesia where he defeated Gaul leader Vercingetorix, munched on some Fourme, which would make it a sort of a Benedict Arnold fromage. More reliable mention of the cheese dates back to the 9th century, where it was used as a currency, if you will: cheese makers, who did their work in stone huts in the summer pastures called Jasseries, paid for the use of the land with their cheese. The Fourme was mostly sold on the market of the town of Ambert, from which eventually it took its name.

The area in which, according to the regulations which bestow the AOP designation on Fourme d’Ambert, is largely in the Auvergne region, and the cows, who need a minimum of 150 outside grazing days, spent their time on land that is between 2,000 and 5,000 feet in altitude. Today the Jasseries are hardly used anymore and the milk is collected by a small number of rather large creameries, which determines the cheese’s designation as a fromage laitier, a factory-made cheese. That sounds worse than it should be because even if the cheese does not come from a single farm (fromage fermier) or is largely produced by hand (fromage artisanal), the entire set of rules still apply: the feed for the animals must come from the designated AOP area, cannot contain any GM products and, importantly, the milk has to be raw, not pasteurized.

The cheese is marketed after ripening at least 28 days, but a longer period is not uncommon. Some 20 liters of milk, a little more than 5 gallons, go into a Fourme (the word comes from the latin ‘forma’, which is the root, in French, for both forme (form), and fromage (cheese), so Fourme probably means cheese). The shape is always the same: a cylinder 19 centimeters (7.5 inches) in height and 13 centimers (5 inches) in diameter. It is sold by the slice or the half slice, and usually wrapped in foil. The rind is not really edible, but it is very thin, so there is no need to lose big parts of the creamy goodness. My Woodland Hills Whole Foods carries the l’Or des Dômes brand from the Société Fromagère du Livradois.

Rind
Pattern on the Fourme d’Ambert rind

In Praise of French Cheese Shops (Week 18)

Cloche a Fromage
La Cloche a Fromage

Ha! Johannes Gutenberg from Mainz was probably happy when he was able to finally leave Strasbourg behind after having spent some 14 years there between about 1434 and 1448. No one knows exactly how long he lived in the Alsatian city on the Rhine, but he was there: court documents show he was sued a number of times, most spectacularly by a woman who claimed he had promised to marry her, but then reneged on the promise. Back in Mainz, about 130 miles downstream, he continued work on his invention that would earn him worldwide fame: the printing press with movable type. So as time wore on the city of Strasbourg decided to honor the man who had left behind debts and at least one broken heart with a square and a statue, very close to the gorgeous red sandstone cathedral, one of the most beautiful Gothic Cathedrals in France – make that the world. Just off Place Gutenberg in the Rue des Tonneliers is la Cloche à Fromage. In fact, there is really two of them, one cheese shop, the other a cheese restaurant – same company, different experience. I decided to have my choucroute (sauerkraut with sausage and other assorted meats) at Aux Armes de Strasbourg right next to the statue of my pal Johannes, but I did pick up some cheese before I sat down there.

Choucroute
Choucroute, Sauerkraut with all kinds of meat, Alsatian style

And that’s where the praise starts. La Cloche auf Fromage is not an enormous place: the cheese counter at a decent-sized Whole Foods may be just as big, but that’s where the comparison ends. Here are the five reasons why I just love a French cheese shop:

  1. The French are fearless and know when to ignore food safety warnings: most of the cheese is made with raw milk. My wife in fact had an aunt who used to rail against EU regulations: “one day, they will take away our lait cru, and it’s all going to be over!” It hasn’t happened yet, aunt Collette, wherever you are…
  2. The French value geography. Geography is terroir, and terroir is where the food meets the landscape. Terroir is the combination of soil, water, sun, wind, slope and so on that creates the particular environment which determines the qualities of the particular food. So neat little cards will not only tell you what kind of cheese you’re looking at, but also, where your cheese is from, and soon you can begin to build an image of the life and work of the people who produced the cheese. The better cheese shops in the US have adopted this level of care, but in France, this has always been par for the course.
  3. The French are open when it comes to food. In a land so full of culinary traditions, there is still a lot of room for experimentation and so a cheese shop worth its salt will always carry some interesting new cheeses alongside the national and regional favorites.
  4. The staff in these shops: they know what they are talking about; they respect the cheese and they know how to wrap it properly.
  5. Finally: coming from the US, the prices will ensure that you walk out with a slightly bemused grin on your face: a cheese plate that would set you back the price of 20 lattes in the US can be put together for 15 euros here.

There are of course thousands of them all over the country, and it’d be far from me to even pretend that I could pass as an authority, but here are some of my favorite cheese mongers in France: there is Hisada in Paris, close to the Palais Royal. Of course it is jarring at first to walk into a cheese shop in Paris where the staff is Japanese, but once you see that they approach fromage with the same sensibility, flair and understanding of quality, it all makes perfect sense.

Dijon
In Les Halles de Dijon

Benoit’s stand at Les Halles de Dijon specializes in the large cheeses from the Jura. They carry cheese from all over France though, and they have an very visible division of labor: the muscular guys are handling the Comtés, the Emmental and the Morbiers, while the daintier sellers wrap the Chèvres and other assorted small cheeses.

Maison du Fromage
Maison du Fromage, Avignon

In Avignon, it’s the Maison du Fromage in Les Halles, and in Lyon the Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse are a food temple of sorts, where I would not dare to prefer one exquisite cheese monger over another.

Lyon Bocuse
In Les Halles de Bocuse, Lyon

Oh – and of course, if you are in Strasbourg, make sure to check out the magnificent cathedral. One cannot live of cheese alone.

Strasbourg Cathedral
Strasbourg Cathedral

Hooligan (Week 21)

Hooligan I
Stinky Glory – do you smell it?

Cheese: Hooligan

Producer: Cato Corner Farm

Where: Colchester, Connecticut

If Cato Corner Farm’s Hooligan could enter a stink-off with a Munster from Alsace, I do not know who would come out on top. Take a piece home with you and forewarn the people in your household, because there is no way you are going to be able to wrap this baby in a way that will prevent the odor to stay inside the paper. Raw milk from Jersey and Brown Swiss cows guarantee that the Hooligan is also  very creamy – there is nothing not to like about this cheese. Cut off the rind, which is washed with brine and buttermilk during the ripening process, or leave a little on for a bit of extra intense flavor and crunchiness.

Hooligan II
Cheese Counter at the Wheelhouse

You can eat it young, when it tastes like grass and grazing cow, or wait for it to start running and take in every last bit of bold flavor – not for the faint-hearted. If you think brie is quite an assertive cheese, pass on the Hooligan. Mark Gilman, the man in charge of creating the cheeses at Cato Corner consulted with French and Belgian cheese makers, who know a thing or two about stink, to come up with the Hooligan. His mother runs the farm and looks after the herd of less than 50 cows. Cato Corner’s website, which has gorgeous ‘portraits’ of its cheeses, suggests to have a beer with the Hooligan, or sweet white wine. I say suspend with the niceties and just start eating that bad boy. There is more than enough in there to keep your taste buds busy. This is one of my favorite American cheeses.

Berkswell II
Berkswell Flying Saucer Goat Cheese

I got the Hooligan and the Wheel House in Culver City, and with it, I picked up a piece of Grayson, a washed rind cheese with small holes, and a nice strong flavor – nothing too funky, but pretty salty. I also got a slice of Berskswell sheep’s milk cheese. It comes from England, from a creamery called Rams Hall, that’s operated by Stephen Fletcher.The town is not far from Coventry, and they drain the whey from the cheese in colanders, which give the cheeses their typical form – round and flat, with a ridge running along the width of the cheese. It has a distinct scent – it pales in comparison to the Hooligan but is is pretty robust. The cheese has a nice, quite complex and rich flavor, and it is not your typical sheep’s cheese. The people at Rams Hall age their cheeses for at least 6 months, which helps to allow all the flavor to unfold, of course. The milk comes from some 350 Frisian sheep. Apparently these animals are prized for their even, friendly temperament. Being half Frisian myself, I think I am qualified to say that what goes for the sheep from Friesland does not go for the people there.

Sainte-Maure de Touraine (Week 32)

Sainte Maure I
Sainte-Maure de Touraine: start cutting on the right

Cheese: Sainte-Maure de Touraine

Producer: Cloche D’Or

Where: Pont-de-Ruan, Indre-et-Loire, France

Week 32 has an excellent example of why I enjoy the 52 cheeses process. The start this time was inauspicious: we are in the process of moving from one country to another and time is precious: not exactly the best of times to seek out a cheese monger and ponder myriad choices. So, at a local Géant supermarket in Alsace, I found one of the few raw milk cheeses they had (the fact that the vast majority of the cheeses on offer were made of pasteurized milk shows that the country is going to hell in a hand basket) and took it home. And that’s always when it starts to get interesting: there is the tasting, and there is the research. The tasting yields pleasure, the research yields the stories, and these, for the purpose of this blog are probably more important. Let’s face it: most people have very little idea what it means when they read: ‘the cheese is nutty, with caramel overtones and some faint floral notes’. There is certainly room for elaboration at one point and I am not against using those kinds of words – but most folks that bite into a piece of cheese go one of two ways: “I like it!” or “Meh”, (Those that go “Eww, that’s disgusting” should have stayed away from that Munster in the first place.) so I would never take any flowery cheese description’s word for it, and just make up my own mind – and encourage others to disagree with my assessment.

So here is the story on Saint-Maure de Touraine. Let’s begin with the first part. ‘Maure’ of course comes from a word for ‘black’ (think ‘Moorish’) and the saint in question may have been some ancient deity in charge of fermentation – seems very fitting for a cheese to adopt this name. There may be a relation also to the Moors that stayed in France after the Saracens (yes, that’s kind of the same as the Moors) suffered defeat at the hands of Charles Martel in 732. They may have introduced goat cheese making in southern France – more specifically their women, because cheese making was a woman’s job. Skeptics point out that there were goat herds well before the Moors’ defeat, but it makes for a good story. The other excellent story related to this cheese is the notion that you need to cut the log at its widest end first. Get it wrong and the goat from which the milk came will lose its milk-producing mojo (I think I screwed up here). But onto the second part of the name, before I forget.

Sainte Maure II
Rye Straw with the Name of the Producer

Touraine today lives on as a marketing concept: it is a somewhat well-defined tourist region encompassing much of the Loire Valley around Tours. In the olden days, it was first a county and then a duchy centered on the city of Tours, erstwhile capital of the Celtic tribe of the Turones (I am using capital in the most liberal sense of the word). Aside from tourism, Touraine also exists in the world of cheese, because since 1990, the Sainte-Maure de Touraine is protected with an AOP and can only be produced in what used to be the old duchy. And it has a very cool proof of authenticity: a rye straw is to run through the length of the log, and when you pull it out, you’ll find the producer’s name engraved on the straw. No straw, no name, no AOP.

Sainte Maure III
A straw runs through it

My log came from Cloche d’Or. Most Sainte-Maure de Touraine is produced by large companies, and this is no exception. Cloche d’Or collects raw goat’s milk from about 150 farmers and churns out some 64o tonnes of the cheese every year. Not exactly your mom and pop cheesemakers, and interesting that such large enterprises busy themselves with making raw milk cheese. Sainte-Maure is a dense, creamy goat cheese with a typical slightly acidic flavor: while not particularly surprising, it is a very solid and thoroughly tasty contribution to the world of goat cheeses. A cheese that does its job, nothing more, but certainly nothing less. A day after my purchase there was but a sad stump left of the once formidable log.

Top 5 cheeses thus far and an explanation (Week 32)

Goats
Dutch White Goat and two Toggenburger friends

High time, 32 weeks into my 52 cheeses project, to have a list: the most enjoyable cheeses thus far. Notice how I did not say the best cheeses thus far? I don’t aspire to be a cheese arbiter, I will leave that to people with better developed palates and a more astute choice of words. I simply look at which cheese encounters provided me with the most all-around joy, and here is what I came up with, in no particular order.

The Remeker is a favorite because I just think this is what God intended when he said: ‘there be Dutch cheese’. It is really that simple, and the encounters with the brown cows certainly did add to the fondness I have for this cheese. The Hooligan is just so much fun because it is in the house, really. Put it in the refrigerator and you cannot open the door without thinking ‘wow, something’s not right here’. Aside from that, it is just a very flavorful, smooth experience. Except when you mix in some crunchy rind. Then it is a crunchy experience. Two for the price of one! The Azeitão is small enough to spoon it out in one sitting. There is a lot of freshness, some tang, a bit of bitter, creaminess, and what is there not to like about a cheese with an ã in the name? The Mua was a surprise with its chamomile rind, which gives it such an inimitable flavor, and finally, for sheer fresh, delicious ooziness, the Croix Catal, which also deserves many points for looks, was unbeatable.

So there you have it: 3 cow’s milk cheese, 1 goat, 1 sheep. Five different countries and honestly, that is a coincidence, I had no desire to create some inclusive-diverse-feel-good list that gave each country its due. There are obviously a lot of honorable mentions, my list will change over time and I do not mean no disrespect to any of the cheeses I tried.

And then to the explanation: most blogs, I hear, do not make it past 10 posts. A few months ago it looked like mine would become a statistic as well. I did eat my cheeses, I did hone in on the cheese of that week and I made my notes, but I couldn’t find much time to write. So in two bursts, I am catching up and until early October, thanks to the wonderful technology of WordPress, my blog will continue to spit out posts on a regular basis, every few days, until I am completely caught up. In the meantime, I will be going forward sticking to one cheese and one post a week (two if there is anything interesting from the travel front) and in 2o weeks we’ll see which cheeses walk away with that coveted 52cheeses.com Gold Medal for 2016….