Brin d’Amour from the island of Corsica

Brin d’amour
Brin d’Amour from Corsica

There is this beautiful French island Corsica south-east of Nice and south of Genova with a lot of cheese of which my absolute favourite is Brin d’Amour. A ewe’s milk cheese covered with dried local herbs. Creamy when young and firmer with some age. The paste is so beautifully white while the rind can appear anything from rather boring grey to rather colourful. A small scale, farm made raw milk cheese of course. But mind you, it has a pasteurised, more industrial cousin called Fleur de Maquis.

Brin d’Amour – A breath of Love

Yeah, that’s what it means. A breath of love, isn’t that beautiful? And a beauty it is. The name actually refers to the aromatic coating of rosemary, fennel seeds, thyme and juniper berries applied during production to enhance the natural flavours of the island, and it pairs very well with the milk which also brings along flavours from the vegetation the sheep feed on. That’s called maquis which is a Mediterranean plant community of evergreen shrubs and small trees. The maquis is a dense, often almost impenetrable thicket of 1.5–5 m tall shrubs with stiff, jagged branches and small dark green, leathery leaves (Wikipedia). With those fodder challenges the milk and eventually cheese has to be good. Taste is fresh with a good amount of acidity, more the younger the cheese, but might become more challenging with age. You might also find some barnyard notes on the palate. Usually matured for a month, but you can find both younger and older variants. I must admit I am not all that happy with flavoured cheese, being it truffle or kelp or whatever some choose to flavour their cheese with. I prefer the real taste of the cheese. But Brin d’Amour is an exception. I love it.

Brin d’Amour
An older cheese with a far less attractive exterior, but don’t be judgemental.

The rind

A few words about the rind. Can or should you eat it? Yes you can eat it, especially when the cheese is young. The older it gets the drier the herbs and not all think it’s a good idea to have their mouth filled with sharp needles, because that’s what it will feel like. But, if you’re tougher than the rest, go for it. It will add an extra herby tang to the cheese.

To drink with Brin d’Amour

Not so sure about the white wine here, well it always works, I would say. But a local red would also work just fine. And they do make good rosés, so it really depends on your mood. Corsica makes great wines but they are largely little known. The best come from Ajaccio and Patrimonio, but also look out for wines from the Vin de Corse Sartène, Figari and Porto Vecchio appellations. If you’re there, I suppose anything will work. And as always, check it out with the locals, what do they prefer? Is just you, your cheese and some bread, or do you have some other food as well?

Going there?

I’ve never been there I must admit, but I love their cheese, and there are more than just the Brin d’Amour. They call their island «l’Ile de Beauté», and rightfully so. You can get there by air, and arrive at the Ajaccio Napoleon Bonaparte Airport across the bay from the city. You can arrive by boat, for instance fly to Nice and take one of the ferries from there, going to Bastia most of them, but there are other available ports. Once you’re there you can rent a car or motorcycle, or you can choose public transport to get around the island. There is a lot to do and see, so make sure you check out Visit Corsica to get inspired. Perhaps wise to avoid the peak of summer, spring and autumn is probably better. Anyway, «winter» is very short in Corsica.

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Signal – a small goat farm in the Savoie

Signal is also a chèvre

The small farm Signal is located on the south side of Lake d’Aiguebelette, in the village of d’Attignat-Oncin in Savoie. The livestock consists of 60 goats of the breed Alpine, three bucks and around 15 cows. Now Savoie and Haute-Savoie are not so famous for their goat cheeses, but they exist. And they are good! GAEC Signal is such a farm that keeps goats and makes good cheese. Peculiar cheeses some would say. As far as I know, they make around eight different varieties from less than 100 grams and up to half a kilo, of which I have tasted three, but it is perhaps the three most famous, to the extent that we can talk about these cheeses are famous. A traditional goat farm that follows the season, Signal, which for their part means from early February to about mid-November. These 60 goats milk around 60,000 liters during a season. It should be three and a half liters of milk per day per goat which is pretty good.

20+ years since it started in the Savoie mountains

Christiane and André Branche took over the farm from her parents in the late nineties and decided to farm goats and make goat cheese. The farm dairy was ready and operating in 1998. Making cheese that was sold in grocery stores in the local area until around the turn of the millennium. Then they decided to deliver the cheeses to affineurs. From 2017 Clément Vagnon has taken over and is running the operation.

Signal – a Savoie farm and a Savoie cheese

The farm is called Signal; the official name is GAEC Signal, and it owes its name to its location in the mountains, near the “Rocher du Signal”. They also have a small cylindrical cheese called the same, though. Looks wonderful with a natural crust, with some growth of the useful Geotrichum. Very hard, but that is before you get the cheese in your mouth, because then it melts. Chèvre is usually a cheese where we count ripening in days, maybe a very few weeks. But this is Savoie so at Signal, they’re talking about months, if not countless, then at least a couple. The wonder is they can do this without the cheese becoming tough as this type of well-aged goat cheese might well be.

Mount Grêle

Savoie
Mont Grêle

Not at all so reminiscent of any mountain, this cheese. Pretty flat, where it most of all resembles a puck, except for the colour. Rind very similar to Signal, with the Geotrichum very visible, and size wider. Forest floor, moss and honey.

Galet de la Chartreuse

This is a slugger of a small chevre, barrel-shaped and compact with its good 250 grams. This is a chèvre in the Savoie mountaind that has been matured for two months. Then it’s possible to think this cheese has pondus, and yes it has but it’s not pungent. In fact it is quite balanced. But dry, that’s it. And it melts on your tongue.

Savoie
Galet de Chartreuse

Availability

All these cheeses are bought in Paris. I do not know about any availability outside France for the moment. It’s a bit of a shame, because this is excellent chèvre in a slightly different and challenging way. Stands out from the crowd if you like. But both L’Artisan du Lait and Fromagerie Beaufils in Paris carry the cheeses if you are around. They did anyway.

To drink

Cheese from Savoie requires wine from Savoie and there is a bit to choose from. A very good one is Nicolas Gonin Altesse Isère. Otherwise, this farm is not too far from the monastery that makes the liqueur Chartreuse, so then you just have to try it out. But remember it’s a strong drink.

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Chèvre from Beaujolais

Beaujolais
Galette du Beaujolais – chèvre from Beaujolais

For my part, I think it comes a lot of good from Beaujolais. Most famous are probably the wines and I definitely have a taste for them, even if I stay away from Beaujolais Nouveau. The hysterical times are over. But it was fun. Recently, however, I have had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with chèvre from Beaujolais. So if most beaujolais wines, but not all of them, are light and fruity, then in return they are chèvres from the region that has come my way, not at all. On the contrary. Quite striking. Even though the first cheese I got was so rammed that all the hair on me stood straight out, and I have tasted a little of each, it went in return to the affineur, and a new supply was sent. Milder and in good condition, but with a clear and distinct message that there is character.

Galette du Beaujolais

It was called Galette du Beaujolais, shaped like a flat donut. With slight mold growth, otherwise a little Geotrichum that will rule the ground. It stagnates mold growth and forms such a fine rough surface. Pretty big for chèvre to be. From the southwest in Beaujolais, right on the border of the Loire. Now it should be said that the Loire as an administrative area is much larger than what most of us think of with the Loire Valley. This cheese appears to be a heavyweight in a positive sense. It has fullness and power, is in good balance and gives a marked, but good mouthful of chèvre. Pretty firm in consistency, but just to make it clear, it’s a creamy goat cheese.

St Gamay

Do not know who came first, the grape or the cheese, does not matter, but suspects that it was the grape. However, the cheese appears to be sacred, since it has been named St. Gamay. From a small area called Claveisolles, and it is not a metropolis, on the contrary with its around 650 inhabitants. If the first described cheese is large and strong, this is a fairly small power plug with its modest 25 grams. What it does not have in size, it makes up for in radiance, so to speak. Small minipuck this here. Some mold, some milk fungus, some hair and rashes of blue mold. This is what makes one on the last course, (about chèvre) not dare to eat it. Cheese is milk, salt, mushrooms and bacteria. If you think it’s scary, then there are other things to be interested in. But of course, sometimes both the fungus and the bacteria, perhaps mostly the fungus, become visible. It is in the spinal cord of us that it is not good. Then I wonder why so many people like blue cheese. That said, it’s a blue cheese from the area called Persille du Beaujolais. It is made from pasteurized cow’s milk so it does not fit in here.

Beaujolais
St. Gamay – to understand that someone becomes skeptical.


They should now have the French, they are not easily intimidated. And if you want to learn a little about the mood of the people of Beaujolais, then you must read an old satirical novel called A House of Wrath by Gabriel Chevallier.

To drink to

Drink locally. Although some people think that ripened chèvre can be enjoyed with a fruity red wine, I prefer the white one. Maybe Brown Beaujolais Chardonnay Classic 2020, could be something? I must admit that I have not tasted it so the recommendation is made on the basis of the description.

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Shopping cheese in the eternal city of Rome

SHOPPING CHEESE
Shopping cheese just off Piazza Campo de’ Fiori, Rome

Shopping cheese is perhaps not the first thing that springs to mind when visiting the eternal city. Rome is so much more of course. But being me that is certainly part of the experience. There was just one cheese shop that I had blinked out beforehand, and as it is, it was closed when we finally arrived there. It was situated in Trastevere and we went there on a Sunday, just that this particular Sunday happened to be Labour Day. So they were closed. Disappointing of course, since I had read so much about it. Antica Caciara is the name, and as it it I do not know if it is as good as described. You have to find out for yourself. That said, we had a wonderful, huge lunch at a restaurant called la Canonica. Very busy, very noisy and very typical Italian. At that time we had more or less given up shopping cheese in Rome. As it turned out there was an other opportunity, at the restaurant Rimessa Rascioli we learned they took their cheese from Beppe, a cheese shop situated in the Jewish ghetto. We went there on Friday night, but was denied access as we had brought no face masks. Saturday is was closed of course, and Sunday was again Labour day.

According to Mr Micawber, something will turn up

Some optimism in the midst of all the “misery”. Don’t get me wrong, no misery as such, Rome was wonderful. But Monday morning, time to return home and no cheese. On a stroll across the Campo de’ Fiori, though, after all, we stayed just a stone’s throw away, we realised there was sort of a hole in the wall cheese shop just off the marked. Two knowledgable guys. Probably my age if not older, one responsible for the cheese, the other for the charcuterie. Claudio came to my rescue. A very kind cheesemonger helping out with some local cheese. Well the Caciocavallo is not that local, but the others were. And no Pecorino – well they had lots of Pecorino, but I focused on those new to me, plus the Caciocavallo which is hard to get where I live. As it turned out Claudio is quite a famous cheese man. And it seems like he is now just enjoying life with a small shop selling quality cheese (and salami). So it seems, I might be wrong. I wish I had a cheese shop/deli at that location.

shopping cheese
Two happy guys – Claudio the cheesemonger and Yours truly.

Not that many cheeses though, but some real chunks. Ready for tasting and sharing. Apart from Pecorino Romano I am not familiar with the Roman cheese scene, i.e. cheeses from the area around Rome. So I look forward to digging in. The Italian thing is, they’re regional. If you go to France, by and large you’ll get French Cheese. In Italy you’ll get regional cheese, or local cheese if you like. I don’t think this shop had any of the more northern cheeses like Parmigiano, Grana Padano, or Gorgonzola. Quite famous around the world, but they’re “not from here” seems to be the attitude. Be aware of that when you plan cheese shopping in Italy. In the supermarkets, probably another story.

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