Quite a few would say that Queso Cabrales, or just Cabrales which is most commonly used, is the world’s best blue cheese. From the northern foothills of the Picos de Europa mountains in Asturias, Spain. Some would of course fiercely go against that. So be it. What is indisputable though; not that many have tasted it. If you are new to the cheese world, this is not a place to start. Personally I am not all that concerned with a cheese being the best in the world or not. I am concerned with the use of raw milk and a cheese being made by artisan cheese makers. A real cheese. And what is good or tasteful? Varies between people. Under any circumstance, this is a cheese that will challenge your taste buds.
I have a fascination for Savoie, being it Savoie or Haut-Savoie. And you’ll have to excuse me for using the original name for the regions, and not the English Savoy. It’s a wonderful area, that’s so, but more important, there is an array of excellent cheeses hailing from this area. And, would you believe, some excellent wines pairing well with the region’s cheeses. I have to admit, albeit unwillingly, that I have hardly been to the region. Well, I’ve been to Annecy and I have even played golf at the local golf course. That was sort of a roller coaster tour with a magnificent view of the Lac d’Annecy. Well, I’ve given up golf altogether. I’ve been swimming in the lac as well and spent a very peaceful 14th of July there eating crêpes. Way before my intense interest in cheese. Annecy is an old city beautifully aligned by the shores of Lac d’Annecy. It is the capital of Haut-Savoie. A short trip from Genève, it’s about 30 kilometers. Breathtaking views from old bridges crossing deep and narrow valleys. About 50 000 people living there. A lot of tourists, especially during the summer time, but a good base for sight-seeing the area. During wintertime most people want to stay higher up in the mountain ranges in the not so picturesque alpine villages. A lot of good food in the whole area, by the way.
The other week I had the pleasure of participating in a guided tasting of mature chèvre here in Oslo. Mons and their Norwegian importer invited. Up for tasting was among other cheeses mature chèvre. The others being both bloomy and washed rind cheeses which will not be of any focus in this post. Amomg the chèvres, there was also a small puck style ewe’s milk cheese from Provence. For the purpose of this post, it will count as “chèvre”.
Mature chèvre, not extra mature
Could be it is just up north where I live we’re so concerned that chèvre is supposed to be rather fresh, I have been shopping very mature chèvres in both Chablis and not least in Bra last autumn which showcased a very rich selection of the cheese. Admittedly, this is a cheese for the advanced cheese lover. Some will, however, readily argue there are many other cheeses as well only for the very committed, an argument I do not quite follow. Enough of that. The cheeses we had up for tasting were not anything as mature as those on the picture below, but a mere two months old or so. But for a lactic chèvre, that is a cheese starting to come of age.
The tasting showed we’re in the habit of eating most chèvre too fresh. Could be we have some bad experience with mature chèvre becoming too sharp and pungent with age. But there is something in the middle, giving a balanced cheese with volume. The acidity that we expect when the cheese is fresh is probably gone. Like old crop coffee. Very good, but lacks acidity. Quite an other cheese, this, giving you an other experience.
What makes this transition?
The maturing, of course. But that said, it does not mean you can just buy a fresh chèvre, leave in in your fridge and expect the same experience. It has something to do with the temperature, humidity, microclimate and love and care. Forgetfulness is, by the way, not part of the maturing treatment. An affineur would not wrap the cheese in any way, either, leaving it for a few months before checking what has happened.
As with Champagne, that is usually drunk too young, most chèvre is eaten too young. I am not saying you should quit doing that, just that some are doing just fine with some more age, and thereby giving you a different kind of experience. It’s not an either or. The fresh ones are more for the light summer evenings, while the mature is for the autumn, sitting down in a contemplative mood. The cheeses are out there, ask for them.
Mature cheeses demand mature wines. There are of course mature Sauvignon blanc, but also try to switch to Chardonnay. Mature Champagne will always work. Some fruity reds as well, we also had a very fine Beaujolais along the mature chèvre. Wonderful.
The mature cheeses we had were:
Cosne de Port Albry from the Loire
Le Saint Haonnois from Roanne, 50/50 goat and cow’s milk
Pouligny from Loire
Le Castillon, from Provence, ewe’s milk
Beaufort. I put a piece in our fridge and I am actually amazed it’s still there. Respect perhaps. Beaufort is probably the best alpine cheese there is, so you don’t grab it from the fridge just like that. Not a bad word about other French alpine cheeses, or Swiss or Italian for that sake, they’re all good, but Beaufort is special.