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.
Have you ever tasted Bleu de Termignon? If not you should seriously consider doing that. It will be a kind blue cheese educational journey. It is a real, natural blue cheese made at a few farms rather high up in the mountains of Savoie. Within the boundaries of the Vanoise national park between the valleys of Tarentaise and Maurienne. Beautiful area. But what’s so special about Bleu de Termignon?
Bleu de Termignon – an original?
Although running the risk of repeating myself and become boring I have to remind you about André Simon in Cheeses of the World from 1960 where he says: “Blue Cheshire is not made, it happens.” That’s exactly the point which fascinates me a lot. This is one of the issues that makes cheese so interesting; biology, nature and living life. Bleu de Termignon is a blue cheese where nature still decides the outcome. You surely remember the story about Charlemagne, penned by Notker the Stammererer, aka Notker Balbulus.
Bleu de Termignon hails as it is from the mountainous Savoie region in eastern France. There are just five or six small farms making it from June through September. The process is not like other cheese making processes, but not going further into that part of it. However, they mix fresh curd with curd made to days earlier. Bind it with cloth and puts it into moulds. Removes it more or les regularly from the mould to change cloth before it is set aside to wait for nature getting to work. Or not. The outcome is not at all always predictable. The is no blue culture added, Penicillium Glaucum is present on the grass and flowers and herbs the cattle feed on. No needles to give the molds air to breathe. I have been told the blue molds do not need all that much oxygen to survive anyway, so I don’t know if the needles are more the habit than the need. Apart from Bleu de Termignon, Spanish Cabrales is also an exception from the rule.
A cheese to taste?
As said, this is about education. If you enjoy blue cheese at all it is a must to have tasted Bleu de Termignon. If you dare not go any further that the pasteurised industrial varieties you’ll find in any supermarket, do not spend neither time nor money on this cheese. Waste.
Wherever you find yourself in the blue cheese landscape, you should know that this cheese is different from any other blue cheese you have tasted. Bleu de Termignon is probably also showcasing how far we have moved away from the original. It might just be you may have a blue cheese without any bluing. In that case you’re fooled by nature and you have to try one more time. Well, most of us buy a pice from a cheesemonger which gives us the opportunity to check if the cheese is blue or not. Texture is firm and crumbly. The firmness might remind you of an alpine cheese, but that’s about all. Perhaps closer if there are no bluing at all. The rind is also well worth a close look. Does not look very edible, so I advice you not to try.
Tasting notes says a touch of bitterness, especially just beneath the rind. Savoury, grass and herbs. Meaty and some barnyard. Did I loose you now? Not very uncommon cheese tasting notes this. Compelx flavour that sits long in your mouth. If cheese is something that you care for, this s a cheese you have to taste before you die. No less.
Perhaps something unorthodox, just as the cheese itself? A Chinon blanc from the Loire. Move up the price scale. If you’re in for something sweet, try a red sweet on the Tannat grape from the Madiran region of France.
History is full of anecdotes about things that just happen for no obvious reason. Today we know how a blue cheese becomes a blue cheese, but that has not always been the case. Thereof the heading of this post. But for most blue cheeses the expression is not valid today. But only for most, because there are still some. Well, perhaps not some. I will come back to that. Some insist blue cheese has been around since dawn, and it could just be. We do not know a lot about it, though. There are indications that the romans and ancient greek did not like it when it appeared and regarded it a flaw. That brings us back to the heading: Blue cheese isn’t made, it just happens.
Sometimes, but not always. Depends. So why then ask if the age of a cheese matters? Because it is a topic that at least some of us are concerned with. For me this has to do with integrity among other things.