Monday, November 9, 2015

A Tasting with "Cheeses of Europe"

I attended a Cheeses of Europe tasting last week where I sampled some extraordinary French dairy products. These items are already available in Texas, you can find them at HEB/Central Market, Whole Foods and some are also available at Costco. As the holiday season approaches and my entertaining increases, I will be choosing to use many of the different varieties on my own cheese plates and in recipes.

The organization's chef created some special hors d'oeuvre for "the Texas palate" which meant adding some spice to the mix. The unusual combinations had a good balance of flavors and demonstrated that you are only limited by your own imagination and personal preferences.

The Prepared Bites:
  • St Agur Blue cheese, jalapeno jelly and chipolte peanuts on black pepper water crackers.
  • St Andre Brie on baguette or roasted garlic crackers with spicy barbecue sauce and smokehouse almonds.
  • Ile de France Camembert on melba toast or baguette with applebutter, sliced MacIntosh apples and smoked paprika. 
While the natural rinds of the cheese are edible only the softer rinds such as the surrounding on the brie really add anything to the nutritional value and flavor. The rinds on the harder cheeses will not hurt you but may contribute a bitter flavor.

Le Fromage:

  • Le Chatelain Double Cream Brie (also sold as Lepetit brand)- This cow's milk cheese is produced in the Lorraine region in eastern France. It is soft and creamy in consistency with a pliable white rind and a slightly earthy flavorPair with Champagne, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.
  • Brie Triple Cream L'Indulgent (also sold as Brie Le Cremeux brand)- This cheese is made from the same cow's milk as above but it is made with a higher butterfat content creating an even creamier, buttery, melt in your mouth texture. Served here with apple slices, baguette and honey. Pair with Champagne or Chardonnay.
  • Le Bleu President- This creamy blue cheese is created from the milk of cow's that grazed the mineral rich soils of the central highlands of Auvergne. It is matured for a minimum of 8 weeks which gives it a
    slightly dusty white mold exterior in addition to the blue vein running through the interior. Creamy yet still easily crumbled for salads with a pronounced spicy flavor. 
    Pair with Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
  • Les 3 Comtois- This cow's milk Comte cheese is produced in the east near the Jura
    Mountains. It is aged at least 4 months and up to 18 months. It has a hard, brownish rind with a firm yet creamy interior and an intense nutty yet slightly sweet flavor like dried fruit. It melts easily so it also works well for macaroni and cheese or for grilled cheese sandwiches. Pair with a range of dry to sweet white wines including Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc or Riesling or with a fruity red wine like Gamay. The rind is also good for simmering in stews to add an umami nuance.
  • Fromagerie Thuaire Raclette- This cow's milk cheese is from the French Alps. It is pressed and aged for 3 to 6 months creating a yellow-orange rind with a pale yellow interior and a smooth texture with a nutty flavor. This is also an easy melter and is often served warm and oozy on bread. Pair with Pinot Gris or Chardonnay or for dessert pair it with a sweet Muscat.
  • Saint Geric Triple Cream Blue- This rich and creamy cow's milk cheese from
    Fromager d'Affinois has a more delicate spicy note than the other more intensely flavored blue cheeses, it is a bit more brie-like with a finer blue vein. It is more approachable for those that are not blue cheese lovers as it is a less pungent blue cheese. Pair with Champagne or fruitier reds like Grenache or Gamay. Served here on baguette with honey.
  • Bonhomme de Normandie- By Isigny Ste Mere, this cow's milk cheese from Normandy now also comes in a petit size that is perfect for anytime use. It is rich and creamy with a mild earthiness in the rind. Pair with Champagne, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.
  • Isigny Ste Mere Mimolette- This cow's milk cheese originates from a small area in
    northern France called Pas-de-Calais. The cheese is cooked and pressed to create a hard orange cheese that is shaped like a ball with a pitted crusty rind. The interior has a sharp, nutty flavor with butterscotch notes. This cheese has complex flavors that work with a variety of wine, pair it with un-oaked Chardonnay or with a bold red like Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon 
  • Saint Agur L'Intense- This cow's milk cheese is from  Auvergne in central France. It is molded and aged for 2 to 3 months creating a soft, creamy texture which is less crumbly than some other blue cheese, and it has a rich, slightly spicy taste. It is easily spread on bread or could be used to top burgers or steaks, as well. Pair with Chardonnay or Syrah and with Port for dessert.
  • Ile de France Camembert- This cow's milk cheese originates from Normandy. It is aged a minimum of 4 weeks creating a white mold dusted cheese with light brown stripes on the exterior with a creamy, brie-like butter-textured interior and concentrated earthy aromas and flavors. Pair with fruity reds like Merlot or Grenache or with sweet whites for dessert.
Le Beurre:
  • Isigny Ste Mere Beurre D'Isigny- Butter is produced in a small area in Normandy
    situated near the sea. The cows graze in these pastures on nutrient-dense grasses grown on alluvial soils and produce a rich milk from which a sweet, creamy butter is formed. Available in both unsalted for cooking and salted for table use.

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