It’s pretty overwhelming visiting a fromagerie.
After years of trying as many French cheeses as I could, I’ve settled on a few favorites that I go back to over and over, which include moist, piquant Roquefort de Carles, which I like drizzled with chestnut honey, little rounds of tangy chèvre and ash-covered Selles-sur-Cher, and nutty Comté from the French alps, which if you taste one that’s been aged 30 months, I assure you you’ll never buy any other affinage (ripeness) of Comté.
When people ask me which cheese to buy, though, I turn the tables on them, asking them what kind of cheese they like. Do they like dry, sharp, nutty, or powerful cheeses? Thankfully because there’s so many choices out there, there’s no right or wrong answers. Only what you like. Unfortunately, I pretty much like them all.
pretty much…and let’s just say I like..er..love them all.
But I rarely visit a fromagerie with a laundry list of cheeses I want to buy.
Instead, while waiting every-so-patiently in line, I crane my neck around madame in front of me and use that time to see what looks the best that day. Often the fromager will leave the most popular cheeses, like brie de Meaux, within easy reach of her since invariably just about everyone wants a wedge of that. Especially if it’s so oozingly-ripe and pungent that just lifting the big, gooey wheel is virtually impossible. Camembert du Normandie is another cheese that’s popular, but I’m always sure to get one that’s not industrial, since the artisanal and AOC ones are invariably more delicious.
(I don’t understand why anyone buys the crummy ones when the excellent ones are so easily-available. But I guess the same holds true in the states: people choose American-singles over the decent cheddar that’s widely available. Tant pis, as they say…)
But I was at the RIchard Lenoir market a few weeks ago and a strapping, unshaven young man who looked like he spent a lot of time hefting rounds of cheeses from high up in the mountaintops of the Auvergne, tempted me (with his cheeses) while presiding over a big pile of rustic various-sized hunks of Cantal. Normally I buy Cantal when I’m craving something a bit dryer but with the taste of sweet cheese curds compacted together. It’s not one of my top-ten cheeses, but when I saw these particular slabs piled around meaty saucissons and fat-slathered terrines, my interested was piqued enough so that before I knew it, I not only had several sausages in my shopping basket (I skipped the terrine, even though he gave me a taste…it was too dangerous to have around), but a rectangle of Cantal found it’s way en route to chez moi. Of course.
At home, I sliced off a chunk and tasted it on a slice of really good, no…make that excellent, pain aux ceriales from Bread and Roses bakery.
Oh la vâche!
Was that the best Cantal I’ve ever tasted or what?
So I’ve moved Cantal up a few notches on my list of cheeses, and since that weekend, I’ve visited him each and every Sunday since then. I plan on going back this weekend since I’ve just about polished off the morceau shown above. And I’m craving more.
See you there, bright and early, this Sunday.
Matt bites aged American Cheddar
My absolute favorite guidebook to French cheeses.
Visit Brie with me.
Can’t get good bread? Try homemade crackers.
Real English cheddar-making.
Deep-down inside a New York City cheese cave.
They’re trying to ruin Camembert de Normandie.