Back in the Old Country

Back in France for a visit over the holidays. And of course, cheese plates and cheese are a focal point of every gathering. We may begin the many feasts with foie gras mi-cuit, smoked salmon and various pâtés, but always, always, before dessert comes the cheese.

And, having lived the past two years as a cheese maker, I have a completely different take on what is now my life blood. I’m in awe of the funky, dark rinded, smelly and powerful objects placed before me. “These come from our cousins in Corsica. Best taken with a chunk of bread.” And I say to myself, after carefully slicing off the dark gray rind, seeking the more tender blond center, a good sip of powerful red wine wouldn’t be amiss either.

The next day’s cheese is wrapped in paper towels and tin foil. This one is from their aunt, or their neighbor, back in Corsica. A special gift for the season. Or perhaps they brought it back this past summer when they were visiting? Age is relative. The potent scent wafts up as the package is peeled apart. I will of course taste it. It is common knowledge that I don’t care much for Roquefort or Blue cheeses (and this fact always brings a grimace and a shake of their heads. How could I not??? And I call myself a cheese maker. Harumph!). But, as long as the blue is not a defining characteristic of the cheese, it will most often pass my lips.

And yes, with a good chunk of bread and a swallow of strong wine, that pungent bite is almost pleasant.

And I think to myself, if ever my cheeses were to get to this point, would anyone on the other side of the Atlantic taste them? Buy them? Well, maybe my herdsmen.  🙂 They’ve become specialists in cheeses that have a few too many blue spots, or that are too runny to sell, or that have ripened too far to be transported to market.

To give you an idea of what is still considered edible, and is in fact sought after by a few, I’ll share this photo from the Cheese shop Vergne in Nîmes where I worked for a week last year.Image