A Trip to France Brings Artisan Cheeses to Kowalski's
Posted: Monday, December 1, 2008
At the height of spring in France, Imported Cheese Specialist Jill Forster embarked on the trip of a lifetime to the eastern part of this beautiful country. The purpose of her travels was to become more familiar with the artisan cheeses of this region, and was sponsored by UBI France and the French Embassy Trade Office that is the agency for international business development in the country.
After arriving in Paris, the group of twelve American distributors and retailers took the high speed train to the town of Valence to begin their exploration of local cheese production facilities in towns both large and small. "The contrast among the facilities was really interesting," said Jill. "We met with producers that had only 30 head of cattle, and toured large cheese factories where no human hands touched the cheese until it was placed in the boxes for shipping. The differences were striking and didn't always show that bigger meant better."
One of Jill's favorite cheeses has always been Epoisses, so their stop at Fromagerie Berthaut to see the production process was one of the highlights of the trip for her. "Many people think of Epoisses as a rather pungent cheese, but it offers a remarkably diverse spectrum of soft, rich and mouthwatering flavors," offers Forester. "The most interesting thing about the production of this cheese is the rind that is built up from repeated baths in brine, then in brandy that is distilled from the leftover grape skins and seeds after wine pressing. This produces a shiny, reddish orange washed rind and a smooth off-white or yellowish cheese that becomes gooey and spoonable at room temperature when ripe."
Another unique area was in the town of Moulin de Charix, where over 170 fruitières (fromageries or cheese making houses) produce a variety of cheese known as Comtè. Manufactured only in this mountainous region of France, the cheese is made in copper vats and aged in caves that can hold up to 30,000 wheels. "The smell is quite mild as you enter the caves, but the farther back you go, it begins to smell like ammonia. It becomes so strong that it actually makes your eyes water," adds Jill. "At the Seignemartin Ageing facility, a robot lifts the 110 pound wheels and brushes them with brine to help form the hard rind and impart flavor to the cheese."
France is the second largest exporter of cheese, but the United States imports a very small amount of the over 1,000 varieties produced there. During the month of November, our Cheese Specialists will be featuring the cheeses of France with demos and special pricing. Jill has created a pairing of her personal favorites from France as a way to introduce you to these diverse offerings. "They would make an interesting menu for a wine and cheese tasting that could serve as a theme for a holiday party," suggests Forster. Our Cheese Specialists are always available to help you become a more educated consumer, so we invite you to take advantage of all they have to offer with cheeses from France in your own backyard.