Olga Dominguez, the manager and buyer for Zabar's cheese department, and more or less my boss there (I'm freelance), has been going nutty over the cheeses aged by Pascal Beillevaire. Every time she fills out the order sheet for the subsequent French container, she chooses a bunch of cheeses unfamiliar to her because she knows they will definitely be good; we've gotten no duds from M. Beillevaire yet. So, when the cheeses arrive, they are a big surprise because many of them are completely new to us.
M. Beillevaire doesn't make the cheeses he sends us, but he matures them in his caves. He selects specific cheeses, all handmade and most made from raw milk, from cheesemakers producing cheeses - some in danger of disappearing - in a traditional manner. It's not only an honorable quest, but a delicious one.
This past week Zabar's got in a huge shipment of Pascal Beillevaire cheeses and we had lots of fun opening the small boxes and discovering what was inside. Here are my tasting notes from September 26, 2006:
Made by Madame Barbeillon in Pentu de l'Etang. Raw goat, shaped like a big Hershey's kiss, mold-covered. Runny beneath the rind. Good goat! Tangy, smooth, milky, flinty, complex, robust, sweet, more pungent in runny part and rind. Named for the woman who makes the cheese. Approx weight 9 oz.
From Loire. Goat doughnut. raw milk. covered in crinkly moldy rind. chalky center. mild, savory, saline, not as sweet and more piquant than Barbeillon. Astringent. About 7 oz.
Blanc Bleu du Rizet
raw goat. big barrel of chevre, covered with crinkly almond rind, white and blue-gray mold. Made in Auvergne. Balanced salinity, tangy, earthy, astringent, lite barnyardy, milky mouthfeel, minerally. Nice!
Brique des Flandres
16 oz or so weight. raw cow. it's Mimolette orange. washed rind. semi-soft. mushroomy, pungent, fruity, tastes like melon. strong washed-rind, finish tastes of berries, and it's a little boozy. it's a crescendo of all flavors. brick-shaped. white/orange rind. texture of chilled butter. made in Flandres, near Belgium. That explains the washed-rind thing, since many w/r cheeses were made or influenced by Trappist monks.
Pentu de l'Etang
Made by Madame Barbeillon in Pentu de l'Etang. Ashed, wedge-shaped raw goat, weighs about 9 oz. looks like a door stop. mold-covered, white and gray. savory, really blossoms, a little barnyardy, sweet, mineral - a little bit, warming, a little hint of white pepper on the finish.
semi-firm, raw goat, weighs about 7 oz. squat barrel wrapped in chestnut leaf and a strip of raffia. crinkly almond rind. some blue mold on a fluffy field of white. a little heady at first, then sweet, tangy, a little salty, milky. this one is relatively gentle. rind is mild. Made in Bourgogne.
Rouleau de Beaulieu en Ardeche semi-firm raw goat weighs about 4 oz. Made in Ardeche; Rhone-Alpes. Looks like a tiny Saint-Maure, with stick and mold and all. Ashed. Milky sweet, lightly piquant, astringent, dry. Clean finish.
Mont Ventoux raw goat, weight about 2 oz. Tiny cone rolled in herbs, over blue and white molds. Tastes like fennel. Minty "green." Nice! Not salty, on the sweet side. Mixes nicely with the sweet/savory herbs. Milky, mild, pleasant. Not barnyardy, very clean. Lactic, a little meaty. Made in Provence.
Mille Trous d'Ariege raw cow and goat. 1.5-2 kilo wheel. brown natural rind, a little roughly textured. springy, semi-firm paste. small eyes. milky, pungent, barnyardy, sweet, lactuc, nutty, a little punchy, fruity. creamy mouthfeel. very nice! slight garlicky notes.
Abbaye de Timadeuc raw cow. Made in Bretagne. 1 kg wheel. washed-rind. pretty. monastery cheese, orange-pink rind, not too sticky. pungent, garlicky, sweet milk, very smooth for a washed-rind. not offensive. nice balance. garlicky finish.
Timanoix pasteurized cow. Made in Aquitaine. small wheel. nut-brown rind, smells like toasted walnuts (hence the noix). tastes like walnuts and cheese. milky, a little tangy, creamy mouthfeel. walnutty without tasting artificial. washed with walnut brandy - well, that explains it!
Wow. I finally counted, and we tried eleven new cheeses, all from the same affineur, all in one day! And I liked every one of them. Some may be tricky for our retail case, especially the tiny ones, because they are going to dry out quickly between leaving the caves and arriving here. But they are all so wonderful and special in different ways, and it's a lot of fun to taste the differences in the goat cheeses. They are all made with similar recipes and aged for about the same amount of time, but the differences in terroir and the slight differences in how they're made make for unique cheeses. I love that.