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Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Cheese Goes On - Tasting Notes 10/03/06

It's a mystery to me why nearly all the German cheeses we get in the United States are boring. And we hardly get any German cheeses at all; but when we do, zzzz... They are all factory cheeses. Pasteurized. It's so sad.
Are the Germans keeping all the good cheese for themselves? Is there a surfeit of awesome cheeses made in little villages or huts all across Germany, but we will never see them here because the cheesemakers are saying [cue whatever German accent you prefer here] "American idiots. What do they know about good cheese? It's bad enough we have to send them our well-engineered automobiles. They are NOT getting our cheese! Let's only send the Americans the crap we would never eat. Bwah hahaha."
There is no reason Germany shouldn't have good cheese. They are neighbors to Belgium, Switzerland, Holland and France - all countries with rich cheese histories (and rich-cheese histories, too). Considering the borders between countries moved so much, and culinary influences often know no borders, there should be plenty of
wunderbar German cheeses. And then there's the whole Alps thing, what with the cows enjoying such good pasturage in the summer months...
Well, my wish for at least two interesting German cheeses came true during my most recent cheese day at Zabar's. And of course there were a few nice French cheeses and a few blecch cheeses I won't even list here.

Here are my tasting notes for October 3, 2006:

Le Puits d'Astier
Big, rough, rustic flat cheese with a hole in the center. Rough white pebbly rind with yellow mold. Runny, semi-soft center with some small eyes. Pasteurized sheep. Sweet, oniony, vegetal, rustic, pungent, musty. Strong, zingy finish. I think we're getting this one from Fromi. It's French; from Auvergne.

Tomme Agour
Basque cheese, from the French side. Mixture of pasteurized sheep and goat. Nutty, sweet, herby, clean, mild,
friendly. A nice example of mixed-milk; exhibits the best of each milk. Semi-firm.

Dummy, this has nothing to do with that overblown movie (or the book, for that matter). The book and movie were named for a period in the earth's geologic timescale. And the Jurassic Period was named for the Jura Mountains, the provenance of this cheese. Semi-firm French. Made from the raw summer milk of cows grazing in the Jura Alps. Sweet, nutty, fruity, medium-robust. Good Alpine cheese - you can taste the summer milk: flowers, grasses. Nuanced, blossoms on the palate. Really nice.

[Here are those two good German cheeses I promised.]
Allgauer Bergkase
Big Alpine mountain cheese. (
Bergkase means "mountain cheese")Raw cow, aged 180+ days. Zingy at the start, zingy on the finish; in-between is nutty, sweet and tangy. Nice!
(You can see a few pictures of the production of this cheese at this website.
Ja, it's all in German, but poke around anyway and look at the pretty pictures.)

Washed-rind. A little bloomy and puffy in the rind. Semi-soft. Paste is the color of hay, texture is creamy-melty. Caraway notes (no caraway in it, though), rich, smooth, melty, very mild and not pungent. Reminiscent of very good cultured butter. Mushroomy/earthy notes from the rind. Mild and buttery. Made of cows' milk.
(So it's not the most exciting cheese, but it was lovely in a sort of delicate way. Not boring.)

1 comment:

Bryce said...

Accolades for pointing out the German cheese import dilemma. I've had the pleasure of enjoying many farmstead German cheeses while having studied there for a year, and am familiar with some regional favorites as well... Raymond Hook (cheese importer from Cheese Works West) had once told me that regretfully unlike other European countries, Germany's infrastructure for international distribution of farmstead cheeses for the most part doesn't exist.
Yes, Allgäuer Bergkäse is excellent, but as you suggested, there are other German cheeses to try.
...an odd, hand-made cheese which is very popular in the mid to north regions of what was once West Germany (primarily throughout Hessen) is Handkäse. It is just as it sounds it might be; "Hand(made) cheese". As restaurants make it, and have it available, you see a lot of signs announcing the following special: "Handkäse mit Musik". The "with music" part is what happens AFTER you eat it (Supposedly. Depends on your personal constitution). Most often the cheese is in a brine of oil, with LOTS of onion and garlic. Despite the pungent smell, the cheese its self has a mild taste. Typically this cheese is made by individual farms or restaurants, but there are a few larger factory-style creameries which also produce it.