A few months ago I bought myself a handy Moleskine(R) notebook. Not only is it pretty damn classy looking, it's very useful, and the pages are made of paper that takes ink nicely.
I bought it because it's a good idea for any person working with food to keep a tasting notebook. Hell, even if you just really like eating food and want to remember some remarkable things you've tried, it's worth keeping a tasting notebook.
For me, it's a little more than a tasting book. I also take notes there from meetings I've had with clients, potential clients, advisers, etc. And sometimes I just take notes, things I have to remember, etc.
This past week I was at Zabar's doing my usual cheese gig and a few nice cheeses came in. A few are completely new to me, from an affineur* in France named Pascal Beillevaire. One cheese is an old favorite, but I haven't seen it at Zabar's for awhile and a description needed to be written for it, so aw shucks I had to eat it. And then there were the other usual grab-bag cheeses from all over the place because Olga is such an intrepid cheese buyer.
Here are my tasting notes, more or less verbatim, from August 22, 2006. (I don't include the end result - my fleshed-out written descriptions - because those more or less belong to Zabar's. Plus, I think the notes hold interest because they are my raw, unfinished, on-the-spot organoleptic impressions of the cheeses. I hope you agree.)
Pascal Beillevaire's Pitchounet
raw. sheep. rennet. 13 oz, give or take. Tall disc - like a wider Chaource. Covered with dusty white mold, dalmatian spots of gray. Smells like a cave. Paste loosely curded lots of small eyes. Soft, earthy, savory (herbs), saline, complex, nuanced, rich.
Pascal Beillevaire's Clacbitou
raw. goat. rennet. 9 oz, give or take. Shape of Charollais or Chabichou - tall barrel. Covered with rough, almond-colored rind, white mold. Belt of raffia around its waist to hold it together. Smells earthy and tangy. Thick layer of creamy ivory beneath rind, center flaky white. Mmm. Tangy, rich (esp for a goat), minerally, astringent, milky, complex, lingering, light citrusy.
Pascal Beillevaire's Grise de Volcanes
raw. cow. rennet. Tangy, sweet, nutty, earthy - very Alpine. Floral, nuanced, very nice. Cross in flavor between farmhouse Cheddar and Appenzeller. Semi-firm, solid, tight texture like Cheddar.
From Neal's Yard Dairy. Clothbound, cave-aged traditional Cheddar. Semi-firm, fairly solid, some flake and fissures. Sharp and fruity, sweet with a little caramel, earthy and cavey near the rind. The best!
Holland. Goat. Bright white with gray-green mold. aka Blue de Graven. pasteurized. from the Schie River between Rotterdam and Den Hague. rindless. semi-soft paste. sweet very sweet, caramel, fruity, tangy assertiveness but not a strong blue. pleasant and surprising. a little but of crunch, creamy melting mouthfeel.
Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue
pale ivory color. lots of blue-green veining. crumbly and semi-soft. assertive tangy milky bitey garlicky toasty complex and superb. you can tell it's hand-made!
Italy. washed with red wine. ivory paste. TONS of blue-gray veining. smells like grape candy. tastes like sparkling grape juice. whoa! tangy bite comes next, smooths out a little to a fruity finish. a little crunch. leaves a tingle on the tongue. pasteurized. made in the mountains and valley pastures of the Arrigoni Valtaleggio.
*Affineur - A French term, adapted into English use, for a person who ages and cares for (usually) artisan-made cheese. This person is not the cheesemaker and does not usually make any cheese at all, but is a craftsperson highly skilled in maturing cheese, including washing and brushing the rind (if necessary), turning the wheels, and monitoring each cheese's progress. An affineur will work closely with the cheesemaker to ensure the cheesemaker's intentions for the cheese are met. There are not many affineurs in the United States; most artisan-made cheeses are made and aged by the same person or group of people.