Valdeon – Spanish Blue Cheese wrapped in Leaves

Valdeon Blue Cheese – Spain

I found Valdeon cheese at the Alex Farms Cheese Stand in the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, Canada.

Valdeon Blue Cheese

Valdeon Blue Cheese

Valdeon Blue Cheese

Valdeon Blue Cheese from Spain

Valdeon is made from a mixture of pasteurized cow’s milk (80%) and goat’s milk (20%). It comes from the small municipality of Posada de Valdeón in the Northern Province of Leon in Spain.

Posada de Valdeón in the Province of Leon, Spain

Posada de Valdeón in the Province of Leon, Spain

The milk from the animals in this region is of a very high quality due to the fertile green pastures found in the valley. High quality milk makes high quality cheese. Penicillium roqueforti is the mold responsible for the dominant flavor of this cheese.

One of the unique features of Valdeon is that it is wrapped in Sycamore leaves while it ages for 45 to 60 days. The leaves help the cheese maintain moisture as well as imparting a special earthy characteristic.

Valdeon Cheese Leaves

Valdeon Cheese Leaves

I assumed that I should not eat the leaves, so I removed them. Even with the leaves removed Valdeon is still a good looking cheese.

Valdeon Cheese with Leaves Removed

Valdeon Cheese with the Sycamore leaves removed

Valdeón was named the best blue cheese in a 2003 national competition in Spain.

What does Valdeon Cheese taste like? It is rich and creamy, a tad spicy and fairly salty. It has a taste that sticks around on the palette. The salty start dissolves into a rich earthy taste that sticks around for a long finish. This is a complex and powerful cheese. The sweet of the milk spars with the sting of the blue mold. This is a cheese you can roll around in your mouth for a while because it stays interesting. There is a lot going on.

Valdeon Blue Cheese Up Close

Valdeon Blue Cheese Up Close

Not only does it taste good but this cheese is attractive … very attractive. I might even go so far as to say it’s beautiful and artsy. Yeah that’s it … cheese art.

Valdeon Blue Cheese

Valdeon Blue Cheese

This cheese should pair well with wines made from the Gamay grape, such as Beaujolais, as well as Muscats. It would also marry well with a Port wine.

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Bleu de Bresse is Blue Cheese for Beginners

Bresse Bleu or Bleu de Bresse

I discovered Bleu de Bresse at Starsky’s market in Mississauga.

Bleu de Bresse comes from France. It is a very mild blue cheese made from cow’s milk with a texture that is similar to brie. The rind is soft, white and edible.

This blue cheese originated in 1951 in the French Province of Bresse. The Bresse region is better known for its poultry production which boasts to produce some of the “best chickens in the world”. But we are not talking chickens here. We are talking cheese.

Bleu de Bresse is also called Bresse Bleu. It is made in the French village of Bourge-en-Bresse. The brand and trademark for Bleu de Bresse are owned by the large European cheese company Bongrain. Unlike many of the famous French cheeses, Bleu de Bresse is not an AOC designated cheese.

The mild blue cheese cheese flavor comes from Penicillium roqueforti which is introduced to the curds before they are put into perforated molds. Once the curds become set in the molds, the cheese is removed, salted, turned, drained, and covered with Penicillium camemberti to form the outer rind. The Bleu de Bresse is then aged 3 to 4 weeks.

Bleu de Bresse is quite soft and very spreadable. It is less dense and easier to spread than cream cheese.

Bleu de Bresse spread on a Table Water Cracker

Bleu de Bresse is slightly firm when refrigerated. As with most cheeses, take this cheese out an hour or so before serving to allow it to come to room temperature. This one is so mild you will want to enjoy all the flavor it can provide. It needs to be at room temperature to do that.

What does Bleu de Bresse taste like?

The Bleu de Bresse has a mild scent reminiscent of buttered mushrooms. Bresse bleu claims to be the creamiest of all blue cheeses. I would agree with that. However, the little veins of blue do maintain a slight texture that can be sensed and separated on the tongue.

I found the Bleu de Bresse to be less salty than a typical blue cheeses. My research uncovered a reference that claimed Bresse Bleu has 30% less salt compared to other blue-veined cheeses. My palette likes that.

Of the blue cheeses that I have tried so far, Bleu de Bresse is most similar to German Cambozola. When I first tried Cambozola I considered it to be mild. The Bleu de Bresse is an even milder blue cheese. I don’t think a blue cheese could be much milder than this and still be a blue cheese. Personally I prefer my blue cheese stronger.

My teenage daughter is not food adventurous, to say the least.  She has never garnered the courage to try a “moldy” blue cheese … until today. When she saw me drafting this blog, titled “Blue Cheese for Beginners”, she agreed to try a little on a table water cracker. After staring at the cracker for a few minutes and then smelling it, she took a small bite, then another, and another. I was pleasantly surprised when she admitted “It was better than I thought it would be.”

Bleu de Bresse may be the ultimate mild blue cheese. This is definitely the blue cheese of choice for a beginner or unadventurous guests. I am glad to have discovered it because it is a great cheese to add to my arsenal of cheese options. It will be my blue cheese “secret weapon” for my next timid blue cheese tasting guest.

Blue Haze and Memories of Algonquin Park

Blue Haze – Canada

Blue Haze Cheese

Blue Haze is a Canadian blue cheese with a little something special. I found this cheese at Whole Foods in Oakville.

This is a smoked blue cheese, made from cow’s milk, that is produced by the the monks at the Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac in Quebec. I’ve tried other cheeses made by the monks such as Frere Jacques and Mont St. Benoit. This one is my favorite so far.

Blue Haze is aged 10 weeks at the Abbaye then it is shipped to Provincial Fine Foods in Toronto. There it is packaged in Cryovac to set the curds and it is held for 4 weeks to firm. After that, it is transported to Hansen Farms in Cayuga, Ontario for smoking. The journey is worth it. The result is a smokey rind that transitions into a creamy salty and sweet center enhanced by the special tang and flavor of the blue veins. It all comes together so nicely.

When I try a cheese I savor the flavor and let my mind wander as my palette searches to interpret the texture and gracefully separate the mixture of subtle flavors. Strangely, while tasting the Blue Haze, I began thinking about camping and sitting by a camp fire. Slowly my mind drifted into fond memories of a Canoe trip that I had done last fall with friends through Algonquin Park. This is a little bizarre since although we had taken some cheese for snacking, we didn’t eat Blue Haze on the trip. Maybe it was the cheese and smoke combination that stirred something.

That’s the power of cheese. Sometimes when I eat a cheese it prompts a memory. Music does this for me too. I’ll hear a song and it will remind me of a place I visited, or a person I was with. Maybe that’s weird, but that’s me. None-the-less the Blue Haze cheese had me thinking about canoeing, camping and Algonquin Park.

Our Canoes for the Algonquin Park Trip

Portaging in Algonquin Park

Algonquin Park in the Fall view from my Campsite

However my mind works it does not matter, I enjoyed the cheese and I enjoyed the memories of Algonquin Park. On a cheese board, save this cheese for last. Its flavor will overpower the milder cheeses and the smokiness may linger.

When I consider the interesting flavor, the nice texture and the fond memories it spurred; the Blue Haze is on the favorites list for me.

A Pairing Suggestion; Ciel de Charlevoix and Cirque du Soleil

Ciel de Charlevoix

Ciel de Charlevoix is a Canadian blue cheese that is produced in Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec.

Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec

The town is about 90 km Northeast of Quebec City on the northern shore of the Saint Lawrence River.

Baie-Saint-Paul from Google Maps

This small town (population 7,288) was where Cirque du Soleil was founded in 1984 by two former street performers, Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier. Cirque du Soleil is currently based in Montreal and the company has grown to employ 5,200 people.

The blue cheese Ciel de Charlevoix is produced by La Maison d’Affinage Maurice Dufour Inc. which was established in 1994 by Maurice Dufour. Maurice is a certified agronomist and the head affineur. Their cheeses have won many awards. The Ciel de Charlevoix won the 2009 Champion of the Blue-veined category at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix.

Ciel de Charlevoix is one of six cheeses currently produced by the company. The six cheeses are:

  • Le Ciel de Charlevoix
  • Le Migneron de Charlevoix
  • Le Secret de Maurice
  • La Tomme d’Elles
  • La Tomme de Brebis de Charlevoix
  • Le Bleu de Brebis de Charlevoix

Ciel de Charlevoix is made from cow’s milk. It is ripened a minimum of 60 days with a shelf like of 60-75 days. The blue is the result of P. Roqueforti. This cheese is 27% milk fat and 39% moisture content.

What does Ciel de Charlevoix taste like?

I like blue cheese and I enjoyed this one. This is not a soft spreadable blue cheese like Cambozola. This is semi-firm cheese that does not need a cracker to carry it. You can slice a small piece and let it melt on your tongue. I like the colour which is a creamy  ivory with a hint of aged yellow that is heavily veined with blue green mold. Although this cheese is not aged long, its look conveys a certain character. It is not a strong blue; in terms of strength, it is in the middle.  It has a fairly sharp finish.

Ciel de Charlevoix will hold its own on a cheese plate. I suggest pairing this cheese with a Cirque du Soleil performance since they both originate from the same small town. My prediction is that they will go together wonderfully and you will enjoy both very much.

Roquefort – Girl Crazy, Cave Dwelling, Slow Kid – Thank you!

Roquefort Cosse Noir

I picked up some Gabriel Coulet Roquefort Cosse Noir at Whole Foods in Oakville, Ontario. This is a French cheese made from raw sheep’s milk.

According to Wikipedia:

Roquefort is one of the world’s best known blue cheeses. European law dictates that only cheese aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon may bear the name Roquefort. Legend has it that the cheese was discovered when a youth, eating his lunch of bread and ewes’ milk cheese, saw a beautiful girl in the distance. Abandoning his meal in a nearby cave, he ran to meet her. When he returned a few months later, the mold (Penicillium roqueforti) had transformed his plain cheese into Roquefort.

That’s a great story but I’ve got a few questions.

In the first place, when I was young, if I had to choose between finishing a cheese sandwich or chasing after a girl I would have finished the sandwich then took after the girl. I mean seriously, how fast was this girl going, when she passed by, that required abandoning a cheese sandwich?

Secondly, that must have been some chase. That girl must have been really fast and the kid chasing her must have been half snail. How long does chasing a girl take? According to the story … a few months later? Well, if I didn’t get the girl within a few minutes, or a few hours at most, then I would give up and go back to finish my sandwich. With a full belly, I would wait for another girl to come along.

Ok then … I can come to terms with the kid being so girl crazy that he leaves his sandwich behind, and then he gets so distracted that he doesn’t come back … for months. BUT, when he returns and finds his cheese all moldy and stinky, WHAT IN THE WORLD was he thinking when he decided he should eat it anyway?

But I digress. It’s still a nice story and I’m glad he tasted it. I’m even more grateful that he had the sense to bring his discovery to the attention of the proper authorities to produce even more of the remarkable cheese.

The mold that gives Roquefort its distinctive character is Penicillium roqueforti and it is found in the soil of the Combalou caves in France.

Again, according to Wikipedia:

As of 2009, there are seven Roquefort producers. The largest by far is Roquefort Société made by the Société des Caves de Roquefort[5] (a subsidiary of Lactalis), which holds several caves and opens its facilities to tourists, and accounts for around 60% of all production. Roquefort Papillon is also a well-known brand. The five other producers, each holding only one cave, are Carles, Gabriel Coulet, Fromageries occitanes, Vernières and Le Vieux Berger.

The cheese I tried, and that is pictured above, was produced by Gabriel Coulet. It is 44% milk fat with a 33% moisture content.

What does Roquefort Cosse Noir taste like?

It is milky, smooth, creamy, salty and packed with flavor. It is a strong cheese that will steal the show when put alongside a milder cheese. It spreads easily on crackers or bread. I recommend spreading it on a fresh warm baguette. On a cheese board it would take center stage.

I rank Roquefort high on my list of favorite cheeses and based on it’s popularity, I am not alone.

Here is a link to Roquefort France’s website.

Ovinsardo is Over the Top Delicious

I picked up this cheese at the Gouda for You specialty cheese shop in Barrie, Ontario. The owner, Deb Marrow, told me that this was one of her favorites.

Ovinsardo is a blue cheese that is made from sheep’s milk. It is pale white with blue and green veining. It is produced in Sardinia.

Where is Sardinia?

No it is not a Province of Canada. Sardinia is an Italian island in the Mediterranean. In fact, it is the second largest of all Mediterranean islands. Supposedly, there are more sheep than people on the island which may explain why they are making blue cheese from sheep’s milk.

Sardina, Italy - image from Wikipedia

I attempted my usual internet research to learn as much as possible about this cheese, but Ovinsard (or Ovinsardo, or Ovin Sard) all came up with very scant information. When I Googled it, most of the references came from it being featured on cheese flights, or cheese boards, from several swanky restaurants. It also popped up in a few recipes, again from swanky restaurants.

I came across a reference to Ovinsardo by Kang Leong who writes the London Eater Blog. Buried in his restaurant review is his reaction to the Ovinsardo.

“That cheese, oh that cheese. Ovinsardo. What a brilliant little f*cker. The gorgeous stink of stilton, the strength of ten gorgonzolas, the hardness of a well-aged parmesan. On its own, the beef was bland but tender (which is why I assumed it was a fillet) , but with that superb Sardinian cheese, it became ethereal.” – Kang Leong

I agree with him with the exception of the “hardness of Parmesian”. The piece that I tried was semi-firm but not hard. Perhaps his was affected by the preparation.

I have to admit that this one took me by surprise. Sheep’s milk blue? I squinted my eyes and prepared myself for a suffering as I placed a small sample in my mouth. But OMG (that’s Oh My God for you non-texters) this one delivered and how. It’s creamy, milky and it packs a wallop of a blue cheese flavor. I loved it.

Thank you to the Sardinian sheep milkers and cheese makers, whoever you are.

Who the heck is Saint Agur?

Saint Agur – France

Saint Agur Blue Cheese

Today our cheese adventure takes us to the Auvergne region of central France to discover Saint Agur Blue Cheese.

Auvergne Region in France

Auvergne Region in France – Image from Wiki

I found this cheese at the deli counter at Michael-Angelos Market. They have a cheese case where they will cut the cheeses from the wheel in the amount you request. This was cut from the wheel … well it’s not really a wheel because Saint Agur Blue Cheese comes formed in an octagonal shape and wrapped in foil.

Image showing the octagonal package of Saint Agur Blue Cheese

Saint Agur Blue Cheese Octagonal Form – Google Images

Saint Agur Blue Cheese was introduced in 1988 by the French Cheese Company Bongrain. When I first saw the name I assumed the cheese was named after some famous Saint in ancient history. I thought it would be interesting to find out who Saint Agur was and what notable accomplishment he must have achieved to have such a lovely cheese named in his honor.

The fact is, there is no Saint Agur and there never was. There isn’t even a town in France called Saint Agur. The name appears to be the result of a creative marketing department at Bongrain. I have to give them credit. The name is pretty swanky. And the cheese … well it is really good. Perhaps it will be a name that will live on for hundreds of years and someday will become a classic.

The cows milk for Saint Agur comes from the village of Beauzac in central France. The milk is pasteurized. This is a rich cheese with 60% butterfat which qualifies it as a double-cream cheese. The blue comes from the fungi penicillium roqueforti which is the same fungi used in Stilton, Cambozola and Roquefort.  The Saint Agur has a short aging time of 60 days. The foil wrap prevents the cheese from becoming more blue.

How does it taste?

I like blue cheese. When a I tried Cambozola it become my favorite blue, until now. Saint Agur might be the perfect blue for me. I find the Danish Blue cheese Rosenborg Castello a bit too salty. The Cambozola was nice, but it is very mild. I like a bit more blue flavor. Then along comes Saint Agur which is just right. It is a perfect balance of creamy and blue cheesy. It is buttery, like a triple-cream brie. It melts in your mouth and spreads smooth. It’s awesome.

The blue flavor I would classify as medium strong. If blue cheeses intimidate you then try Cambozola before stepping up to The Saint Agur.

I would suggest pairing it with any full bodied red wine, port or dessert wine.

Vive La France!
Vive La Saint Agur Blue Cheese!