Saint Albray – The Stinky Flower Cheese

Saint Albray – France

Saint Albray is a “stinky” cheese imported into Canada from France. I found this cheese at my local Loblaws in Mississauga, Ontario.

Saint Albray Cheese

Saint Albray Cheese

It is produced in the Viscounty of Béarn in France by Group Bongrain.

Viscounty of Béarn, France

Viscounty of Béarn, France

It was invented and brought to market in 1976. It is made from pasteurized cow’s milk. The cheese is formed into a flower arrangement. Each wedge forms a pedal and there is a hole in the middle. This arrangement does not have anything to do with taste, but it is a clever marketing idea, being unique and eye catching.

Saint Albray Wheel

Saint Albray Cheese – It looks like a flower

The cows that produce the milk for this cheese are “Blonde des Pyrenees”.

This is a mixed washed rind cheese. The orange color of the rind comes from a bacteria called brevibacterium linens often shortened to b-linens. The rind is washed at the beginning of the ripening period, then left to continue ripening and develop a stinky funky rind. The b-linens is the same bacterium found on human skin and responsible for “foot odor”. So guess what. This cheese has an odor similar to “dirty socks”. Not quite as bad as my kid’s hockey bag. But you get the idea. It stinks.

What does St. Albray cheese taste like? This is not a cheese for the cheese newbie. This cheese has a combination of barnyard and ammonia smell. It tastes milder, and better, than it smells. The paste (inside) is soft, mild with eyes (little air pockets). The consistency is interesting … somewhere between firm and runny. The rind is edible. If you find the flavor too strong then avoid the rind and enjoy the paste.

Saint Albray Cheese

Saint Albray Cheese – from France

I have a friend who likes this cheese a lot. It’s one of his favorites. In fact he introduced me to it. The first time I tried Saint Albray I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not. It smelled so bad. The taste was such a pleasant surprise. I found the ammonia off putting, then I came to terms with it. Then I liked it. It was a cheese tasting roller coaster ride. When the tasting was over I wiped the sweat from my brow and proclaimed – “Wow that was fun!  Let’s go again”.

My advice is to avoid storing this cheese. It will really stink up a refrigerator. Just bring it home, let it come to room temperature and and then enjoy it. It pairs well with Fig spread.

Vacherine Mont D’Or – Like Brie with Balls

Vacherine Mont D'Or

When I came across this cheese at the The Cheese Boutique I was informed that the “season was over”. Season? What season? I only thought there were four seasons.

But having tried Vacherine Mont D’Or I now recognize five seasons. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall and Vacherine Mont D’Or cheese season.

This cheese is a gooder (if that is a real word). For me, it was another step up the ladder of cheese nirvana.

Vacherine Mont D’Or is only produced between August 15 and March 15, and sold between September 10 and May 10. In other words, it is a limited edition cheese and this was the last batch available from The Cheese Boutique until next year.

Vacherine Mont D’Or is a cow’s milk cheese. In 1981 it earned a classification as an AOC (Attestation of Origin) cheese. This cheese is produced in Switzerland and France in the Jura mountain region. While researching this cheese I discovered a lot of  confusion about whether this cheese is of Swiss Origin or French Origin. It ends up that it is both, due to shifting political borders in the area where the cheese is made. I found a great online article which explores that subject in depth at Practically Edible.

Vacherine Mont D’Or should be served at room temperature whereby it becomes very soft. It can be eaten like a fondue. It literately oozes out of the rind. I hope you can see that in the picture.

But let’s cut to the chase. What does Vacherine Mont D’Or taste like?

Oh boy, I fell in love with this one. It has a smell that does NO justice to the taste. In fact, the smell was unpleasant to me. It’s a stinker and it smells RIPE. I’m not talking about a fruity sweet and good ripe. Nope this one smells like it’s rotten, take it to the curb, ripe.

Trust me, don’t let the smell stop you. The flavor is amazing.  It is rich and smooth with a unique flavor very distant from the smell. This stuff was addicting. I ate some and it confused my palette. It smells bad, it tastes good, how can this be? Then I had to have some more, to figure it out. Then I had more, and more, and more. I didn’t want to stop.

The only thing I really figured out was that this is one fantastic cheese. This is a cheese that I would serve to guests to WOW them. They will balk at the smell and then I’ll get to watch their legs go weak as they try it. I think Vacherine Mont D’Or is a cheese that you will not forget.

Here is a point of comparison. If you’ve tried Brie then Vacherine Mont D’Or looks like Brie. It is gooey-er than Brie. It is stinkier than Brie. It is Brie’s big brother … on steriods. Vacherine Mont D’Or is Brie with balls.

Try this one next season if you get the chance.

Here is the official Vacherine Mont D’Or website.

Le Mamirolle – The Canadian Version

Le Mamirolle Cheese

I came across some Le Mamirolle cheese at a local Longos Supermarket.  This is a Canadian cheese that I have never tried before.

This cheese has an interesting history. The recipe for the cheese originated in the small village of Mamirolle France in 1935. Mamirolle is home of the French National Dairy School called the École Nationale d’industrie laitière.

Mamirolle France - Image from Wikipedia

The recipe was brought to Canada and in 1996 Eco Delices secured an exclusive license through the École Nationale d’industrie laitière to produce this cheese in Canada using the Le Mamirolle name.

Eco Delices is located in Plessisville, Quebec which is about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City.

Plessisville, Quebec - image from Google Maps

Le Mamirolle won the Selection Caseus award in 1999 in the category of artisan cheese.

This cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk. It is a semi-soft cheese with an orange coloured rind.

What does Le Mamirolle taste like?

This cheese has a fairly strong smell that my kids did not find appealing. I can’t decide if it smells good or not. The paste (a fancy term for the cheese inside the rind) is mild, and somewhat rich. Beyond that, I find this cheese hard to describe.

I probably would hesitate to serve this cheese to guests because I think the smell might deter some people from trying it. This cheese was not a stand out for me.  I would classify it in the “runner up” category relative to some other cheeses that I’ve recently had the opportunity to try.

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.

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!

The Laughing Cow Cheese

My kids might have a bit of my cheese passion in them. I discovered this in our refrigerator yesterday. The packaging is probably part of the appeal. What kid would not be intrigued by a bright red smiling cow wearing cheese ear rings while surrounded by bold primary colors. And it promises to be “So smooth”.

With 16 individual portions it was a “must try” for my children. My hat is off to the marketing group at The Laughing Cow company.

On Sunday afternoon my kids got out the crackers and the Laughing Cow. They pealed away the lid from the container like it was a Christmas present. Inside were the 16 individually wrapped pieces of cheese in shiny foil. I think the individually wrapped portions are pure genius. They provide some sense of portion control. Additionally the unopened wedges remain sealed tight, extending their shelf life.

Laughing Cow individual cheese wedge

How cute is that?

How does it taste?   It reminds me of soft butter with a bit of a cheese flavor. It is a pale processed cheese, made from cow’s milk, that spreads easily but it is too mild for my taste. My kids, however, really like it.

The Laughing Cow brand was launched in 1921. It is currently produced by Fromageries Bel, a family-owned cheese maker headquartered in Paris, France. Their website states that Fromageries Bel produces more than 30 local and international cheese brands that are sold in more than 120 countries around the globe. This is evidently a very popular and successful cheese.

I won’t be pulling this out for a wine pairing and it is unlikely you will find this on my next cheese plate. But you will find it in my kids lunch bags or on the kitchen counter as a snack for the kids.

If you have a young one in the house, or if you like a mild cheese then the Laughing Cow is worth a try.

This is the link to the The Laughing Cow Cheese website.