Wednesday, 14 March 2012


A wonderfully saggy, slumpy cheese this, cheesy cream oozing out at the bottom. It looks as if it has got tired and just given up on life.

But as the guy on the cheese stall told us, it's 'un fromage de caractere'. It combines a sweet creamy honey flavour with the smell of silage or manure; shocking.

I think any relationship with this cheese is a love-hate relationship. In this, it's a little like a really good old Belgian gueuze or red ale - you take a mouthful of Rodenbach or Boon or Duchesse de Bourgogne and for a moment your tongue tells you it's just vinegar, and you ask yourself whether beer is really meant to be like this, before the other flavours catch up and you realise you're drinking a classic. Duchesse is one of my favourite beers in the world and yet I still have that little moment of doubt, every time.

Love-hate. Not just love it or hate it, though no doubt some people will hate it, but love and hate; or at least, love coupled with a fearful respect.

Technically, it's a cheese neither pressed nor cooked, and with no rind, hence the marvellous slumpiness - the inside is chalky, the exterior actually verging on the liquid, at room temperature. It's from Burgundy, which has 'previous' for 'characterful' cheeses, in the form of Epoisses. And I'm told it's a traditional cheese that is on its last legs, as most local farmers now can't be bothered to make it, and sell their cheeses to industrial fromageries instead; which may be why a couple of web sites I've looked at mention Saint Florentin as being creamy, light, and suitable for desserts, which the cheese I have in front of me right now certainly is not.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

An excellent resource

When I'm drinking a new beer I like to taste it, if possible, unprejudiced; I don't look at the book beforehand. But afterwards, I like to make comparisons with other people's tastes, so beer advocate or pint picker are wonderful sites to visit - sometimes answering that question one so often asks oneself, "I know this aroma (or flavour), I'm sure it's.... it's.... it's on the tip of my tongue, but what is it?"

The world of cheese, unfortunately, doesn't seem to have any such sites. What's up there is very fragmented - and also shows up some major national differences, every time an American or Brit says that Brie, for instance, is "too goaty", "too strong," and "stinky". Which to anyone who lives in France and eats cheese is nonsense. Okay, Brie is stinkier than Kraft processed cheese slices - but what isn't?

However there is one very useful resource out there. Wikipedia is sometimes useful, but only in French - and even in the .fr version, some cheeses only get stubs (or ebauches, rather). So I go to Androuet's 'Cheeses of the world' to get my information. It must be good, as I've been eating and writing my way through French cheeses for a good while now and it still has names I've not heard before. In French, English, and a good few other languages, which is helpful.

It has a good search function - you can search by name, country, region (of France, so that's useful when we travel), mild to stinky (which they call 'characterful'), season, type of milk, or even the wine you want some cheese to go with.

And it's remarkably comprehensive, though I'm not sure they've road-tested every description (and they don't have Norfolk Dapple, which personally I think is one of the best English cheeses I've ever eaten). There are 495 French cheeses, 134 from the UK, and over 100 each frmo Spain and Italy. Alas, coverage in the Netherlands and Germany is skimpier, though they have 9 different Norwegian cheeses and yes, that includes Gjetost.

They even have two cheeses from Afghanistan. I think it's unlikely I'm going to taste either of those very soon.