Chimay: A Bitter Rejection

February 3, 2011

Chimay is an obnoxious cheese.  It is pungent and robust with a pasty thick texture that coats the tongue.  There is nothing subtle or nuanced about Chimay.  Our tasters are generally forgiving, but Chimay found no fans at our table.

Chimay is a semi-soft, beer-washed cheese made in Belgium at the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont.  It is considered a classic example of a monastic washed rind cheese.  The monastery produces both beer and cheese under the Chimay name.  Once produced, the cheese is regularly washed with Chimay beer.  The cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and produced in a wide, flat disk format.

chimay-cheese-by-cheesechatter-february-2011Chimay looks simple and rustic.  It has a crusty thick rind that is bright orange and tacky to the touch.  The interior paste is a deep lemon curd yellow.  The paste is springy and has small flat holes.

The cheese rind smells a bit like a brewery: its aroma is yeasty and smells of damp hops.  The rind also has a distinct ammonia scent.  The interior paste smells of baked crackers and toasted grain.

Chimay’s flavor is robust and lingers long after eating.  It has a brief sweet start, but this flavor is quickly overwhelmed by a smoky sourness.  The sour flavor is grapefruit-like and bitter; it is quite intense and lingers long in the mouth.  Chimay has a rich and thick texture that coats the tongue like peanut butter.

Chimay earned no fans during our tasting.  My kids rejected the cheese  as too bitter and sour.  One likened Chimay to a swallow of chlorine.  The grapefruit-like bitterness is intense and I achieved balance only by eating a super sweet pear.

The flavors of Chimay are more likely to appeal to adults than kids, yet even for adults, the bitter flavors of this cheese require off-plate management.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased Chimay at The Cheese Board (Berkeley, CA).


5 Responses to “Chimay: A Bitter Rejection”

  1. Paul Says:

    This does not look like the many chimays (of various types, “classique”, “à la bière”, etc.) I have seen or eaten here in Belgium (Waterloo and Brussels).

    I think you have been sold a way overripe cheese.

    I am sorry about that, cheese is just not easy to keep well, even for professionals.

    But really it is great to see americans eating an increasing variety of cheese.

    Best wishes.

  2. Paul Says:

    I should add that the (pieces of) chimays I have eaten (from about 10-15 different, 2 or 3 “à la bière”) have only been as bitter as any kind of cheese. In my experience beer-washing tends to add very slightly to bitterness but this was really not even unpleasant (to me), and I don’t like grapefruit-strength bitterness at all.

    Also never had more ammonia than the average smear cheese, that is, nothing compared to average camembert-style.

    To put it simply I think the review is unfair to the cheese (the “chimay à la bière” and the brand “Chimay”, and the town Chimay! :).

    Just being careful not to buy the overripe or dry cheese from smiling retailers.

    But I think what you do is really awesome.

    Declaration of conflict of interest: in the sake of disclosure I must say I am french.

    • Thanks for your perspective, Paul. I really appreciate your comments, as your suspicion about our sample’s condition may be right. Our Chimay was labeled “a la biere” (which I neglected to mention in my post). I hope we have a better experience next time around with Chimay (we have re-purchased cheeses at another time in the year to see if there is a change in the cheese or our opinion). Thanks also for your advice about cheese buying–I need to be more discriminating at the counter. Thanks for reading!

      • Paul Says:

        It is quite possible that all chimays you will have in the US will be bitter, a state which comes only with strong bacterial/enzymatic activity, and that is not at all preprackaging maturation.

        What I mean is that some cheeses may just not be easily available in appropriate conditions for you. Beware in particular sensitive cheeses: high water activity/strong flora ones, camembert-style and smear.

  3. Paul Says:

    The smily ate my parenthesis.

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