Petit Ardi Gasna is a lovely everyday cheese.  It is easy to eat, smooth on the palate and offers perfectly balanced flavors.  Ardi Gasna looks rather boring at the cheese counter, but we found it addictive on the plate.

Ardi Gasna is a semi-firm cheese from the Basque region in France.  It is made with raw sheep’s milk by Fromagerie Agour and has earned several awards.  The cheese is produced in small 700-gram drums (about 1.5 pounds), and is brushed with coulis de Piment d’Espelette, a puree of  espelette chili peppers  dry-rubbed with pimenton, a Spanish paprika.  Cheeses are aged for a minimum of 3 months before market.

petit-agour-cheese-by-cheesechatter-february-2011 Ardi Gasna’s chili red rind gives it a fiery appearance.  The natural red-orange rind is thin, dry and scored with lines from its production.  The interior paste is dull yellow and has a greenish cast.  At the rind, the paste darkens into a light walnut.  To the touch, the paste is solid and greasy.

Ardi Gasna’s rind smells like toasted nuts.  The interior paste has light scents of  blueberries and rye.

Ardi Gasna has well-balanced flavor.  It has a sweet berry fruitiness that is matched by a rich nutty flavor.  The flavors are not too assertive and seem “just right.”  Ardi Gasna leaves a mildly nutty aftertaste in the mouth.  The cheese has a chewy texture that is not overly rich.  When eaten, the rind adds some spicy hotness to the cheese, but its grittiness is detracting.

We all liked this cheese and it was a big hit with my kids.  Ardi Gasna makes an excellent snacking cheese.  Its flavors and texture are so pleasing that this cheese was hard to stop eating.  While Ardi Gasna offers the casual simplicity of an everyday cheese, it would make a good addition to an outdoor meal.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased Petit Ardi Gasna from Say Cheese (San Francisco); it was sold as Petit Agour.

St. Nectaire is an honest cheese.  Its flavors and aroma feel like a direct expression of the earth.  Although St. Nectaire tastes like something fresh from the vegetable bin, my vegetable-averse son loved this cheese.

St. Nectaire is a semi-soft cheese from the Auvergne region of central France.  It has been produced since the 1600’s and was christened “Saint Nectaire” by King Louis XIV.  Today, the cheese is made by several producers, with some using pasteurized and some using raw cow’s milk (our sample was made with raw milk).  St. Nectaire has a natural, mold-ripened rind and is aged for 3-4 months before market.

st-nectaire-cheese-by-cheesechatter-january-2011

St. Nectaire is a rustic, tomme-style cheese.  The bumpy rind is covered with fuzzy grey, green and white surface molds.  Its blonde interior has small intermittant holes.  To the touch, St. Nectaire’s rind is rough and dry, while its interior paste is squishy and pliable.

St. Nectaire is an aromatic cheese:  it smells fresh, green and earthy.  We detected scents of minerals, grass, soil, mushrooms and green beans.

St. Nectaire’s flavors are sour, tangy, mildly bitter and sweet.  Initially, St. Nectaire has a sour milk flavor, but it becomes nutty.  It finishes with a green bean flavor that is both sweet and bitter.  St. Nectaire lingers in the mouth with a green vegetable after-taste.  The cheese has a smooth and pasty texture.  The natural rind is edible, but gritty; it adds a strong mushroom flavor to the cheese.

St. Nectaire’s strong earthy and grassy flavors are not likely to appeal to everyone.  Its vegetable-like bitterness may turn-off younger eaters, but our juvenile tasters both liked St. Nectaire.  This cheese keeps well out of refrigeration and would be great for a picnic or casual meal.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased St. Nectaire from Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco).

Gabietou generated a lot of passion at our table, but not all of it was positive.  Gabietou is not for the wishy-washy: one either likes it or one does not.  We are usually pretty forgiving about cheese, but Gabietou was divisive.

Gabietou comes from Pau in the Pyrenees region of France.  It is a semi-soft cheese made with a blend of raw cow and sheep milks.  The cheese is aged for 3-5 months, during which time the rind is washed with a water and salt brine.  Gabietou has slightly different maturation processes, depending on its affineur (Gabietou may also carry the names of affineurs Herve Mons or Jean d’Alos).

Gabietou has a light orange-tan rind that is smooth and tacky.  The rind has flecks of gray and white surface molds.  The interior paste is pale yellow and populated with small flat holes.   To the touch, the paste is smooth and springy.

Gabietou has an offensive odor that is detectable when it is held close to the nose.   The rind’s perfume calls to mind cigar smoke, week-old socks and our dog’s breath after she has munched another animal’s feces.  The paste smells like daises.

Gabietou has robust flavor that is balanced by an underlying sour fruitiness.  Gabietou has smokey, sour and sweet peanut flavors.   The sweet nutty flavor intensifies in the paste nearer the rind.  After eating, a nutty sourness lingers on the tongue.  Gabietou’s texture is rich and thick in the mouth.

Read the rest of this entry »

Lingot du Quercy offers another trip to the wonderland of French goat cheese.  Lingot du Quercy is a robustly flavored cheese with a rich texture that we found addictive.

Lingot du Quercy is produced by a small group of farms near Quercy in southwestern France.  The cheese is hand-made with pasteurized goat’s milk.  Lingot du Quercy has a distinctive flat bar-shaped format that suggests a gold ingot.

Lingot du Quercy has a gentle golden cast on its rind and paste, but is otherwise creamy white.  Its damp rind is heavily wrinkled like a prune.  Beneath the rind, the interior paste becomes gooey and translucent.  At the center of the cheese, the paste is dense and cakey. Lingot du Quercy smells of animals, milk and grass.

This cheese has intense flavor.  Lingot du Quercy has the familiar tanginess of goat cheese and also an intense sour flavor.  Its flavors are rich and linger.  Its texture is also exceptional: the dense paste is thick like peanut butter, while the gooey paste has a consistency similar to a triple cream cheese.

Read the rest of this entry »

Epoisses: A Cheese for Kings

November 18, 2010

Epoisses is a traditional French cheese that is said to have been loved by kings and Napoleon.  We, too, fell in love with this cheese’s flavor during our tasting.  However, its soupy consistency created a serving nightmare.

Epoisses is a soft, washed rind cheese from the Burgundy region of France.    There are several producers of Epoisses, with some using raw cow’s milk for production.  Our sample was produced by Berthaut.  The cheese’s finishing process occurs over several weeks: it receives repeated dips in a brine bath and a brandy called “marc de bourgogne.”  Epoisses comes to market pre-packaged in a wooden box.

EpoissesEpoisses is a flat disc the size of camembert.  It has a rusty orange rind that is grooved with lines and wrinkles; the rind is soft and gummy to the touch.  The interior paste is pale yellow and runny.  Jacob compared the texture of Epoisses to “ooblek,” a sticky goo kids make at summer camps.

Epoisses has a reputation as a super stinker, but our cheese was not foul.  Epoisses has an aroma that is close to a light foot odor, but there are also ammonia and wheat germ scents.  The paste smells like sweet butter and cream.

The dominant flavors are sour and tangy.  There is also a little nuttiness and an underlying sweet butter flavor.  In the mouth, the paste is thick, rich and creamy.  The flavors and texture are enticing.  Epoisses leaves a sour and tangy after-taste in the mouth.

Read the rest of this entry »

Chabis Feuille could settle for being just another tasty chevre from France, but this cheese pushes for distinction.  At the cheese shop, I was smitten by Chabis Feuille, a small goat cheese plug tucked coyly inside a darkened chestnut leaf.  I thought the leaf purely decorative, but we discovered that the leaf gives this cheese both beauty and flavor.

Chabis FeuilleChabis Feuille is a goat chevre from the Loire Valley region of France.  It is produced in small cylinders.  The cheese is wrapped in a chestnut leaf to aid its ripening.  The leaf darkens to brown as the cheese ages.

Chabis Feuille looks like an over-sized marshmallow tucked inside a leaf jacket.  The ivory paste is dense but not heavy.  The cheese has light hatching on its top surface.  Chabis Feuille looks dry and crumbly, but is actually soft, damp and pliable.  The cheese has a faint damp leaf scent, even after the leaf is removed.

Chabis Feuille has a tart flavor that is border-line puckering.  The paste is bright and lemony.  The leaf wrap adds an underlying sweet flavor to the cheese.  This sweet leaf flavor is similar to tea, without the bitterness; the most similar flavor we came up with is the grape leaf wrap on dolmas.  The sweet leaf flavor leaves a brief after-taste.  Chabis Feuille is light and velvety on the tongue.

We all liked Chabis Feuille during our tasting.  The chestnut leaf sets Chabis Feuille apart from the average chevre by adding an interesting flavor and beautiful presentation.  This is not an entry-level chevre, but one to try if seeking a twist on the familiar.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased Chabis Feuille at 24th Street Cheese Co. (San Francisco).  This cheese is purchased whole; our sample is about 5 oz.  The whole cheese could be cut into 4-6 servings.

St. Maure de Touraine is a cheese with bones.  This cheese has been in produced in the Loire Valley of France for over a thousand years.  St. Maure is still made using traditional methods and is one of the region’s “classic” chevre cheeses.  St. Maure is an easy cheese to fall in love with, even if one is not partial to chevre-style cheeses.

St. Maure is a semi-soft goat’s milk cheese.  It has an unusual appearance: St. Maure is produced in small logs about 6″ long and is covered in ash.  A narrow damp straw runs the length of the log through its center.  The straw helps to keep the cheese together and also aids the ripening process.

St.Maure de Touraine St. Maure looks like a charred marshmallow.  It has a cloud white interior, with an ash-gray rind.  The rind is more a thin skin–like a roasted marshmallow’s skin–that is easily separated from the interior’s denser paste.  St. Maure has a creamy layer just beneath the rind.   The central straw is easy to remove and leaves a small piercing.  To the touch, the rind feels delicate and dry; the paste feels like damp clay.

When St. Maure is first unwrapped, it has a strong odor of animals and barns.  This odor dissipates after a bit and is not offensive unless the cheese is held under the nose.

St. Maure has lightly sweet and tart flavors.  The paste is salty, but its overall profile is tart and tangy.  On the tongue, the paste is dense and creamy.

We loved this cheese.  My kids really enjoyed this cheese and fondly named it the “Lincoln log.”  This cheese is delicious.  St. Maure offers great flavor, an unusual appearance, and an interesting story.  This cheese is perfect for a party or dinner.

Purchase Notes:  We purchased St. Maure from Cheese Plus (San Francisco); it had just arrived in the store this week.  Our cheese sample may have been on the younger side of its ripeness; peak ripeness is between 4-6 weeks.  As the cheese ages, it becomes firmer.