As the holidays approach, we turn this week to a pair of classic, decadent European cheeses that are ideal for your party cheese platters. In the food world, it’s hard to match the sense of history behind Europe’s fine cheeses, many of which are still hand-made according to centuries-old techniques. Today’s pick is Chaource, a soft-ripened cow’s milk cheese that has been produced in France since medieval times. The Lincet family, producers of the Chaource most readily found in the US, have been in the cheese business for five generations. Chaource takes its name from a village of the same name in France’s Champagne region, and is AOC-protected, which guarantees both that the milk comes from the designated region and that the cheese is made according to strict, specific production guidelines. 

Chaource comes in a petite round, easily distinguished in the cheese case by its wooden wrapper. Like last week’s Humboldt Fog, Chaource ripens from the outside in, so when you allow the cheese to stand at room temperature before serving, you can expect a runny, gooey layer to pull away from the firmer interior when you slice into it. The soft rind with a tangy, yeasty flavor is enjoyable, but the “goop” is the highlight in my opinion. While not aggressively stinky, the cheese has a light pungency reminiscent of earthy mushrooms.

You can serve Chaource spread on thinly-sliced baguette, but if you’re like me, you may be tempted to skip the accompaniment and dig in with a spoon. For a more civilized presentation, serve with an assortment of dried fruits and nuts, which alternately bring out the sweet and salty notes of this cheese.

Generally, I follow the experts’ advice and pair cheeses with beverages from the same region, and Chaource and champagne are a match made in heaven. Champagne is an ideal pairing for rich, creamy cheeses as the bubbles cut through the butter-fat to refresh the palate. But for an unexpected, more irreverent twist at your holiday party, try a Belgian beer. While I love beer and cheese together, I am not a hops expert, so I delegated the pairing to my husband and a beer-aficionado friend who collaborated to bring us a Lindeman’s Peche (Peach) Lambic. This fruity, tart and fizzy beer was a nice complement to the sweet, yeasty flavors in the cheese.  

While you may expect a French AOC cheese to be pricey, Chaource is actually one of the more affordable options at under $10. It is fairly easy to find at gourmet shops, Whole Foods or through on-line sources. Check back on Thursday for another decadent French cheese review, and stay tuned for more holiday entertaining tips!