Well, now that the holidays have come and gone we’re getting back to business here on C + C. We’re nearing the end of our quest to taste all 100 cheeses on the Wine Spectator list, and the remaining dozen or so cheeses have proven a little tricky to track down. Thankfully, Jill had the foresight to order a couple from Murray’s for us to sample together during her recent visit. [If you’ve never ordered cheese by mail from Murray’s, we highly recommend it. The cheeses arrived in perfect condition, neatly wrapped with the standard über-informational Murray’s labels.]

First up, Caruchon, made by Papillon, the renowned Roquefort producers in central France. This is a brined cheese with a colorful red specked rind that made me anticipate a more pungent flavor than we found upon tasting. At first glance you might mistake its dense, golden paste for Pont L’Eveque, though as Jill discovered a few months ago, Pont L’Eveque packs a much more pungent fragrance. Like Roquefort, Caruchon is a sheeps-milk cheese (though pasteurized), with the familiar oily mouthfeel and slightly sweet flavor that is reminiscent of a manchego.

Caruchon does possess a distinctive sheepy aroma, and the crisp rind is more mild than you might expect from a washed-rind cheese, notable more for its texture than its flavor. The paste likewise is mild, pleasantly rich and tasting of pure sheeps-milk. It’s a delightful cheese that might be a good gateway to washed-rind cheeses for your more skeptical friends. It certainly wouldn’t frighten anyone away from the cheese board. I’d probably pair this with a light, fruity red wine, but didn’t have a chance to test that this time around.

Morbier

I recently read an article (don’t ask me to remember where) that compared Morbier to Humboldt Fog. Naturally, I was intrigued since my love for the Fog is well-documented. But it turns out that the only thing the two cheeses have in common is the thin line of vegetable ash running through their centers. Otherwise, not so much. Humboldt Fog is a goat’s-milk cheese; Morbier is made from cow’s milk. Humboldt Fog is from California; Morbier is French. Humboldt Fog is amazing; Morbier is not.

I’m not saying Morbier is a bad cheese – it was perfectly pleasant enough with a soft, slightly rubbery interior and stinky but not-too-funky aroma. But the taste was so mild that my tastebuds said, “OK, next, please.” Maybe it’s because a leftover cheese – some producers, like Jean d’Alos, make it from the leftover curds from the Comte they also create. Morbier is the meatloaf while Comte is the steak.

But don’t cry for Morbier. It’s an innocent cheese just trying to make its way onto your cheeseboard. And since it’s so mild, it’s a good choice to serve if you don’t know how adventurous your guests are with cheese. Pair it with a Beaujolais, Gewurztraminer or Pinor Noir.

I guess it’s Old Europe week here on C+C, a brief interlude from our normal fall fare of cheddar, cheddar, and um, cheddar. Oh, and gouda. And washed rind stinkers. Okay, we love it all and we’ll eat it no matter the season. Today’s cheese was actually handed to me as I browsed in Whole Foods* last weekend. Thanks to the wonder of AT&T wireless coverage, I can’t use my iPhone in the store to access my handy “cheeses unsampled” list while I shop, so I didn’t even realize until I left the store that this was, in fact, one of the ones left on our list. A second trip to the store later, and I brought home this cute little package of tangy French goodness.

A classic cheese from France’s Alsace region, Grès des Vosges is technically a washed-rind though it is much less pungent than you might expect. It has the familiar yeasty fragrance, but a milder bite. It is rich and silky, like a good triple-cream turned deliciously sour. You’ll want to keep the accompaniments on the lighter side — think fresh fruit — so as not to overwhelm its flavors. Janet Fletcher suggests one of the “spicy, racy whites of Alsace, such as Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris.”

*I don’t know if there’s a connection, but it seems that cheeses Janet Fletcher writes about find their way into Whole Foods soon thereafter. First there was Quadrello di bufala, now Grès des Vosges

A cheese that comes snuggly tucked in its own crock has to be good, right? That was my assumption when I picked up this cute little cow’s-milk cheese at Surdyk’s last week. Though St. Marcellin doens’t fit into our goat-cheese theme, it is a fine cheese to include on your cheeseboard any time of the year.

St. Marcellin is produced in the Rhône-Alpes region of France, which is in the southeastern part of the country – an area known for fabulous food. If you travel there, you’d likely find a raw-milk version of St. Marcellin, but here in the United States, we have to make do with the pasteurized variety, which isn’t really a sacrifice because the cheese is so damn good. Ignoring the rule that you should let a cheese sit at room temperature for one hour before eating it, I let my St. Marcellin sit out for three hours (a.k.a. dinnertime and two episodes of “Mad Men”). By then, the paste was a puddle of ooey-gooey deliciousness, just the way I like it. It was more practical to eat it with a spoon than with a knife at that point.

The taste wasn’t unlike Chaource – a creamy, slightly mushroomy blend of flavors. It had the decadence of a special-occasion cheese, but I never save cheese for special occasions – a Tuesday night is a good enough reason for me! And the three-ounce size almost makes it guilt-free – you know you can’t overdo it because it’s not a large wedge of cheese. If you enjoy St. Marcellin with a glass of a heart-friendly red wine, like a Syrah or a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, you could even consider it a healthy snack.

It’s National Goat Cheese Month and we’re determined to celebrate it to the fullest here at Cheese+Champagne. We’ve already sampled most of the American goat cheeses on our list, though, so this week I found a French cheese from the list, the Jacquin Aged Crottin. For comparison’s sake — and because I suspect National Goat Cheese Month was designed to promote American cheeses — I also picked up Vermont Butter & Cheese‘s fresh crottin.

Fromagerie Jacquin‘s Aged Crottin is a product of the Loire Valley, where the traditional young goat’s milk cheese recipes (Crottin, Selles sur Cher, Valencay) must be adapted to use pasteurized milk in order to meet the FDA’s import requirements. There’s an interesting tidbit at Artisanal about their work transporting and finishing the cheeses to maintain raw-milk characteristics in these deceptively complex cheeses. The aged crottin is a dense little dimpled ball of goats-milk that loses its goaty tang to mellow with age; firm and a little bit gamey, it has a buttery rich flavor.

The Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. crottin is younger, and I ironically got it for free at my cheese shop as they had too many on hand and find them hard to sell when they begin to age and look “like a real crottin.” It is softer, creamier, a little floral in flavor and still retains more of that tangy goat flavor you would expect from a young goat cheese. The company also make an aged version called Bijou that may be more similar to the Jacquin; I will be sure to keep an eye out for it and give it a try. (If you’re not familiar with Vermont Butter & Cheese, they were some of the pioneers of the Vermont cheese industry, launching a French-inspired goat cheese business in 1984 that now supports more than 20 family dairy farms around the state. They just won awards at ACS for their fresh goat cheese, fromage blanc and butters.)

These cute little doorknob-sized cheeses are perfect for summer entertaining. I made a late afternoon cheese board of the two, a bright citrusy Salumi Agrumi, and a fig-olive tapenade whose sweet-salty tango was perfect with the mildly tangy crottins. Fromagerie Jacquin suggests a Sancerre or “rouge corsé” with the aged crottin; I enjoyed it with a Virginia Petit Verdot from North Gate.

P.S. I found the Jacquin aged crottin at the Italian Store in Arlington, Va.

Colleen and I ate a lot of goat’s-milk cheese while we were in New York, and one of our favorites was Chabichou du Poitou. We picked it up at Murray’s and enjoyed it in the nearby park where we staged our outdoor cheese photo shoot. Remember, this was Pride weekend, so a cheese photo shoot was likely the least unusual sighting in New York that day.

A relatively young cheese (aged six weeks), Chabichou must be made from pasteurized milk to be imported to the United States, and I can’t say the pasteurization detracted from its taste. Though it had the typically goaty smell, the paste wasn’t too goaty. Instead, it was firm and chalky with notes of flowers and grass. Chabichou is AOC-protected, which guarantees that the cheese you by with this name will have come from the Poitou region of France. It’s a good cheese to seek out if you don’t think you like goat cheese – its clean flavor may convert you!

Of course, wines from nearby Loire Valley would make an excellent match for Chabichou. Artisanal recommends Pouilly-Fume, Sancerre, Muscadet and Sauvignon Blanc. The more the cheese matures, however, the more likely it would pair well with a red wine.

My cheese of the week likely needs no introduction, but just in case the name doesn’t ring a bell I will mention that its namesake is none other than Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, perhaps one of history’s most influential foodies. (Okay, “epicures,” if you prefer.) A French lawyer who fled to the United States during the Revolution, he penned “The Physiology of Taste” in 1825 which contained the words that have most recently become the sustainable food movement’s rallying cry: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” 

Brillat-Savarin is also credited with being one of the first low-carb dieters, so one assumes he would be honored to have a protein-rich, creamy French cheese named in his honor. Brillat-Savarin the cheese is a pasteurized cows-milk triple-creme brie-style specimen produced in Normandy. It is decadent indeed, delightfully creamy, with a bloomy natural rind. It is a touch more sour than your typical brie, with that subtle tang you’d find in the white parts of a bleu cheese. Best eaten with a spoon, or slathered over a nice fruit-studded bread. It is an ideal partner for a nice glass of French champagne*, if you’re so inclined.

*Speaking of celebrations, we’ve noted elsewhere but neglected to mention here the official cease-fire in the Roquefort wars. Americans can continue to enjoy Roquefort, Iberico ham and Pellegrino for the foreseeable future. Vive le Roquefort!