What separates the cheese freaks (like myself) from mere cheese lovers or cheese admirers? A subscription to Culture magazine. A willingness to spend $20 or more each week on cheese. And use of the following words when describing cheese: “beautiful,” “mind-blowing,” “irresistibly charming.”

All those phrases are apt for my second featured cheese of the week, Tome d’Aquitaine. Also known as Clisson, this French goat’s-milk cheese takes cheese worship to a whole new level. Its paste is light, floral and salty, with a smoothness that makes it easy to inhale. During the dog days of August, Tome d’Aquitaine is a breath of fresh air – perhaps a breeze blowing off the Atlantic. I don’t meant to get all poetic – it’s just that good.

Tome d’Aquitaine is another example of how cheesemakers can work in tandem to create tantalizing cheeses that neither could fully develop on its own (see Clothbound Cheddar, Cabot and Jasper Hill, and Grafton and Faribault Dairy). This cheese begins its journey in the Loire Valley (a premier goat-cheese-producing region) at the Union Laitiere de la Venise Verte, a dairy cooperative that produces cheese, butter and baby formula. Later on the wheels of Tome d’Aquitaine travel to Bordeaux, where renowned affineur Jean d’Alos washes the rind in brine and Sauternes. The result – total cheese bliss. Serve it up with a dry white wine, like a Muscadet from the Loire Valley.

Psst…this cheese also makes a great birthday gift, and I’d share it with a certain birthday girl today if we didn’t live 1,000 miles apart. Happy birthday, Colleen!

Advertisements

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 love of ooey-gooey soft-rind cheeses has already been well-documented. I love Chaource, I love Mt. Tam, I love any cheese that oozes from its soft shell. So why in the world did I not discover Le Chevrot until this week?

A pasteurized goat’s-milk cheese from France, Le Chevrot is very comparable to Chaource, even though the latter is a cow’s-milk cheese. I found them to be very similar in texture, and the taste, while not identical, wasn’t too far off. Le Chevrot didn’t taste at all like the clean-tasting Loire Valley cheese I sampled last week, but it didn’t have a strong goaty factor, either. Instead, I got a mouthful of creamy, runny deliciousness that I’ve been missing from my recently reviewed cheeses. Yum.

Sauvignon blanc is an oft-mentioned pairing for Le Chevrot, but I think most white wines would be a good match. Even though it doesn’t come from the Champagne region of France, I’d try it with some bubbly, too.

And if you’ll be consuming Le Chevrot yourself, look for the mini variety – I found mine at Surdyk’s – which is only 2.8 oz compared to the usual 6-8 oz. full-size disk. Of course, if you find it to be as delectable as I do, you may need to go for the super-size version.

Selles-sur-Cher is a sweet little button of goat cheese made in the heart of France’s Loire Valley. Named for the town from which it originated, this plucky cheese actually bigger than a button (it’s about 3 in. across), but its petite flavor gives it a smaller footprint on your tastebuds.

The blueish exterior of Sulles-sur-Cher may turn off French chèvre novices, but rest assured that it’s just a coating of vegetable ash, a common feature among Loire Valley goat’s-milk cheeses. The rind is edible, unless the cheese is aged considerably, but my portion was perfectly young and fresh. I enjoyed the clean, almost floral taste of Selles-sur-Cher – during a week when the snow is melting and the temperature starts to rise, it seemed to be the ideal cheese for welcoming spring. (Watch, I just jinxed Minnesota – we’ll have a blizzard next week.) You’ll only find pasteurized versions of Selles-sur-Cher in the United States, but my cheesemonger Benjamin at the Cheese Shop at France 44 assured me that it’s still quite tasty. Until I make it back to France, I’ll have to take his word for it.

Steven Jenkins recommends serving Selles-sur-Cher with sweet fruits, such as citrus and melon. I sampled mine with some canteloupe and found the pairing to be pleasant, though I also liked just slicing off small wedges while standing at the counter. He suggests a white Sancerre for a wine, while Artisanal Cheese recommends Sauvignon Blanc. I could even see a match with a sweeter white, like Muscat, but I haven’t tested that theory yet. Experiment on your own and let us know!