Say ‘oui’ to French cheese

Close encounters of the curd kind. ― Picture courtesy of Saint Pierre/TODAY
Close encounters of the curd kind. ― Picture courtesy of Saint Pierre/TODAY

SINGAPORE, Nov 12 — Few things are as delectably French as fine cheese, which explains why gourmands everywhere are constantly enamoured by the celebrated varieties — whether you prefer your cheese hard or soft, or made from cow’s, goat’s or ewe’s milk.

Their names are also as recognisable as France’s national landmarks — be it a Le Chatelain camembert or brie, the unmistakable roquefort, a simple chevre from The Loire Valley, or the perennially popular semi-hard comte from the east of the country.

But how do we enjoy this decadent produce? First, by looking at where it came from.

Every territory has a distinctive way of producing cheese, said Etienne Verdier, assistant restaurant manager of Saint Pierre Restaurant, who rarely had cheese from another country when growing up. “For example, Rocamadour, a city in the southwest of France, is famous for its goat cheese — (called) cabecou,” he explained, pointing out how the region is particularly suited to the rearing of goats. It is a soft cheese that is also easily recognised by its size, which he described as only slightly larger than a macaron.

Like many varieties of cheese, cabecou from Rocamadour is available in spring, summer and autumn. But the seasons, Verdier stressed, also puts the spotlight on the aged varieties and their unique qualities. Autumn, for example, is the season to enjoy hard cheese made in spring, such as comte, beaufort, abondance from the Alps, cantal and salers from Auvergne, which he shared uses milk from cows that have enjoyed the fresh green grass of spring. He also recommended the ossau iraty, made from sheep’s milk.

“The absolute favourite among our guests and colleagues has got to be the aged Comte Grande Garde,” said Lee Jia Ling, assistant restaurant manager at two-Michelin-starred Odette. She added that while the popular cheese is available at most leading grocery stores, it is the ageing process that makes good comte truly exceptional. “Young comte has a semi-hard texture and is slightly acidic. As it ages, salt crystals form in the cheese, which gives added texture.”

Diners, she continued, often mistake the salt crystals for sugar as the cheese has a unique sweetness at about 36 months of age. “Diners who do not generally enjoy cheese, find the flavour profile of comte especially appealing,” she said. Quality aged comte from Alleosse, she added, can also be found at Culina, a purveyor of epicurean foods.

Such cheeses, Verdier added, are also great to have before moving on to a selection of soft winter cheese such as the Mont D’or, Brie de Meaux and Pont l’Eveque. He explained that the milk produced in winter is high in fat, which is important to the cheeses’ rich and creamy texture. One of his recommended places to shop for such varieties is Le Petite Boutique, a modest fine-food store in Serangoon Gardens that reminds him of the cheese shops in his home town of Prayssac in the south of France.

Of course, there are also lesser-known alternatives that share the spotlight this season. “While many people have tasted soft and crumbly blue cheese, not many are familiar with hard blue cheese,” said Lee. “We currently serve a fourme fermiere, a hard blue cheese with a flavour profile that can be described as an aged fourme d’Ambert.

“Its flavour is light and delicate, compared to other blue cheese like roquefort, yet it boasts the unique nuttiness of matured cheese.” Coincidently, this cheese is native to Auvergne where Odette’s Chef Julien Royer is from.

“One of my favourites of the season has got to be Vacherin Mont d’Or,” she added. “Produced in autumn, this creamy, soft cow’s milk cheese is typically aged in spruce boxes for at least three weeks, giving the cheese its unique woody flavour.”

It is available pasteurised or unpasteurised, with the latter boasting a richer, robust flavour. “When ripened, the cheese may be baked with aromatics or enjoyed right out of the box,” Lee shared, adding that one can find it alongside a selection of French cheeses at The Providore at PasarBella The Grandstand. “La Fromagerie also sells an incredible selection of cheese which may be purchased online,” she added.

It is no surprise that the Mont d’Or is one of the best cheeses to have right about now. “Vacherin Mont d’Or is in season, and it is one of our top-selling cheeses,” affirmed Oliver Sutton, chief fromager at The Cheese Artisans on Greenwood Avenue, which boasts the island’s first cheese-maturing rooms. “It is made in the Jura region (with raw cow’s milk) and is only available from September through to March/April.

“When young, it has a voluptuously creamy texture. As it matures, the flavour develops and the texture becomes incredibly creamy.”

Another beauty that is currently in season is the beaufort ete Vieux from Savoie (in the French Alps), which Sutton describes as a rising star. “The ancient hard mountain cheese is made in the French Alps from raw cow’s milk,” he explained, emphasising its creamy and spicy flavour, and famously long-lasting finish. “In fact, we like to call it a ‘20 mile cheese’ as the flavour lingers for 20 miles down the road.”

Of course, if you’re pairing it with some wine, we recommend you find a seat somewhere comfortable. ― TODAY

Related Articles