PARIS: Cheese is making a delicious comeback in gastronomic circles. From glorious dishes of pasta served in cheese wheels, to fresh takes on the traditional Swiss raclette — a dish of melted Alpine cheese over vegetables or charcuterie — cheesy creations are taking over social media sites and have international foodies drooling. But when it comes to serving cheese in our own homes, we often resort to tried, tested and admittedly boring staples.
So the next time you wish to impress discerning guests with a sophisticated cheese board worthy of a Michelin-star restaurant, ditch the cheddar and take the advice of experts at the Isigny Ste Mere production facility in Normandy.
The dairy cooperative is famous for its cream, cheese and butter, and is located in the dairy heartland of France, known for its rolling green pastures and herds of wandering cows. Arab News toured the facility to find out more about how the cheese is made and how it is best served.
Normandy is widely celebrated as the dairy capital of both France and Europe, and boasts a clutch of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) cheeses, a status that is awarded by the EU and is only achieved when cheese is made the traditional way using top-quality ingredients sourced from farms in a particular area.
So if you are a cheese lover and want to learn more, read on for a guide on which cheeses to serve up at your next soiree. If you wish to host the ultimate cheese-tasting party, a top tip is to cleanse your palette with water, bread or a sweet apple between cheeses, according to award-winning cheese-monger Francois Robin, who is one of only 22 “Meilleurs Ouvrier de France” in the cheese category.
Perfect for dipping, camembert is a popular pre-dinner snack, and can be baked in the oven until it is gooey and hot. Simply pierce the top of the cheese with a sharp knife and slide pieces of garlic and thyme into the small slits. Place the cheese on a baking tray in its box and drizzle over with olive oil, cook at 200 degrees Fahrenheit until the center is perfectly melted, and scoop up the cheese with vegetable sticks on crackers.
At the Isigny Ste Mere facility, the unpasteurized milk that goes on to become PDO Normandy camembert is heated in vats and then seeded with lactic cultures and rennet. The rennet curdles the milk before the molds are filled, layer by layer, by hand or with a mechanical ladle, in a humid room beset with a maze of pipes. Each layer rests for 45 minutes before the next layer is added, ensuring the cheese is supple.
The camembert is then salted and put to rest in a well-ventilated, cold room called a hâloir, where it ripens for 12 days. It is then packed into wooden boxes and continues to ripen, with four weeks considered the full ripening period for a round of camembert. At this stage, it is gooey and creamy all the way through, as opposed to the chalky centers of a camembert that has only ripened for two weeks.
Pont l’evèque is a subtle, soft rind cheese that matches perfectly with camembert, but can be differentiated due to its square shape. You will notice a faint whiff of hazelnuts when you enjoy this particular cheese, best served with dried figs and freshly made bread.
It is one of the oldest French cheeses still in production, and can be traced back to the 12th century, when it was called d’Angelot. In the 17th century, the name was changed to reflect the village in which it was made, Pont l’Evèque in Normandy.
At the Isigny Ste Mere facility, which produces a PDO pont l’evèque, milk is heated and rennet is added to coagulate it before the curd is cut and the whey is drained off. The product is left in molds for four days and salted on the fifth, before being washed in salt water on the seventh day. The cheese is then left to ripen in the hâloir for anywhere between 13 days and six weeks.
If you are looking to liven up your cheese board with a wild card, a strong, hardy mimolette is the way to go. This cannonball-like hard cheese is a shocking orange color and has a sweet, almost caramelized taste with a fudgy finish.
The electric color is due to the use of fruit from the Central American anatto tree in the production process. The hue was chosen by King Louis XIV in the 18th century to distinguish French cheeses from Dutch products, according to the Isigny Ste Mere tour guide. This cheese is best served with date syrup and fresh bread or a sweet onion relish, and can also be sprinkled over a green salad.
The mimolette at Isigny Ste Mere, which was awarded the coveted label rouge sticker signifying high quality, is made with milk that is then heated and seeded with lactic cultures to develop the flavor. Rennet is added, followed by a natural coloring agent from the anatto fruit. The resulting curd is cut, allowing the whey to drain off, and then pressed and cut into cubes. After this, it is placed into cloth-lined molds before being pressed for a second time.
At this stage, the cheese takes on its distinct final spherical shape, and is placed in a saline bath for 72 hours before it heads to the curing chamber, where it develops a thin layer of mold. This cheese is not for the fainthearted, as the fine coat of mold is typically burrowed into by cheese mites. These creatures take off the layer of mold and give the cheese its finished look.