Well, I don’t suppose any of you thought I’d let another opportunity to talk about food pass me by. Especially cheese of the ‘akin to socks worn for ten days with trainers and athletes foot’ variety. I am nothing if not predictable.
To get to the kitchen from the bedroom in our apartment, one has to cross the living room, walk down a corridor, and turn to the left. It is 45 fairy steps from bed to fridge (I just checked – the Frog thinks it’s still the drugs). However when the Frog opens the fridge door, I can distinguish from my bed whether there is an unpasteurised Camembert Le Rustique skulking in there. Or perhaps a couple of goats cheeses lurking out of sight. The little egg shaped plastic thing which also lives in the fridge and claims to neutralise all forms of pong, whiff and odour remains powerless against the pungency of these cheeses. Emprisoning the cheese in a tupperware container works, but creates a ticking time bomb: it is advisable to wear goggles/nose-peg when you decide to liberate the contents.
The cheeses mentioned above are freely available in our local Franprix supermarket. Kept refrigerated, and securely wrapped in clingfilm. In a proper cheese shop, or at an outdoor market they are just sprawled out on a counter, and ooze merrily in all directions. I would probably be able to smell those in my fridge if I was collecting the post from my letterbox five storeys below.
Coming from a family of mild white (or red) Cheddar eaters, who might also treat themselves to a slab of Wensleydale with their Christmas cake, I think my palate has made considerable progress since living in France. It has been more of a slow progression than a sudden epiphany. First I learnt to appreciate cheeses similar to English and Dutch cheeses with which I was already familiar, like Cantal, Emmental and Swiss Gruyère. Later I was introduced to proper non-pasteurised Brie and Camembert during my year in Normandy. The family I stayed with had their cheeses on a platter in a cupboard, never in the fridge, and it all looked worse for wear when it emerged at mealtimes, tough outer crusts with lots of messy oozing in the middle. But once I got past the offputting pong and appearance there were some surprises in store. (Sometimes blocking my nose and letting my tastebuds continue unbiased helped.)
Traveling around France has also been a source of inspiration. On my regular trips to the Jura I have been initiated to regional cheeses: runny garlicy Cancaillotte, made in a factory where Mr Frog once had a holiday job, Morbier, Mont d’Or, nutty earthy Comté. I’m now also very partial to ewes milk cheese from the Basque region (Ossau Irraty, Etorki), and Brocciu from Corsica.
I do have my limits though. Green veined Roquefort I can handle. But anything which has a layer of festering mould on the outer skin, or that ressembles a sheeps dropping someone found at the back of the barn several months later is unlikely to meet with an enthusiastic response, no matter how good the glass of red that accompanies it. A cheese with worms crawling inside it is not making it onto my plate. (I didn’t make that up – read ‘Almost French‘.) I’m not much good when faced with washed rind cheeses. I just can’t get past the odour of the rind, I don’t care how good the innards are supposed to taste. So I don’t think the Vieux Boulogne (the cheese with the title ‘smelliest cheese’ was bestowed upon) would be my cup of tea.
Extract from the Guardian article by Patrick Barkham, “Smelliest Cheese Honour”, 26/11/04:
“The odour of rotting vegetables and the scent of a goat on heat wafted down Farringdon Road a full five minutes before the cheese strolled in the door. “It’s gone to the post room,” said the man in the courier hut. “It was smelling the place out.”
Unwrapped from its plastic covering the Vieux Boulogne sent an aroma of six-week-old earwax floating through the Guardian’s offices. From a safe distance of 50 metres, the cheese emitted a pleasant eau de farmyard, replete with dung and Barbour jackets. Close up, its firm orange flesh, flecked with a delicate mould, recalled varnish.”
However I might be willing to sample it for a price, especially as it is described as ‘a cure for winter colds’. How about I add a paypal button and when the price is right, I’ll broadcast the Vieux Bologne sampling fest via webcam?
I feel I have to warn you though, it might end up looking like the Jackass egg eating competition.