I recently received a tempting tasting basket of European cheeses. The Cheeses of Europe marketing campaign, orchestrated by CNIEL (the apex organization of the French dairy industry) and partly funded by the European Union, was designed to raise awareness of the variety of European cheeses available on the American market and to share ideas that help American consumers incorporate these cheeses into their food, recipes and lifestyles.
I had the chance to spend an hour by phone with Charles Duque, editorial director of the French dairy commission. While we were talking, he provided a wealth of information that I want to share with all of you.
Here are some helpful tips to remember when planning your own cheese tasting party. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone to try new types of cheese. If you are overwhelmed by the dozens of different varieties when you enter a cheese factory, don’t worry. The cheese maker will assist you. Everyone has their own preferences for soft versus hard and sweet to spicy. Ask for sample tastes and start building your own custom cheese board.
When shopping, look for cheeses packaged “in store” versus those packaged in shrink wrap. The store packaging shows that the individual cheese blocks were recently cut into a larger cheese wheel, which equates to freshness.
On a cheese platter, the French generally serve an odd number of cheeses, such as three, five or seven varieties. It is also useful to provide a range of styles (goat, sheep, cow), textures and colors. Offer fresh and dried fruit, a selection of nuts, crackers, pieces of bread, olives, honey and jams alongside the cheeses.
Always start with the softest cheese and continue through the different types until you reach the strongest. Remove your selections from the refrigerator up to one hour before serving. This allows the flavors to develop and will provide an authentic representation of the cheese.
I also included several recipes featuring the cheeses I sampled. These recipes and many more can be found on cheesesofeurope.com.
The origin of this soft but decadent triple cream cheese is found in the Burgundy region of Île-de-France, France. It was named for the gourmet Jean Brillat-Savarin, who is famous for this quote, “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” If that’s true, my name is Lolly Cheese Lover. This cheese contains 75% fat, which gives an incredibly buttery, smooth and sweet flavor. It is soft-ripened and aged 1 to 2 weeks or up to 2 months. Brillat-Savarin has an edible, flowery white rind. Spread this creamy cheese on bread or crackers and taste it with champagne for a perfect first dish. Champagne bubbles will purify your palate. Brillat-Savarin can be served with savory accompaniments (such as an olive tapenade) or sweet garnishes (for example, raspberry jam). For an elegant final touch, garnish with truffle shavings. To transform this delicacy into a dessert, add a light drizzle of honey.
TRIPLE CREAM OF CREAM
• French butter
• 2 slices of brioche bread
• 1/4 pound triple cream (like Brillat Savarin)
• 6 fresh strawberries
• 1 branch of fresh basil
• 1 tablespoon balsamic glaze
Butter the front and back of the two pieces of bread. In a large skillet, lightly grill the first sides over low heat, then turn. On one side, add slices of triple cream and let melt. Before serving, add slices of fresh strawberries and basil and garnish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Cover and press with the second piece of toasted brioche and serve.
Brie, king of cheeses, is one of the best known cheeses in France. Its origin is in Île-de-France, France. He is at least four weeks old. Its soft and creamy texture, its mellow flavor and its rich aroma make it a pleasure for bread and crackers or melted in an omelet. Yes, the crust is edible! The soft crust adds an interesting texture to each bite. Do not neglect to eat the crust with the creamy inner dough. Savor Brie with light and fruity red wines like Beaujolais or crisp whites.
Brie and fresh herb pie
• 1 puff pastry
• 1/2 bunch of chives
• 11 ounces of brie
• 3 eggs
• 1 1/4 cup of cream
• 6 ounces of semi-skimmed milk
• 2 tablespoons of shelled nuts
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out the puff pastry and place it in a pie pan. Use a fork to prick the bottom and edges. Set aside the crust while you prepare the filling.
Wash and chop the chives. Remove the brie crust and cut the cheese into strips. In a large bowl, break the eggs and whisk until well blended. Add cream, milk and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Arrange the Brie slices on the dough, add the nuts, chives and pour over the egg mixture.
Bake for 40 minutes. Serve hot with a mixed greens salad.
Camembert has its origin in Normandy outside Paris. Camembert has a distinct taste due to the winds blowing over the Channel. The salty sea winds blow on the grass eaten by the cows, which accentuates the milk, which scents the cheese! The flavor profile of this cheese is an earthy taste of wild mushrooms and slightly salty. The texture blends into the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich. Sprinkled with a white mold and covered with very light brown stripes, Camembert is the quintessential French cheese. This butter cheese is generally a little more flavorful than brie. Camembert goes well with a light red or fruity sweet white wine or a light cider.
POTATO AND POTATO GRATIN WITH CAMEMBERT
• 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
• 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove of garlic, minced
• 1 cup chopped cauliflower
• 1 cup of whole milk
• 4 ounces of camembert with crust, cubed
• Sea salt and pepper to taste
• 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
• 1 1/2 pounds of baking potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
• 4 ounces of bacon, diced
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, then add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add the chopped cauliflower and continue to stir for about 5 to 6 minutes.
Pour the milk and simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the camembert cubes and continue to stir until they are melted. Season with salt and pepper, add the chopped parsley and remove from the heat.
While the cheese sauce cools, layer the potato slices in an 11 inch baking dish. Pour the cheese mixture over the potatoes and level with a spoon. Distribute the bacon pieces evenly over the gratin.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
Uncover and raise the temperature to 400 degrees F. and cook an additional 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown on top.
Mimolette is originally from Pas-de-Calais, France. Mimolette is a hard cheese with a bright orange color that makes it the center of any cheese platter. Think of it as Cheddar with a French accent. The coloring is derived from a natural dye called annatto. The cheese is aged in caves up to 24 months. It is shaped like a ball about 8 inches in diameter. The crust is very unique with a crisp, brownish color that is pitted and punched almost like a cantaloupe crust. Where do the pits come from? Remember that the cheese is aged in caves. Inside these caves, there are mites that bury themselves in the crust to let the right amount of air into the cheese. Make sure to cut the rind of this cheese before eating! The lively, nutty and fruity taste of Mimolette includes sweet notes of Scottish caramel. For a luxury of macaroni and homemade cheese, use the grated Mimolette. Try the Mimolette with a rustic red wine or a Belgian triple, bock, porter or stout.
CARROT VELOUTE WITH MIMOLETTE
(Served hot or cold)
• 1 1/3 tablespoons salted butter
• 3 1/3 pounds of orange and purple carrots
• 2 red onions, thinly sliced
• 3 cups of water
• 1/2 cup organic apple juice
• Orange juice
• 3 sprigs of chives
• 3 1/3 tablespoons grated Mimolette
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Wash and peel the carrots. Cut them into 1/2 inch slices.
Peel the onions and chop them.
In a Dutch oven, melt the butter and sauté the carrots and onions for about 5 minutes.
Pour the water over the vegetables, season and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the carrots and onions from the cooking liquid and add them to a blender. Add a little cooking water, apple juice and orange juice. Mix until smooth.
Pour the mashed soup into the Dutch oven, adding a little cooking liquid to adjust the consistency and allow it to warm up. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Serve the soup in bowls, finishing with chopped chives and grated mimolette.
Blue cheese has a reputation for eating or hating flavor. There does not seem to be an intermediary.
Rich, crumbly and moist, Roquefort is known as the king of the blues and is originally from Midi-Pyrénées, in France. The cheese is aged in the caves of Mont Combalou for 3 months to 9 months and has a balanced, tasty and salty flavor that is amazing on its own or as an accent in salads.
For a perfect end to a summer meal, serve Roquefort with nuts and figs, especially with a sweet dessert wine. It goes perfectly with rosemary crackers. Here’s a tip: if you think you don’t care about blue cheese, add a drop of honey to the bite you are about to taste. The sweetness of the honey will tame the spiciness of the cheese.
If you are wondering, I honestly cannot choose a favorite from the cheeses I have received. They are each delicious in their own way. If you want to know more about European cheeses, visit this website: cheesesofeurope.com. You will find a wealth of information and recipes.
Laura Tolbert, also known as Fleur de Lolly, has been sharing recipes, table decorating ideas and tips for fellow gourmets and novices on her blog, fleurdelolly.blogspot.com, for more than eight years. She won the Duke’s Mayonnaise 100th Anniversary national recipe competition for her Alabama white barbecue sauce. You can contact her on facebook.com/fleurde.lolly.5, on Instagram and at [email protected]