Starting early 1990’s well-travelled professionals, the baby boomer generation developed an unprecedented interest in cheeses and were inquisitive enough to research in an attempt to understand the difference between a cheese made from un-pasteurized milk and one from raw milk.
Although per capita cheese consumption in Canada has remained relatively stable with approximately 8 kilograms, the quality of cheese consumed is now infinitely better than even five years ago.
Specialty cheese consumption is increasing constantly and some restaurants even offer menus of exotic cheeses.
Camembert, long considered to be the queen of French cheeses, is easy to find in France, very difficult outside of the country. This is mainly due to the very delicacy of Camembert and inevitable transportation problems associated with exports.
French love cream cheeses, and consume close to two thousand metric tons annually. In most cases, cheese in general, and Camembert in particular, is consumed with the remainder of crusty baguette after the salad course (French eat salad after the main course), and washed down with the last glass of wine.
Sadly, most French Camembert exported originates in factories, using pasteurized milk and which makes it more or less indistinguishable from its imitations from other countries and regions.
If you visit France and stay in Paris for a few days, seek out a cheese monger and ask for a Camembert made from un-pasteurized milk to determine the difference. It will be a revelation.
Camembert is s mall Normandy town tucked in Pays d’Auge boasting luscious pastures that feed contented cows. The pastures of Pays d’Auge and the strain of cows combined, yield the milk with unsurpassed taste for cheese and butter. No self-respecting French chef will be caught using anything but Normandy butter in his cuisine except those from the Mediterranean where olive oil rules.
Punt l’Eveque and Livarot are two newer Pays’d’Auge cheeses you should explore, particularly when enjoying a glass of Calvados, the famous apple brandy of the region.
In the small town of Vimontiers, Marie Harel’s, thousands visit the statue of the inventor of Camembert. She lived (1781 –1855), and according to historical records invented the cheese around the turn of the century, although historians point out that a similar cheese existed when William The Conqueror crossed the Chanell. At the very least, Marie Harel must have improved it and standardized the recipe.
Camembert is a little, sleepy town today, with no production. A few kilometres outside Monsieur and Madame Delorme still produce raw milk Camembert according to the traditional recipe, and following artisanal techniques.
To cow’s milk rennet is added and the mixture heated until it curdles. Then the mixture is ladled into bottomless cylinders standing on straw mats for teh whey to drain. Slat is added. Three days later, Camembert forms are dredged in bacteria to induce crust development. Finally the cheese is aged about 20 days in a humid cellar. Camembert crust can be eaten and tastes delicious.
The “Veritable Camembert Fermiere “ is dryer and fruitier than its much moister, manufactured counterpart. The real Camembert marries best with Normandy butter and fresh baguette. Once you have tasted the original you will never be satisfied with lesser cheeses!
Gorgonzola, a creamy, “heavenly” cheese, is produced in Lombardy, Italy. Italians excel in hard cheese production; Gorgonzola and Mascarpone represent exceptions. Italian “cheese genius” has never bothered much with inventing soft chesses, but these two and torta di mascarpone stand out.
Gorgonzola is blue veined cheese produced from cow’s milk grazing the lush meadows of Lombardy. It is a strong, very creamy, distinctively moldy and salty with a delicious and intense flavour. It can be used in sauces, flat pastas, may be enjoyed on its own and goes well with pears.
Galbani’s Gorgonzola and Torta di mascarpone are highly recommended.
Mascarpone on the other hand, is a very creamy and buttery cheese that contains up to 70 per cent fat. It is highly perishable and must be air-freighted to distant markets, thus commanding high price. Mascarpone is best enjoyed on a neutral tasting cracker.
Mascarpone is a heavenly smooth, rich, nutty and mild cheese that represents an unforgettable gustatory experience.
Surprisingly it is tira mi su, the now wildly popular cake that made Mascarpone famous. This cake made expertly and without cutting corners can be heavenly.
But buyers must be aware of non-Italian Mascarpone. They are much less expensive but also unworthy of consideration.
When purchasing cheese, and cheese, patronize a well-established monger, taste the product if possible, and then make a decision.
Toronto has many cheese mongers, choose one after visiting several and tasting their products and studying their prices and level of service.