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March 8, 2013 7:35 pm
Although the finest Comté is unrivalled for its vivid fruitiness, so much of it is mundane that Beaufort is often a better Alpine bet. Magnificent in girth (a full 45kg cheese represents the day’s milk from a herd of 45 cows), Beaufort is densely close-textured, with high-pasture scents and a nourishing nuttiness. Young, pale Beaufort d’alpage, made from summer milks, maximises the flowery finesse.
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Crottin de Chavignol (Loire valley)
France’s diverse tribe of goats’ milk cheeses are notable for their flavour transitions with age, from mildly acidic, tender and soft when young to hard, piquant and rank when old. The name crottin (dropping) suggests a certain hardness, and this celebrated small cheese is usually eaten at between two weeks and two months, during which time blue mould colonises it and its flavour grows stronger. After four months, it has lost 70 per cent of its weight and is so hard it requires grating.
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All of France’s great stinky (washed rind) cheeses have their devotees and, for many, Munster is the final frontier – the scent of aged specimens can unpick locks. Epoisses is, both geographically and stylistically, middle ground: trembly and melting at full ripeness, but complex in flavour, with notes of fallen autumn fruits hovering somewhere behind the lactic embrace.
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Most of the sheep’s milk for this blue cheese comes from Lacaune ewes grazing the austere, bleak landscape of the Grandes Causses, and all of it is aged in caves underneath Mont Combalou. Its salt level means that it is best eaten in small amounts, but the contrast between the smooth crumb and the ranker cavities of Penicillum roqueforti mould is delicious. It is soft enough to be crushed by the tongue, and rich enough to melt under its warmth.
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Vacherin du Haut-Doubs (Jura)
Made on the French-Swiss border and the subject of much squabbling between the two nations, the “Vacherin du Haut-Doubs” or “Mont d’Or” is a magnificent cheese, belted with spruce and put into a spruce-wood box made a little too small so that the crust rumples. The cheese inside is melting and spoonable, especially if gently oven-heated in its box. It is made from raw Montbéliard cow milk between mid-August and mid-March, and is only sold between September 10 and May 10. (“Vacherin Mont-d’Or” or “Vacherin” is Swiss and can be made from pasteurised milk.)
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