After a week of wine, we dove in headfirst to the world of French cheeses. Previously, we had explored the different goat cheeses that this region is known for, but this week we ventured out to dairy cow pasturelands to discover some delicious cow milk cheeses.
First stop: The Gaugry Fromagerie. Here, soft and creamy cheeses are made from the milk of 3 different breeds of cows. The factory itself is small and only a few things are done by machine, mostly the heavy work, such as filling the molds and turning the big cheeses. Most of the other work is done by hand. Every day, and sometimes twice a day, the cheeses such as the Epoisse and Soumaintrain are turned and washed with a salt brine to develop their characteristic outer layers. They are then aged from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the type of cheese. We were able to try 5 of the different cheeses made from the fromagerie. The cheeses ranged from light and buttery to thick and creamy and tasted distinctly of cows. As a bonus, the Epoisse tastes amazing with gingerbread!
At the Frutiere de Grand Riviere, we learned firsthand how Comte and Morbier cheese are made. These cheeses are native to the Franche-Comte region, and are enormous! We watched through glass windows into the cheese-making room as the workers filled huge vats with fresh milk and added rennet and cultures of bacteria to start the curdling and fermentation of the cheese. After the curd is cut with large, comb-like mixers, the milk is drained into the many molds to make cheese. Each Comte cheese weighs about 50kg, or over 100lbs! Morbier cheese is also interesting because it’s made of two layers of curds, with a layer of vegetable ash in between. When Morbier was first being made, the ash was used to preserve the bottom layer of the cheese before the top layer was added, because there often wasn’t enough milk in one day to make both layers. That tradition is still kept, even though there’s plenty of milk now. The Morbier then soaked in a salt brine for a day before being put in the cellars to age. The cellars at the fruitiere are huge! Big enough to hold over 9,000 cheeses at one time. The cheeses in each cellar age for a different amount of time, for example 6 months or 12 months or 18 months. It’s amazing how a difference of 6 months can change the flavor so much.
Though there are so many more cheeses that we didn’t get to try, this was a wonderful sneak peek into the world of French cheeses.