During my time at the Cellars at Jasper Hill, Herve Mons and Laure Dubouloz visited and conducted an underground French cheesetasting for us.
I visited one of Mons' maturing caves in May, when I was traveling around the Lyon area, en-route to the Jura, but didnt write about it at the time.
Mons is a French affineur, specialising in the fine art of cheese aging, mateuration and ripening, a high skill which requires experiance, and an deep understanding of cheese making. The affineur can only judge a cheese's maturity organoleptically - by touching, tasting, smelling and listening to the cheese.
|Tomme Crayeuse at Mons. A raw milk, |
mould ripened tomme cheese made in
One type of cheese may not always be at its most perfect, sensual moment at the same age. Their are so many potential variables. For example, a Beaufort Alpage may be matured upto a year, perhaps 18 months for a very special cheese, but the next batch of the same cheese, from the same producer even, may reach it's aromatic peak at, perhaps 8 months.
Only a trained affineur can predict how a cheese will mature.
In May I visited La Compagnie d’Affinage des Caves de la Collonge, an underground tunnel running through a mountain near the town of Roanne. The tunnel was abandoned. It is 185metres long.
Inside, the air is cool, 11ᵒC, and holds up to 94% humidity. Rock walls and stone beds below the cheese shelves store water, acting as natural humidifier.
100 tons of cheeses sit on local spruce shelving, continuously being turned, brushed, washed and tasted.
Mons has 4 retail shops in France, and also wholesalers and exports across Europe and the USA.
In England, Mons cheese can be found at 59 Stanworth Street, SE1 3NY, London, on Saturdays, 9am-2pm where they are part of Maltby Street Traders.
One of my favourite cheeses from Mons is the Salers de Buron, a cheese which has been made in the volcanic Avergne mountains for over 2000 years.
The cheese is made with raw milk from the Salers cows, a rustic breed with long, curved horns and a thick red coat. The cows must be milked by hand in the field as this breed will not be milked without the presents of there young.
A little salt is sprinkled onto the calves backs for the cows to lick, a distraction while the milker takes the milk for cheese making.
The fresh, still-warm milk is soured only with the addition of whey from the previous days cheese making, a traditional practice seen rarely now as it can lead to great variety in the flavours of the cheese.
The cheese is firm, but open textured and fluffy, even after an 18 month aging. The flavours are deep and complex, sometimes quite wild, representing the windswept mountain where it is made. Often fruity, the cheese has both a salty, "aged" flavour as well as a lactic, milky quality.
Very, very delicious!!