Thursday, 24 November 2011

Beaufort d'alpage

One of my favourite cheeses of all comes from the high Alpine region of the Massif Beaufortin, where the steep-sided mountains reach 3000m, with deep, lush valleys below. Beaufort AOC is a cheese which production is limited to 3 of the valleys in this remote region – Val du Beaufortin, Val du Tarentaise, and the Val du Maurienne. Here, the mountain sides are snow covered for at least 6 months of the year, but as the snow recedes in mid-spring, the “alpage” (or high mountain grazing pastures) comes to life, with hundreds of rare and indigenous grasses and flowers growing and blooming. Flowers such as gentians, saxifrage and orchids grow here on the light, limestone soils. This unique cocktail of clean, unadulterated pasture, untouched by any cultivation, fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides, along with pure air mountain air creates an environment perfect for the production of this very special cheese. This environment is grazed for 100 day of the year, from June to September, by the two local breeds of cattle, the Tarentaise and the Abondance, which are grazed in large herds of up to 200 animals. Coming from the region, these breeds are hardy, and adapted to the steep inclines of the hills and the temperature fluctuations between night and day. Milking takes place in small, mobile milking parlours, with the fresh milk being pumped directly from the udder into churns, before being taken down the mountain to the dairy.
There are 3 types of Beaufort: Beaufort d’Alpage, made using this special summer mountain milk, Beaufort d'été, made using summer milk produced further down mountain, and Beaufort d’hiver, made during winter months, when the cattle are kept inside and fed on hay.
In large copper cauldrons, the milk is heated to 32C and renneted using a solution made from strips of dried calves stomach. The digestive enzyme, rennin is released into the solution, along with lactic ferments to ripen the milk. After coagulation, the curd is repeatedly cut, stirred, and heated to 53-54ᵒC. The curds are cut to the size of rice grains, and the heating and stirring encourages syneresis, the expulsion of whey. After this cooking process, the thousands of tiny curds are left to settle under the whey, and begin to form a solid mass at the bottom of the cauldron. The cheese maker removes them by slipping a large square cloth below the curds, tying the four corners of the cloth together, and hoisting the mass out from the whey and into a mould for pressing.
The rind of Beaufort is concave around the edge as a result of the mould being tightened around the cheese before a 24 hour pressing, during which time the cheese is turned and the mould re-tightened.
Now the cheese is ready for brining, and its maturation process begins.
This week I have been eating a delicious Beaufort d’Alpage, one of the first of the season having been made in early June with the very first alpine milk of the year. It is young, milky, honey-sweet and floral, with a soft and buttery texture, and very delicious.

Beaufort is wonderful at all ages, and if the cheese were to have been kept another 6-12 months, the flavours would become richer, meaty, more complex, with a firmer texture and perhaps the satisfying grainy bite an old cheese develops.     

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In 1997 I took a video at a Beaufort dairy in the mountains. On Youtube you can see a few minutes of the making of Beaufort and the ricotta which is made of the whey. See