Over the last few weeks I’ve been exploring the frontiers of really strong cheese. I’m talking things that make a Limburger smell of roses. Things that turn your gums inside out. Things that punch you in the face and leave you crying in the corner.
It’s an acquired taste – mostly a note of brevibacterium linens with hints of debaryomyces and a whiff of geotrichum candidum 😉 – but I have managed to acquire it surprisingly fast. It’s really no more disturbing to your palate than strong chilli or old whiskey; one of those foodstuffs your nose and tongue scream in alarm at first, but then submit in subdued whimper. Eventually, they can – and do – become an obsession. To my wife’s relief, I’m still far from the obsessive part (they really smell! and the stench lingers like a bad memory) but I did grow fond of a few tastes. Here are some of the things I’ve tried recently:
The cheesemonger on Maltby was very specific that I eat it within a day. I managed to do it in three, motivated by the increasing difficulty we had opening the fridge door where the cheese lay like a ticking chemical warhead.
Ever since the rules for Camembert AOC had been relaxed, “au lait cru” has become a rarity, with some even going as far as claiming “it’s dead”. It’s certainly moribund: a cheese from unpasteurised milk, difficult to produce correctly and even more difficult to transport and store. The smell is bad, though not as terrible as some of the competition. But the taste… A mature ALC is comparable only to the strongest Cheddars – but in a finer, springy texture. It’s a bit like running razors along the roof of your mouth. Tasty razors.
Ogleshield is a washed rind. “Washed rind” means the cheese is smeared in brine, mixture of alcohols, bacterium cocktail or even bits of older cheese. Many famous “stinky” cheeses are washed rind: stinky bishop, pont l’eveque, epoisses etc. But Ogleshield is a bit different. It’s got a certain very specific aroma which the Neil’s Yard website compares to “a farmyard”. You can probably guess what that is an euphemism for. To me, Ogleshield smells of my grandma’s cellar, and this is, somehow, a good thing. I suppose it brings positive memories of a cellar filled with jams and home-made wine. It is a really nice cheese, and the taste is surprisingly delicate and full of fruity and floral notes. This is a no-nonsense cheese that knows what it wants.
Another washed rind, from Ireland. This one I have only tasted so far, not yet daring to buy – maybe next time. It’s got the same “cellar” aroma like Ogleshield, but much, much stronger: like a cellar that’s been abandoned and not visited for a generation. The taste is also very strong, like a summer field that a herd of cows just went through.
4. Boulette d’Avesnes
The same cheesemonger who sold us Camembert warned me: “This is a crazy cheese for crazy people!”
He was right, of course. One of the local names for the Boulette is “Devil’s Suppository”. It is made from Maroilles curd, mixed with spices and covered in paprika. Sold in a hermetic plastic container, this is not so much cheese as a little ball of hell and turd. It is awesome. A single slice of it left me feeling the taste and smell for half a day. In the end, I had to wash it out with whisky.
I can’t even begin to describe the taste; there’s herbs and paprika, of course, but the rest avoids definition. The texture is worth an essay in itself – not quite mozarella-gooey, not quite fromage-soft, it cuts through nicely and then melts in your mouth, covering it with several layers of different flavours.
I’m hoping to continue the experiments. I always was a fan of cheese, but this is a whole new world for me, and so far, I’m loving it. Stay tuned! 🙂