If you are short on quality cheeses, it’s better to serve a single cheese that “tells a story” than an insipid assortment.
Next, priority should be given to odd numbers (three, five, seven, etc.), varying the flavours, type of milk, cheese family and production methods: goat's, cow's, bloomy-rind, blue-veined, and so on.
Finally, care should be taken with the order of tasting: goat's cheeses should be tasted first fresh, then semi-mature and lastly “blue”.
The most mature round off the tasting, as do those with the strongest flavour. Thus, an Époisses should come after a Crottin de Chavignol Bleu or even a Fourme d’Ambert, and a Roquefort should follow a Pont l’Evêque or a Beaufort.
Cheese should be kept at ambient or room temperature before tasting. For a nicer cheese platter appearance and enhanced taste, dry fruits, dry nuts and special marmalade should accompany the selection.
Istara P’tit Basque
Traditionally, shepherds made this small cheese from the leftover curd set aside after milking their ewes. Today Istara P’tit Basque is still handmade from pure ewe’s milk, using the same traditional methods established by local shepherds centuries ago. It boasts the dramatic heritage of the Basque region, a land of deep valleys and steep mountains. It's a proud region between France and Spain where culinary tradition is very much alive. Made with 100 percent pure sheep’s milk, P’tit Basque is aged for a minimum of 70 days. The Spanish influence on this cheese is noted by its resemblance to manchego, but its flavour is milder and more delicate. P’tit Basque has a distinctive aroma of sheep’s milk and a smooth, sweet flavour, with a nutty finish. Its creaminess is unique for a semi-hard cheese.
This one comes from Normandy. Located in the western part of France, this region is rich in green pastures thanks to a climate that allows for rain over 200 days per year. Normandy has an ancient tradition of raising dairy cows. The cheese has a uniform consistency throughout, a rich flavour and a creamy texture just like the ones gracing the cheese boards of France. Ripening over time, this camembert goes from a fresh creamy taste to a more unctuous texture and bold taste.
“Comté” (pronounced “Con-tay") dates back to the 12th century, when shepherds would spend the summer months in their remote huts of the Jura mountains. Considered one of the most popular speciality cheeses of France, it has been rewarded the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) recognition, which shows its quality and excellence. Matured in cellars for six months, Président Comté is a young cheese with a savoury taste that everyone will enjoy. With its fruit notes, complex aromas and an unpredictable perfume, Président Comté is representative of a unique climate and reminiscent of time and tradition. At any age, the texture will be smooth, never granular, and the flavours will be impeccably balanced.
A hard Swiss, cow's milk cheese, instantly identifiable by its characteristic round holes, Président Emmental is taken from the core of the wheel, giving it a fruitier flavour and softer texture. This particular variety is the star of this week's Cheese Nights cover.
Roquefort is the zenith of blues and one of France’s national treasures. Société Roquefort is made with raw milk from ewes that graze on the hills in the southwest of France. It is aged for a minimum of 90 days in the natural caves of Roquefort that were created 50 million years ago. The cheese has an ivory-coloured paste with emerald-green veining and a creamy, moist texture. Its rich, intense sheep's milk flavour balances the blue mould aroma.
More than 1,000 years ago, Brie was the founding member of the French soft ripened cheese family, which now also includes Camembert and Coulommiers. Président Brie is made with pasteurised cow's milk. Typically, it has a uniform consistency throughout (no core) and a mild, creamy flavour. It's characterised by an edible, downy white rind and a cream-coloured, buttery-soft interior. At its peak, this cheese is creamy and has a savoury flavour and a long-lingering, rich aftertaste.