The journalists who contribute to Chicago Splash Magazine gather together from time to time to share ideas and enjoy food and drink. Recently, an unusual and very special opportunity became available. “Make it Magnifique” is the new campaign of the “The Cheeses of Europe”. The journalists, who gathered at the home of Chicago Splash Magazine editor, Barbara Keer were plied with magnificent cheese and some very special wines. Seven French cheeses in 2014 (Brie, Camembert, Emmental, Raclette, Mimolette, Comté & Fourme d’Ambert), were offered as well as a new set of French cheeses slated to be featured in 2015.
“The goal of this campaign is to demonstrate to US consumers that the Cheeses of France can easily be incorporated into their own dishes at home,” states Laurent Damiens, Communications Director at CNIEL, the French trade body for dairy products that oversees the The Cheeses of France Marketing Council. “French cheeses may be consumed at any time of the day, are absolutely adaptable to American cuisine, and turn a simple meal into something magnifique.” The Cheeses of Europe website has pictures of an amazing array of cheeses and recipes, as well.
The “Cheeses of Europe “ presenters arrived at the Wilmette home of Chicago Splash Magazine Editor, Barbara Keer on Tuesday evening, August 26th, and immediately prepared, and presented an amazing and extensive array of cheeses for the journalists to sample. These cheeses are all made from cow’s milk and are from dairies in various locations in France. In addition to their magnificent taste, the cheeses were lovely in appearance. An explanation of the cheeses, their origin, content, history and other points of interest was offered to help the attendees better understand the cheeses they were sampling.
Chicago Splash Magazine journalist Jenny Lunz continues the story.
When the group settled in the dining room for the cheese tasting, we were all extremely impressed by the wide variety of soft cheese selections displayed. There was everything from brie to semi-soft to blue cheese to butter (all which I love).
Once we all stopped gaping at the delicious-looking cheeses, the PR representatives from Cheeses of Europe presented information to us about the company itself, the cheeses for the tasting, the places in France wher the cheeses’ originated.
I found it very instructive when they offered the new information about the new USDA standards regarding raw milk French cheese (unpasteurized), which cannot be exported out of the country due to possible bacteria. However, the representatives also stated that there was little or no evidence that pasteurized cheese had a lower bacteria count than raw cheeses! I found this very interesting because I have always loved soft cheeses, especially French ones.
There was so much to take in as we sampled each cheese. Apparently, France leads the world with one of the greatest variety of flavors, with around 400 kinds. At the tasting, I had the opportunity to sample at least 10 to 20 of those 400.
Being the cheese head that I am, I strived to have a small sample of each kind offered. Every single kind of cheese on the table was impressive, though I did have some favorites that stood out for me. These included the Bethmale (semi-soft, mild washed rind), Bleu d’Auvergne (same recipe as Roquefort, but made with cow's milk), Delice de Bourgogne Coupe (triple cream, bloomy rind), and two sinful, creamy butters, Beurre churn (unsalted and salted).
As I tried a bit of each sample of my favorites listed above, my taste buds were in cheese heaven. My first favorite, the Bethmale, was of superior taste for a cow’s milk, semi-soft cheese from the French Pyrenees region. This cheese is molded and pressed, aging from 3 to 6 months. I simply raved about this cheese when I left. Its creamy, subtle sweet flavor was very distinctive and it tasted wonderful on crackers.
My other favorite cheese of the evening was the brie the Delice de Bourgogne, which is a triple cream brie from Burgundy, France. This cow’s milk cheese is soft-ripened and aged for about four weeks. I did not recall ever tasting such an indulgent, creamy, smooth, and delicate brie in my entire life. It left a tangy aftertaste on my tongue. Also, I enjoyed the Mimolette 3 month cheese, which was electric orange in color, smooth, and nutty. It reminded me of a subtle, well-age cheddar, and was a striking bright orange, which stood out among the other cheeses in size and color.
The other leading favorites of the tasting were the Beurre churn (salted and unsalted). It was the creamiest butter I have ever consumed. It was delightful to savor the salted butter, which I spread on a thick crust of baked bread.
The remaining cheeses at the tasting were Fourme d’Ambert (rich & creamy blue), Comté (the king of French cheeses; a 6-month and a 12-month), Saint Nectaire (semi-soft, earthy), Mimolette 3 months (electric orange in color, smooth, nutty), Abbaye Sainte Mere (slightly salty, semi-soft, fruity), Petit Pont L'Eveque (one of France’s oldest cheeses; rich & soft), a Brie Triple Crème (enough said), and Le Châtelain Brie (recently awarded a Gold Medal from France’s biggest food competition, the Concours General Agricole held at the Salon International de l’Agriculture in Paris).
Other journalists commented, too:
Noel Schecter noted that, “The cheeses offered were impressive in their variety. I doubt that a presentation focused on domestic cheeses would have so many options. Very creamy, they were decadent but not something that I could munch on every day.”
Peter Kachergis commented that, he “Liked the Comté cheese the best and the way it dissolved in your mouth was distinctive, had never had the softer blue cheese and was surprised that it was as good as the harder blue cheese, which he thought he’d prefer and thought this would make a nice table cheese by itself to go with wine. The sharp color of the bright orange cheese (Mimolette), made for a striking table piece.”
Dorothie Shah noted, “I will be more attentive to choices next trip to the cheese section where I'll certainly look for Saint Nectaire and Comte (aged 12 months). The array of options was remarkable. (a bit overwhelming)
Mary Jo McMillin summed up the evening with these highlights,
“1. Information about the new USDA standards regarding raw milk French cheese.
2. Opportunity to taste high quality Brie cheese in several stages of aging.
3. Story behind the washed rind Bethmale cheese from the western Pyrenees. 3. Surprise in tasting the Delice de Bourgogne, which was perfect--I had seen this cheese in the shops and hesitated to buy it because the entire curd had not 'creamed', but I learned last night this is the proper form of ripeness for this cheese. I had before thought St. Andre was superior, but I found the Delice de Bourgogne to be much better. French cheese is a world in itself with a greater variety of flavors than any other country in the world--at least 400.”
Mary Jo also mentioned that many of the cheeses we tasted are available locally at Costco, Trader Joe’s, Treasure Island and Whole Foods among other stores.
And to accompany the cheeses, there was wine, of course, expanding the European experience. We enjoyed a Rioja from Spain, and Pinot Grigio and Sagrantino di Montefalco from Italy.
Livon Pinot Grigio, 2013 is a dry, white wine that is described as:
“Lively, fresh and full with hints of nutmeg and almonds. Pale, straw yellow with golden reflections. Dry, well structured, soft and mineraly with gentle undertones of nutmeg and almond.” Our group commented that this is a good stand alone fruity wine, more complex than most Pinot Grigios. (Italy)
Rioja Bordon, Tempranillo, red wine, Franco Espanol, reserva 2008 is described as: “Colour: Intense ruby colour with deep brick red, Nose: Intense and rich with red berries, spice and cassis, Palate: Sweet bad silky fruits, smooth and elegant., Pairing: Will match well with red meat, roasted or in sauce, Manchego cheese, Award: 90 parkers points.” Our group commented this is a nice, dry wine with fruity notes and a wonderful, spicy, finish. (Spain)
Fattoria ColSanto (Umbria) Sagrantino di Montefalco, is desribed, “The Sagrantino di Montefalco, a complex, powerful wine is 100% Sagrantino, 70% of which is aged in barrique.” Fattoria Colsanto Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG, Umbria, Italy is considered to be one of the fine wines of Italy. Our group found it dry with an acidic dry finish and thought it would be good with sweet, soft cheese. (Italy)
This was an evening of comraderie, learning about wines and cheeses, and of sharing story ideas. Thanks to the “Cheeses of Europe”, and the wineries that produce these lovely wines. Check out the great cheeses and wines, and you, too, can enjoy a great evening with friends and/or colleagues.
Photos: Barbara Keer