There’s a certain simple pleasure that comes from looking at cheese. It’s different for each. An uncut block of cheddar can seem plain but it communicates a rustic strength, as if to say “here I am; meant to sustain you”. Cheddar is the Barnett Newman of the cheese world (if I could add footnotes to these posts I’d say that a cloth bound is more like Richard Serra). And what does the surface of a Vacherin Mont D’or look like if not those wonderfully wavy skies in the background of a Munch canvas. But there’s one cheese, and only one, that conjures up Chagall. Look at this and tell me that I’m lying.
Those grey blues, snowy whites, and mauve-tinged tans. I could look at them ’til the cows come home. Good thing, then, that it’s made of goat milk or I’d never get to bed.
This beauty is:
Blue Juliette, Salt Spring Island Cheese, $12.95
David Wood, who once owned a small chain of fine food shops in Toronto, creates this masterpiece at the Salt Spring Cheese Company on B.C.’s beautiful Salt Spring Island. I’ve never met him (though I’ll give it a shot ext time I’m on the coast) but you’ve got to like a guy who writes this on the front of his webpage:
“Nothing is more patronizing, or – and please excuse the pun – ‘cheesy’ than a company’s finely crafted corporate statement of philosophy, describing in great detail how that company is redefining the standards of earthly humanity. So forgive us for offering a different approach. We simply believe that a better kind of food business is one that reflects both good community and good food, as the two frequently go together.”
Blue Juliette is unusual among blues. It’s a bloomy rind with the tell-tale mushroomy odour and taste, but it’s made from pasteurized goats milk and is surface ripened. And that gorgeous mottled surface actually is the ‘blue’. It’s created by adding Penicillium roqueforti – a common saprotrophic fungus – the ‘active ingredient’ in many blue cheeses, to the milk after it’s pasteurized. The trick with Blue Juliette, though, is that the cheese is not pierced, like most blues. It’s allowed to surface ripen so that the mould is activiated on the rind of the cheese but not the interior. Cut into this cheese and there’s no tell-tale blue vein. On the contrary, it’s a beautiful lucious snowy white, just like those clouds by Chagall.
As much as I love to look at this cheese, the urge to eat it is so much more powerful. It’s irresistible; especially when you have a round that is just at its peak (typically, like that piece in the picture, just at or after the ‘best before’ date). This is a sumptuous cheese. Eaten en pointe, it’s wonderfully complex. A well-developed rind covers a paste that oozes over the chalky core typical of a chevre. Yes, the mushroom aroma and taste are there but so is a wonderful nutiness just under the rind, and a tangy, slightly citrus, core. There’s a reward to be had in eating each of these separately – sampling the rind, the core and the wonderful flowing paste that divides them. But there’s an even larger reward in cutting a good-sized wedge and sliding it onto your tongue. Close your eyes. You’ll see Chagall’s clouds, and maybe even his goats.
Once again, if you see it, buy it.
More works of art and reflections soon. It’s been a horribly busy week.