A Thanksgiving Cheese Platter: Italy, France and Belgium

Comté Extra Grand Cru

Comté Extra Grand Cru

A couple of days ago, we checked in with Kurt, lead cheese buyer at our Cambridge shop, to find out what he was recommending for these chilly autumn days and, more specifically, for Thanksgiving. Always a tough question for a lover of cheese (how to choose?), we managed to eke out the following recommendations.

Like France, Italy has a long cheese-making history. Because of this, many regions of the country have a rich variety of cheese, encompassing different milk types, textures and styles. When we chatted with him, Kurt highlighted cheeses that come to us from the Piedmont region. There, a small, family-run shop selects and sends us cheeses from farmhouse producers, including cheeses such as Robiola Roccaverano DOP, Tronchetto di Capra, Piramide di Capra, and Strach’in.

Robiola Roccaverano DOP is made with milk from the rare Roccaverano goat. A longstanding tradition of making this cheese in Italy means the DOP designation comes as no surprise. The Tronchetto and Piramide di Capra are also goat milk cheeses – “capra” translates to “goat” in English – the first comes in a log shape and the latter is a small pyramid. Both are fresh with a muted acidity and a hint of the farm. In contrast, Strach’in is made with cows’ milk and is akin to Gorgonzola Dolce. Expected in later this week, we are excited to have it joining the blue cheese line-up. On the milder side, it is very approachable and very more-ish.

Charmoix

Charmoix

Along with these Italian cheeses, Kurt also singled out a selection we import from Belgium. While not as famous for cheese as France or Italy, we have been consistently wowed by the cheeses, both young and old, coming to us from this part of the world. Among these are Chevrin and Charmoix. Chevrin is 100% goat milk and is made in the style of bloomy-rinded cheeses like Camembert – a rich, silky cheese. Charmoix is a washed-rind, cows’ milk cheese from the Wallonia region of the country. Milky with hints of nuts and occasionally onions, it adds excellent variety to a cheese platter.

Chevrin

Chevrin

From France, Kurt brought attention to a cheese we only started carrying this past year: Brebis du Haut-Bearn, a raw sheep milk cheese. Ihsan, Valerie and Julie of our South End store discovered the affineur (ager) of this cheese on a trip to the Pyrenées. This particular affineur works on a traditional trading system, referred to as the dîme (“dîme” is translated into English as “tithe”). In this system, the affineurs keep one cheese out of every 12 that they age for a particular farmer and no money is exchanged. The cave owners or affineurs get to choose which cheese they keep and, after that, sometimes they make offers on other cheeses in the batch if they think the quality is very high. We then import the cheese directly from the affineur. Brebis du Haut-Bearn is a delicious, rich cheese with a mild but complex flavor. Hints of nuts means it pairs well with traditional black cherry jams of the region.

Comté Extra Grand Cru Sign

In September, Kurt, along with the lead cheese buyer from our South End store, David, visited the Jura and the biennial Slow Food cheese festival in Bra, Italy (known to people in the industry, simply as “Cheese”). On that trip, they reconnected with the folks at Fromageries Marcel Petite (where we source our Comté) and they discovered several new cheeses for the shop. We just got in our annual allocation of Comté Grand Cru and Comté Extra Grand Cru. In the next few weeks, some of the new cheeses they discovered will also be arriving. Stay tuned for further details on the cheese front!