Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Valentine's Day Treat - Cazelle de St. Affrique

If you want to impress your honey with a tasty cheese other than brie this Valentine's Day, this is the cheese to use! The Cazelle de St. Affrique is a wonderful bloomy rind sheep's milk cheese that while similar in texture to the brie style cheeses you may be used to it has a complexity and depth of flavor that you could not imagine coming from a little 3oz piece of cheese...

Cheese: Cazelle de St. Affrique
Producer: Herve Mons
Location: Aveyron, France
Milk: Pasteurized sheep's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

The name is actually pretty interesting. Cazelle is actually a word to describe a small stone structure used to house hay or even shepherds and sheep themselves. These structures were abundant in the area in times past. St. Affrique is the area where the cheese is made.

The Cazelle is produced by one of my favorite cheese affineurs - Herve Mons. What Herve Mons has done is build a business by taking very young cheeses from small cheesemakers in the region around Aveyron and aging them to perfection. In the case of the Cazelle, he takes the cheese when it is around 10 days old and makes sure that the cheese ripens to where it needs to be. Affinage is a very subtle yet dynamic art. So many things go into aging and developing flavors of cheese, be it molds or bacteria, making sure the cheese is flipped and/or washed or maintaining proper temperature and humidity. Herve Mons takes what the cheesemakers provide him and helps to create a unique, superior finished product. Any cheeses that I have at my counter that have "Herve Mons" on the label are bound to be phenomenal, just like the Cazelle. If you want more information on Herve Mons and what he does as an affineur and his relationship with Whole Foods Market, you can watch a short video about it here:

Because this cheese is so small, it ripens rather quickly. It has a biting, slightly pungent flavor, but then develops into a beautiful creamy, almost hay like flavor. The sheep's milk really sings in this cheese because it is so dense in solids. If you were to make a cheese like this with either cow or goat's milk, it would be no where near as dense in flavor as this little guy is. The rind does add a touch of bitterness, but nothing that takes away from the wonderful flavor of the cheese. 

This cheese is relatively versatile, I can think of using it in several scenarios... If I were going to be serving this cheese to my Valentine, I would be sure to have some strawberries or some of the Amarena cherries in heavy syrup that we sell at our cheese counter and a nice, sweet sparkling wine. For other occasions, I would maybe drizzle a little honey on it, add some Marcona Almonds and a nice Pinot Grigio. 

These little gems are not something we carry year round, so be sure to stop by and grab one for yourself before they are gone! And with them on sale for only $7.99 a piece, there are sure to go fast. Don't miss out!

I hope to see you all at the cheese counter soon.. until then, eat, drink and be happy!