Coming back from our ski vacation last week we had a stopover in Oslo, Norway. We paid a visit to Mathallen, a gastronomic arena with a fine collection of delicatessen shops, places to eat and a vast program of cooking schools and other events.
Of course, cheese was represented. Galopin is a cheese shop specializing in French cheeses and their shop was full of interesting artisan (fermier) cheeses.
Just a bit of blue
Among the many fantastic and colourful cheeses, especially one called out. It looked a bit shy with its random small bits of blue veins. But when we tasted it, we were blown away. The name is Bleu de Termignon!
A raw blue mould cheese from the Eastern part of the French Alps, close to the Italian border. Only few cheese makers produce it, and only between June and September where the cows are grazing high up in the Alps (more than 6500 ft of altitude) and thereby the cheese is made with ‘alpage milk’.
The taste had a bit of acidity and bitterness and lots of animality. A hint of sharpness and an large aftertaste. It is not a cheese for beginners 🙂 It produced a small prickle on the tongue which is typical for raw milk cheeses.
The texture was crumbly and creamy at the same time. If you take a close look, you can almost see small lumps of curds – and the process is also different from many other cheeses. Some of the fresh curds are mixed with older curds, and some are left in brine one or two days until they will be mixed with new fresh curds. The curd blocks are being minced which aerates the curds before they are mixed, salted and put into forms.
In fact, it has some ressemblance with the cheddaring process and maybe that’s why I also thought of a very mature cheddar when I first tasted the cheese.
Maybe blue – maybe not
The blue mould in Bleu de Termignon also makes it different from other blue mould cheeses. Normally, you add blue mould culture to the fluid milk when you produce a blue cheese. Maybe the mould is made from the natural mould in the area (for instance from the caves of roquefort). The cheese is pierced with long needles in order for air to enter and blue mould can grow.
In the case of Bleu de Termignons you do nothing. No blue mould culture. No needles. The mould is in the chalet and in the wooden tools. When the curds are minced, the mould finds it. Or it doesn’t. Sometimes the cheeses have no blue.
I only know of cabrales which matures in caves in Asturias (Spain) where they don’t add mould nor pierce the cheese.
Nature has wrapped this cheese in a beautiful, quite thick rind dotted with all colours from the brown palette. The small red dots, ‘le fleur rouge’ is also found on the rocks in the area. This cheese is really a piece of nature.
Visit an alpine chalet
The French affineur (one who matures cheese) Mons has made a really cool film showing the cheese life of one of the six producers. If you have 12 minutes, grab a coffee and take a break while you enjoy the scenery and see how nature and cheese making is closely connected. You will see how the milk from 18 cows gives three cheeses. Feel the weight of the buckets filled with milk when they are carried from the small barn to the dairy in the other chalet. See how Catherine’s arm muscles are growing when she minces the curds.
The cheese monger from Oslo smells the Bleu de Termignon. He senses the story of the remote Alpin area, the cold, damp cheese cellar in the chalets and the wild herbs being eaten by the cows…
Needless to say, if you ever come across Bleu de Termignon, please taste it! 🙂