The Western Living Editor’s Guide to Cheese
The fave fromage from our professional eaters.
It’s tough to beat “the King of Cheeses,” isn’t it? That’s the nickname bestowed upon this soft, pungent Burgundian cow-milk cheese by the famed epicure Brillat-Savarin. It was reportedly Napoleon’s favourite cheese, too. So why is it so special? In part because it straddles the line between so many styles. It’s a bit pungent but it’s no Limburger. It’s creamy but not as one-dimensional as many bries. And it’s got a great story: it not only comes from Burgundy, but the Marc Brandy that’s the by-product of the region’s legendary Pinot Noirs is smeared on the cheese while it ripens, producing serious complexity and helping give the rind it’s distinct red-orange hue.
It’s also a bit of a comeback kid as, notwithstanding its august provenance, it was nearly extinct by the end of World War II. Cue some passionate artisanal cheesemakers who have revived it and, now, it’s one of those secret cheeses still made in relatively small quantities but always gets you an approving nod from your local cheesemonger. It’s usually a bit above $20 for small wheel (always served in the traditional wooden box) but a little goes a long way here. Oddly, it doesn’t go that well with Burgundian wine, but it is a perfect pairing for more robust ales.—Neal McLennan, travel editor
France does a handful of things well: wine, bureaucracy, snobbery, cheese and snobbery about cheese. However, Port Salut—a semi-soft pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from the Loire—has rather modest roots dating back to 18th-century Trappist monks fleeing the French Revolution. As all good Frenchmen are wont to do, these exiled monks learned cheese-making skills to support themselves whilst abroad and returned with their newly acquired kick-ass dairy skills only when things quieted down decades later. But it really wasn’t a cheese for the people until 1873 when the head of the abbey gave a Parisian cheese-seller the rights to sell it and, soon thereafter, everyone was scarfing down this mild, mature fromage with its signature orange rind (the monks’ society—Société Anonyme des Farmiers Réunis—is still printed on each rind today).
In 1959, the rights to the Port-Salut cheese-making process was granted to a major creamery and, furthering its proletariat reach, it’s now available at Trader Joe’s in the U.S. Whenever I’m down south, I promptly load up and sneak it back over the border all stealthy and revolutionary-like—despite the border guards’ insistence that it’s pasteurized and, therefore, not contraband. C’est la vie, c’est la guerre.—Amanda Ross, contributing editor
So I’d say a good 25 percent of the reason I love this cheese has to do with the sweet little clay container it comes in. (They’re perfect little dishes to reuse for mis-en-place or serving snacky things to impress friends. “Oh, this dish? It CAME FROM FRANCE.”)
It’s from the Rhones-Alpes region in France, and it comes in said dish because its delicate little rind isn’t sturdy enough to protect its lovely and gooey centre. You could warm it up for a few minutes in a hot oven, but I’ve never needed to: its soft, salty and mushroomy flavour is perfect and creamy at room temperature too. Pair it with a Rainforest Crisp or on a sliced-up Bartlett pair, and you’ve got a little clay pot of heaven right here.—Anicka Quin, editorial director
Beemster Aged Gouda (from Costco)
I’m back because I don’t want you thinking I’m some fancy pants who only eats the same pricey cheese that Napoleon favoured. Like many of you, I buy the lion’s share of my cheese at the artisanal purveyor that is Costco. Why? Because this half-kilo of salty, crumbly Dutch wonder is only $13.99. It’s been produced 20 feet below sea-level for the past four centuries in Northern Holland and gets it’s distinct taste—sort of like a Dutch take on Parmigiano with lovely pecan and butterscotch notes—from the grass the cows eat in the region.—N.M.