Sunday, 15 June 2008

Le Prochain "Grand Fromage" (The Next Big Cheese)

Although it's been nearly 10 years since I lived in New York City, I continue to make a weekly ritual out of reading the restaurant reviews in the New York Times. I have little practical need to know what's new in the city's food scene (I visit at most once a year), yet I persist, cataloguing the data next to mental lists of good London pubs (I rarely drink beer) and out-of-the-way French country bistros (I don't drive here). Travel destinations and clothing purveyors get similar files; should I ever wish to vacation in Buenos Aires or buy an exquisite pair of stilettos, I'll have the inside track on where to go.

Mine is a kind of expertise that's well-researched, but often derivative. I take some pride in knowing which of Paris' neo-bistros are getting plaudits these days, but I haven't eaten in more than a few. The same is true for cookbooks; based on what I seem to know about new publications, you'd imagine I actually had some of them on my shelf.

So when I tell you that I've found the next sensation in the world of cheese, you might guess that I've merely been trolling the web again. But for what my palate is worth, I've tasted this stuff nearly half a dozen times now, and it deserves any amount of purple prose.

The cheese in question is Brin D’Amour (literally, and unfortunately, "spot of love"), made in Corsica from unpasteurized sheep’s milk and aged in a coating of rosemary, thyme and juniper berries. I like it best when it’s relatively young—perhaps a month old—and still delicately sour and springy. But because of the herbs and its slight saltiness, it epitomizes the Mediterranean at any age, conjuring up a sense of place, that is only enhanced by the accompaniments of tomatoes, olives, rustic bread and tumblers of wine.

After brocciu, the fresh, ricotta-like cheese similarly used in pastas and desserts, Brin D’Amour might be the most well-known of Corsica’s cheeses. But the others I’ve eaten—made, like the vast majority of the island’s dairy products, from sheep’s milk—have been stunners as well. To me, the most distinctive are also slightly soft and creamy, like the lightly tangy, washed-rind U Pecurino. Even the dryer Corsican cheeses are rounded and nutty, less sharp and saline than their Greek and Turkish counterparts and lacking the slight greasiness that sometimes plagues Spanish varieties.

Corsica has all the ingredients--dramatic landscape, beautiful produce and an aura of rustic authenticity--to make it the next big thing amongst food lovers. But while I'd be amused to see roasted kid served up in fashionable restaurants, I'm hoping that its cheese somehow eludes mass popularity. Because while I'd love, for once, to be a trend-spotter, that could mean less for me.

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