Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Sainte Maure du Touraine

Well before my cheese suppliers go on summer vacation, my purchases undergo a seasonal shift. Blue cheese is banished until the pears appear in late September, anything too oozy or with a washed rind takes a hiatus and even favourites like Comte only emerge to finish off a bottle of chunky, spicy red wine. On regular rotation are feta, which I mash into a chunky dip with yogurt, cucumber, dill and mint, mozzarella, which appears predictably with tomatoes, roasted peppers and pesto and lots of different types of goats cheese.

I’m happy to eat goats cheese year round, but there are a few reasons why it’s almost always in my fridge these days. Goats cheese tends to go well with summery wine, particularly rosé from Provence or the Loire and, classically, sauvignon blanc. It’s even a decent match with lighter-weight reds, particularly slightly-chilled cabernet franc, also from the Loire. Even with creamier styles, its characteristic “twang”, or acidity, makes goats cheese feel and taste a bit lighter. And it’s a natural match with seasonal produce—from peas and fava beans to tomatoes, courgettes and all sorts of salad greens. Fresh, un-aged goats cheese even makes a delicious dessert, either plain with peaches, berries and a bit of honey, or in a pannacotta or mousse. Finally, all but the most delicate varieties can withstand a few hours out of the fridge without melting, stinking or becoming greasy.

My regular cheesemonger sells upwards of fifty French goats cheeses. Among the most striking are the pyramidal, ash-coated Valencay and the Banon, dipped in eau-de-vie and aged in chestnut leaves. The Bouton d’Oc makes a bite sized appetizer, while servings of aged goats cheeses from either the Alps or Pyrenees* are sliced off a 3 kg wheel. Texture is dependent on style, aging and season, with the myriad of possibilities captured on the scale from moelleux (creamy, moist, also soft) to sec (dry, most likely also firm).

Though I try to experiment, I’ve developed some firm favourites, including Sainte Maure du Touraine. Taking its name from the ancient province of Touraine (now the departement of Indre-et-Loire) and a local martyr, Sainte Maure is made from raw goats cheese, formed into a 5 inch log and dipped into ground ash before being ripened from anywhere from 10 days to 6 weeks. Its texture is dense and almost fudgy, going creamy around the edges as it gets older. It is often described as having a mildly nutty aroma, a lemon-tinged lightness on the tongue, particularly when younger, and a mouth-filling, though not aggressively, “goaty” taste. Perhaps its most distinguishing physical feature is a narrow straw running inside the length of the cheese, once used to help aging but now purely decorative.

There’s certainly no reason why Sainte Maure couldn’t be used in a savoury tart or salad, though the ash-coating is less attractive when sliced and strewn. I serve it with nothing more than some good bread, sauvignon blanc and, if being fancy, a not-too-sweet jam, particularly one made with gooseberries, white figs or green tomato. With a plate of tomatoes to start and perhaps some raspberries or peaches to finish, it is supper enough on a hot, still evening like this one.

* French mountain cheeses are collectively referred to as tomme and can be made from cows, goats and/or sheeps milk.

No comments: