We’ve been eating mostly English cheeses recently, as the range and quality at our standard weekend shopping destinations (Borough and Maltby Street) are just fantastic. But a different itinerary yesterday brought me to La Fromagerie, probably the capital’s best source for perfectly-aged French cheeses. Somehow I managed to bring home only two: a small slab of St Nectaire that was escaping its rind but balanced mellow sweetness with a certain dirtiness, and a half of Coulommiers.
Even in Paris I didn’t often see Coulommiers, despite it being made in a town only 40 miles or so to the east. Here in London, I’ve found it only in a few high-end cheese shops. It may be that production is relatively small, or that it tends to get overlooked in favour of the not wholly dissimilar and far better known Brie and Camembert.
Depending on the version of the story, Coulommiers is either the progenitor of Brie or its descendant. Indeed Brie de Melun, the less popular of the two main Brie varieties, is produced just down the road in the town of the same name. Like Brie, Coulommiers is semi-soft, with a butter-coloured interior capable of becoming almost liquid when very ripe, and a bloomy white rind. It has the earthy, mushroomy tang of a good Brie, but alongside that there’s also a gentle nuttiness. Some find it a bit creamier and richer on the palate. It’s smaller than Brie too, with a whole cheese averaging just 500 grams.
Oddly, although it’s long-established and rooted in a particular town, Coulommiers hasn’t received AOC status. While this means that variation on the recipe is technically allowable, the only distinction seems to be between semi-industrial production, which uses pasteurised milk and ages for about a month, and artisal production, where the milk is raw and the maturation time doubled.
A final reason to seek it out? Even at the fancy-pants place where I bought it, a 250 gram piece was only £5. Given the prices of proper cheese (English or French), finding a tasty (relative) bargain is always a boon.