So I snatched up a log when I saw it at the market, complete with "Au Lait Cru" on the label. But when I sliced into it, I was dismayed and surprised.My knife hit straw. "What?!" I remember saying with alarm. It was my understanding that the pasteurized versions were indicated as such with that piece of straw, running through the log's middle. A raw milk Sainte-Maure, on the other hand, was straight-up cheese, through and through.
I didn't know what to make of it. The label stated it plain and clear, that the cheese was made with raw milk. The AOC, name-protected stamp was also apparent, indicating raw milk. I knew then that I'd been mistaken about that little piece of straw for a long time.
Sure, it's not a huge deal to have been mistaken about a lil' ol' piece of straw, but for me, I felt totally duped. For years, each time I sliced into a log of Sainte-Maure, I imagined the true, raw milk, French version, unadulterated by this interruption. The straw always seemed like a cross we raw milk-fearing Americans were forced to bear. Apparently not.With just a bit of research, I realized quite quickly that I'd been given wrong information. Steve Jenkins' Cheese Primer states it quite clearly, that all ages of the cheese are "skewered with a dowel or piece of straw piercing from end to end." So there you have it: each and every piece of Saint-Maure, regardless of whether it's made from raw or pasteurized milk, has that straw-lined center. Has anyone else been under the wrong impression? Needless to say, I was glad to have it figured out.
But now onto the cheese. The log we purchased was fairly young, so the paste itself was more creamy than chalky. The flavors were round and balanced, strong but not piquant like an older log would have been, with a long finish. Milky, tangy, and unique, perhaps just slightly more earthy than others I've tasted, though it would have been interesting to do a side-by-side tasting with a pasteurized Saint-Maure.
It was delicious, but I'm not sure it was worth the 21 Canadian dollars. I couldn't believe the price, actually. But finally to know the truth about that piece of straw? Priceless.
Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City. She is currently a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
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(Images: Nora Singley)