For over a year, I've been having a love affair with a smelly Swiss man. Everything he gives me, I adore. My heart goes all aflutter at the mention of his name. Okay, I should be honest, it's more my stomach that gets going. You see, this Swiss fellow is none other than affineur extraordinaire Rolf Beeler. His Hoch Ybrig is probably my favorite cheese from Switzerland, and his aged Appenzeller changed the way I feel about this normally bland cheese.
For those who don't know, an affineuer is someone who ages cheese. It sounds simple, but it's really a very complex process. In the case of Rolf Beller, as with many "superstar" affineurs, it starts with a handful of individual farms. The affineur seeks out and hand picks the cheeses they will age, directly from the cheese producer. They are then moved to their special caves for aging, a process that may involve washing with brine, cleaning, flipping, and testing, all depending on the type of the cheese they start with and the product they are looking to produce. The end result is a cheese whose entire process has been handled for optimum quality.
Today, we'll take a look at Beeler's Tomme Vaudoise (also known as Tomme au lait cru, which just means Tomme with raw milk). If there was ever a poster child for raw milk, this is it. Due to government restraints, most soft cheeses (and this one is definitely gooey) in the U.S. are made from pasteurized milk. The results are decidedly less robust than their raw milk counterparts. But Rolf Beeler wheels and deals in one thing: raw milk. The end result is a cheese that simply blows the Camembert we get into this country out of the water.
Truly, it's everything a young cheese should be. Yes, it's smelly, with a sour, strangely fleshy smell, but if you've never returned a Camembert de normandie or Brie de meaux for its odor, you'll be fine. Also, it is milder when under-ripe, eventually giving way to a huge robust mushroomy flavor, so beefy it reminds me a bit of grilled portobellos. The flavor is underlined by a stroke of tartness and a dash of raw garlic. Those looking for buttery Brie, look elsewhere. And make sure you have a loaf of sourdough bread on hand to sop up the invariable cheese that will ooze like cream upon the plate.
I'll say it one last time: if you like full flavored, robust, creamy cheeses, you must get this cheese. Don't get indecisive about it, go for it! Truthfully, I've only seen this cheese at Murray's who carry it for $9.99/ea. Rolf Beeler's cheeses are becoming more and more common, though, so I strongly encourage you to ask for it at your local cheese shop.