In the past, I’ve shined the spotlight on superstar affineurs Herve Mons and Rolf Beeler. Sadly, I’ve neglected another excellent affineur out there, one who only recently came to my attention. That affineur is Pascal Bellevaire. Bellevaire has been in the milk business in one way or another since he was a young boy, working at his family’s dairy. Today, he produces a wide variety of cheeses and other milk products, all from raw milk. If this week’s cheese, Grise des Volcans, is any indication, I’m already hungry to try everything else he has to offer. Inspecting a wheel of Grise des Volcans, as we received it into the store, the first word that stuck me was “dusty”. A fine coat of brown dust fell from the wheel at every movement. I have since learned the source of this dust, but I ask the weak stomached of you turn away for the duration of this paragraph. The “dust” is actually cheese mites. Cheese mites are small fellows who, like us, love a good bit of cheese and have been known to burrow around the rind. As they die and release dander, they leave behind this layer of dust. It’s perfectly harmless and anyone who has ever enjoyed a good bit of Mimolette has been privy to one of the most well-known mite cheeses. If anything, I find their presence an immediate sign that the cheese is naturally and artisanally produced and worth checking out. If you want to avoid it, just cut off the craggy, rustic brown rind.
Inside Grise des Volcans, you’ll find a semi-firm cheese dotted with small holes. The cheese melts instantly on the tongue, producing layers of flavor that are like a virtual tour through the French countryside. I, for one, felt like I was back there on my first bite. The taste starts of with notes of mushrooms and some very light smokiness. As it progresses, I taste salted cashews, before it finishes with a sharp, cheddary bite. The rind itself is actually quite edible, despite the mites. Although it is a bit dense and chewy, personally, I like the taste of it. I’ve reviewed many cheeses here and, though I’d never review a cheese I didn’t like, this is one I want to strongly press you to discover on your own. Its flavor is pleasant to just about all cheese palates and its rustic look stands out on a cheese plate.
Grise des Volcans is currently not carried at many of the larger cheese shops. Over at Cobblestone Foods, we have some in at $19.50/lb, which I plan to keep in stock as long as I can. Online, Venissimo usually carries it (though they appear to be out of stock now) for $29.00/lb. Formaggio Kitchen does not appear to have it yet, but they carry a number of other cheeses by Pascal, so would be a good place to request it. It’s also available at Wally’s Wine, a shop with a silly name, but a very well stocked site, at $24.99/lb.