The Cheesemonger: Reblochon
Producer: Various (Savoie, France)
Milk: Raw Cow’s Milk
Age: 30 days+
I’ve seen signs, at both cheese counters where I’ve worked, describing a cheese as “sexy”. In the past, I just laughed it off. Now, I find myself using the very same word to describe Reblochon. This cheese is so lush, rich and impossibly silken in texture, it creates a very sensual experience on the tongue.
The flavor is surprisingly light, with no meatiness or aftertaste of fermented fruit. Instead, it is relatively mild, only gaining strength when you eat the rind (which, in this case, I recommend in moderation), ending with a pleasant sweetness. Max McCalman (of Artisanal fame) once described it as “eggy”, and I am apt to agree.
That leaves the smell, the thing that strikes fear into the heart of many a cheese buyer. Truth be told, it’s not as stinky as the tacky, red rind would lead you to believe. Instead, it smells a little yeasty and so strongly cavey, it stirs up wells of fromage-passion in my heart so strong, it’s almost inappropriate.
At the time Reblochon was invented, sometime in the 13th century, farmers would pay their rent in the form of cheese, milk or other dairy products. In the morning, they would milk the cows to pay the bills, supposedly tapping the cows out. Then, in the evening, they would steal away to milk the cows a second time. That milk, richer and higher in butterfat, was what the farmer kept for himself. Even the name, Reblochon, is derived from the word ‘reblocher’, which roughly translates as ”to milk again”.
I should note that for this review, i used raw-milk Reblochon, which is illegal in this country. I obtained mine through a friend who shall remain nameless. Though it is possible to find shops that have methods of smuggling it in, it’s highly unlikely that what you find in almost any cheese shop in this country is real Reblochon. Often, it is even named Reblochon and made with raw milk, but it’s just not the real thing. In reality, often what is sold in this country as Reblochon is actually a cheese called Fromage de Savoie, a cheese created for the American market to replace Reblochon. It’s been aged longer and is substantially less gooey, making it legal to import and sell. I’ll be honest with you: it’s not the same cheese. I’ve had a chance to compare these two side-by-side recently and the differences are dramatic. I am not saying Fromage de Savoie is not a good cheese. In fact, it’s an excellent cheese. It is mild, subtly woodsy and not overpoweringly stinky.
When I found out about the substitution, the first question I asked was: if the name “Reblochon” is protected by AOC, how can we sell Fromage de Savoie as Reblochon? The catch is that AOC laws only protect someone from producing a cheese called “Reblochon”, but they do not extend to the distributor or retail stores. So, as long as the producer labels it as another cheese, all bets are off. I’ll let you in on a little industry secret: there’s a lot of cheeses like this. Valencay, Pouligny St. Pierre or even my recently reviewed Banon are all fake! The real AOC, raw milk, versions are illegal in this country.