You've heard of brie, bien sur! And camembert? Naturellement. If you love stinky cheese, you may even be having a love affair with Epoisses. But have you heard of Laguiole?
Laguiole (pronounced la-gee-OHL) might not be a household name, but it should be! It's the kind of cheese that cozies up next to a hunk of humble peasant loaf as easily as it balances the richness of a seared duck breast with its cultured tang. It shines in a traditional French dish of mashed potatoes, cream, and butter (also known as aligot) or alongside a glass of Cahors (a deep, earthy wine from the same birthplace of Malbec). In short, it is the perfect cheese.
So What Is Laguiole, Exactly?
Laguiole is a type of cheese made in the Aubrac, a volcanic plateau somewhere in the middle of France. It is a cheese with a long history: 12th-century monks cleared the plateau of the Aubrac, enabling cows to graze, and the same monks developed the recipe that's still used today in Laguiole production.
The process begins with raw cow's milk. The cows are pasture-raised in a radius from the creamery of 50 kilometers or fewer. The idea is to honor the terroir (or sense of place) inherent in the milk.
Traditional rennet and cultures get added to warmed milk to begin coagulation and flavor production. The cheese curds get cut to the size of corn and stirred before draining and cycles of pressing and turning.
The curd itself ages for almost a day before it's salted and formed into its characteristic wheel. Finally, the wheel is then moved to refining caves where it will age for up to two years.
Buy: Laguiole, $26 per pound at Formaggio Kitchen
What Does Laguiole Taste Like?
A wheel of Laguiole is diminutive in neither size nor flavor, packing a sharp, earthy punch within its hundred or so pounds. Buttery curds nestle together just barely, breaking apart at the slightest touch, and are accented by a rustic rind that helps to ripen and protect the tomme as it ages.
You'll find a wedge is as much at home on your cheese board as it is on a burger. It's delightful during a formal cheese course, or just as a snack for the cook. The aforementioned Cahors pairing stands, of course, but I also love Laguiole's biscuity quality with a brown ale, and find its buttery notes pair delightfully with whiskey.
Cheers to you, little wedge of Laguiole — the best French cheese to ever exist.
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About me: I started on a cheese counter in my home state of Oklahoma before moving to renowned Murray's Cheese in New York City as Director of Education and E-Commerce in 2009. I've lectured on cheese at the International Culinary Center, NYU, and the New School, and helped produce events like the Cheesemonger Invitational and Cider Week NYC. These days, I preach the curd in Santa Fe, NM, while trying to maintain an urban farm (read: two chickens and an apple tree) in a desert.
Have you had Laguiole? Do you love it as much as I do?