CHEESE OF THE MONTH

Bleu de Gex

France - - Bon Appétit - Mark Samp­son

Thus far along the boun­ti­ful road to Fro­mage Nir­vana, my tast­ings have con­firmed, un­sur­pris­ingly, that ar­ti­sanal cheeses knock their in­dus­trial coun­ter­parts into a cocked hat, and that the tasti­est cheese doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have to be ei­ther the most ma­ture or the most ro­bust. Sub­tler cheeses of­ten re­veal a broader range of flavours. Mun­ster un­der­lines, too, that a pow­er­ful pong can mask a much more del­i­cate savour.

On the con­trary, Bleu de Gex (as in ‘Ghex’) is a lit­tle-known Juras­sic cheese that barely dis­turbs the Niffter Scale, yet flavour-wise nudges eight. Eas­ily recog­nis­able by its stone-hued wheels stamped with the word ‘Gex’, the cheese is one of the small­est yet old­est of ap­pél­la­tions (orig­i­nat­ing from a petty le­gal ac­tion de­cided in July 1935). Even though the cheese – oth­er­wise known as Bleu de Sept­mon­cel or Bleu du Haut-jura – also now bears a Euro­pean AOP la­bel, only four fro­mageries man­u­fac­ture it from the un­pas­teurised milk of Mont­béliarde cows reared in the moun­tain­ous Haut-jura.

The cheese I chose had en­joyed a six-month af­fi­nage or more, whereas it is cus­tom­ar­ily eaten rather sooner af­ter the min­i­mum three weeks. The spores of blue mould are in­tro­duced early on in the fab­ri­ca­tion, then oxy­genated dur­ing mat­u­ra­tion once the cheese has been salted. The re­sult­ing blue-green veins give the ivory-coloured flesh a nice marbled ef­fect. Af­ter the ini­tial pleas­ing burst of cheesy flavour, how­ever, the blue kicks in with a some­what acidic af­ter­taste that comes to dom­i­nate the pro­ceed­ings. So I was glad of the Pinot Noir that we chose to ac­com­pany it. The tex­ture, too, is a lit­tle chalky and it’s al­to­gether denser and less creamy than, say, the heav­enly Ro­que­fort Car­les. I’ll give this an­other try one day, but next time I’ll plump for some­thing younger with a less pro­nounced blue note.

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