A Vermont Coulommiers
Last week, a beautiful Coulommiers descended from the air. It arrived from Vermont in a cardboard pizza box, and for several days I simply peeked at it, delighted to have a whole wheel at my disposal. Truth be told, I was a little scared to try it. My last encounter with Coulommiers was so memorable — it was smuggled in from France — that I was afraid this wheel wouldn’t match up.
Few things are better than illicit French cheese.
Coulommiers is named after a town of the same name, and it’s essentially an extra thick Brie. The real difference is that some Bries are name controlled, which means the government oversees production. Coulommiers is a free agent. Anyone can bust out a bloomy cheese and call it Coulommiers. Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company has named their version “Lille.” I suspect they retail it as a Coulommiers to distinguish it from other bloomies.
When I finally cut into this gorgeous thing, I was delighted by its pudgy innards. I like a bloomy cheese that practically weeps all over the cutting board. Lille didn’t weep, but she definitely slouched. The rind was gorgeous, like a sherling jacket. The cheese smelled grassy, not the least bit like mold or mushrooms. The taste? My first thought was of coconut cream. The initial taste was sweet, brazil-nutty, but as it softened in the mouth it gave off a little coconut shiver.
It’s the Brie of Spring Break, I thought; it’s an island Coulommiers.
Here’s where things get stranger. I like to invite random cheese geeks over for samples I receive in the mail, and so I texted a new friend named Geoff who works at Greensgrow, an urban farm near my house. ”Bike over for some Coulommiers,” I wrote him, “I just cut into a wheel.”
“Can we make it a drive-by Coulommiers?” Geoff texted back. “My dad’s in town.”
Soon, a rumpled Geoff appeared with his lady luv and his pops. I welcomed them into my kitchen and cracked open the Vermont Coulommiers. “Hey, this is from South Woodstock!” Geoff’s eyes bugged when he saw the label. “We lived there for three years.”
Turns out Geoff worked for the now defunct Star Hill Dairy, makers of water buffalo cheese, in South Woodstock. Vermont Farmstead Cheese Co., a community owned dairy that opened in 2011, operates at the exact same address. The hunk of Coulommiers I gave Geoff was from his old haunt. I hope he can taste the terroir and explain the hint of coconut. Maybe I’m just dreaming?
Further sleuthing revealed more juicy tidbits. The senior cheesemaker of Vermont Farmstead Cheese Co. is none other than Tom Gilbert, formerly of Spring Brook (makers of Tarentaise). You can watch Gilbert hand-make his Coulommiers here. It looks like a beautiful operation.
My experience with Vermont Coulommiers will never overshadow my memory of true raw-milk Coulommiers from France. Young raw-milk cheese is stupendous. However, I will gladly eat the rest of this wheel. Lille is one sensuous cheese — fudgy, mellow, and delicately laced with the taste of sweet grass and nuts. I’m not surprised it won a gold medal at the North American Jersey Cheese Awards in its first year. I suspect this cheese has more awards to win.