A Cheese Board at Chateau St. Philippe
Readers, let me transport you to the French Alps, where I just spent 10 days as a co-host for Cheese Journeys. I meant to post along our route from the Savoie to Alsace, but the wifi was weak. And I got so caught up taking pictures of cow breeds I had never seen before and consuming vast quantities of young raw-milk cheese that are illegal in the United States that I completely lost my head.
Let me take you back in time. Let me feed you impossibly beautiful cheese. First, though, cue the sound of cow bells ringing across mountains, the smell of fresh-cut hay, the sight of chalets with colorful shutters and overflowing window boxes of geraniums.
You and I, we are staying at Chateau St. Philippe, first inhabited by Benedictine monks in 1034. From the windows, you can see jagged mountains, hillside vineyards, the local village (Saint Jean-de-la-Porte) beyond the long gated drive. Chickens peck at the lawn, and a spring-fed pool near the planter boxes serves as the icebox for bottles of Savoie wine.
When you’re thirsty, just pad across the moss and grab yourself a bottle to pair with this local cheese board.
A Mostly Savoie Cheese Board
Similar to Comté, this raw-milk Alpine cheese tastes like a caramel made wildflowers-infused milk. Simply beautiful, a glowing example of Alpine cheese: waxen in texture, boldly flavored, with a delicate balance of savory and sweet tastes.
Saint Mauré de Touraine
From the Loire Valley (not the Savoie), this goat log snuck onto the board because it pairs so well with the mineral-rich wines we’ve been tasting here, Phillip Grisard’s 2014 Mondeuse Blanche. This subtle goat cheese is rolled in ash and has a straw running through it to create an air passage so that the paste dries uniformly.
You’ll see farm stands selling rounds of Reblochon all along the roadsides here. One of the great cheeses of the Savoie, this one has a sticky rind and a satin-soft center. Cheese expert cheese Steve Jenkins writes that a ripe Reblochon tastes “like a rare filet mignon” — tender and meaty.
“The prince of Gruyeres” is one of France’s most complex cheeses. Look for the “Alpage” grade of Beauforts; they’re made at chalets high up in the mountains, at elevations above 6,000 feet. Flavors range from hazelnuts to roasted leeks to sweet cream.
Tomme de Savoie (chèvre)
The local table cheese can be made from cow’s milk or goat’s milk. It has a velvety gray rind with a dense paste that smells mushroomy and tastes of clean, grassy milk.
Can you make this cheese board at home? Of course. Find a specialty foods store with a good cheese counter and make friends with a cheesemonger, like Chuck Kellner (pictured above) from Cowgirl Creamery. Then, start planning a trip to taste these cheeses in their native landscape.
You won’t believe how great Alpine cheeses taste in the Alps, or how amazing it is to see ancient cheese traditions in action. I’ll be posting more from our trip, including a Reblochon maker, plus a glimpse into the enormous “Comté Cathedral” at Fort Saint Antoine.
We’ve got more out-of-body experiences ahead of us, you and I. For now, let’s hang out on the deck off the back of the chateau, savoring glasses of Mondeuse (the local grape).