I attended yet another outstanding cheese course at The Cheese School of San Francisco. This was a master class: Cheeses of Affineurs Rodolphe Le Meunier and Pascal Beillevaire, led by two fabulous and very knowledgeable instructors: Colette Hatch and Andy Lax.
Affinage, a skill that takes many years to perfect, is the most crucial step of cheese-making, involving the aging process. The affineur is the person who ages cheeses once they come in a fresh state from the dairy—often when the milk is still warm. In France, cheese-makers frequently send their cheeses to the best affineurs, who are highly regarded (and most often come from a long line of cheese makers), to tend to their cheeses and mature them to perfection.
A well-trained affineur is extremely conscientious and cares for the cheeses in such a way that they acquire their own unique characteristics. They are responsible for aging the cheese, assuring that it’s in the right humidity and temperature. Depending on the type of cheese, they may brush, wash, and rotate the wheels. The affineur is a doting foster-parent or mother-hen of sorts.The affineurs we studied, Le Meunier and Beillevaire are considered to be rock stars in their field. It was so fascinating to taste their cheeses side-by-side (a sensorial tour of the French countryside), and to learn about the training and special care that goes into the process of making fine, artisan cheeses.
For me, the standouts were two by Le Meunier: the ripe Cremeux de Citeaux, a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from the Burgundy region and the Morbier, a raw cow’s milk cheese from the Jura region. All of the cheeses were well-balanced, delightful, and unique in their own way. However, these two (both transcendent, happy-dance makers) made a lasting impression on my mind and palate.
I’ll leave you with the complete list of cheeses we sampled:
Rodolphe Le Meunier
Cremeux de Citeaux (two samples: young and ripe)
Le Jeune Autize
Fourme au Moelleux
Secret du Couvent
Roche du Sulens au Fenouil