Cheese of the Week: Chaumes

“Chaumes” (an attempt at) A Haiku by Annie Peterson

Sunset orange rind

Creamy ivory center

Luscious tang bestowed

Chaumes is one of my all time favorite cheeses. It’s slightly tangy, French, spreadable, and melts in your mouth, what’s not to love? I’ll admit, I am not close to being a haiku master, but I could talk about Chaumes anytime, anywhere, even in verse form. Everyone should feel the same way.

Chaumes is a pasteurized, washed rind, cow’s milk cheese from the St. Antoine region of France, an area known for historic castles and rich history (although the cheese itself is relatively new—the recipe was developed in 1971).

Some people in the cheese world stick up their noses at the word “pasteurization.” Let’s head off some misconceptions.

First off pasteurization is a process in which milk is heated up in order to remove certain harmful bacteria that could potentially be in the cheese. This usually means the milk is heated to 145˚ for 30 minutes (batch pasteurization), or the milk is heated to 161˚ for 15 seconds (HTST or “flash pasteurization"). Unpasteurized milk is also heated to 145˚ but only for 15 minutes. Raw milk means that the milk is not heated above the body temperature of the animal it came from. There are many subtleties in flavor between these processes, and while pasteurization is by far the most popular method, it does mean that some of the milk’s natural flavors suffer, as many of the naturally occurring bacteria are destroyed. Many in the culinary industry stick up their noses to pasteurized cheeses for this reason. But it’s important to know that this process protects the masses from illnesses spread by harmful bacteria (i.e. food born illnesses like E. coli and salmonella, etc.). The elderly, young children, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems are cautioned against eating raw and unpasteurized cheeses for this reason.

(Louis Pasteur—mastering the Pasteurization process)

Luckily the pasteurization process does not affect the complex and delicious flavor of Chaumes. It has a fat content of 50%. This probably has something to do with it . . . As I said before, this is one of my all time favorite cheeses, with mushroom-y and meaty flavor notes and a versatile texture. Although it’s semi-soft and spongey texture allows it to be used for cooking (think melting on burger), I think it’s best to eat on it’s own, with a baguette, some rich cherry jam, and a bitter and hoppy IPA. Since it is so fatty, the cheese needs something on the bitter side to cut it. Since the cheese has a slight funk to it (due to the washed rind), some people may be turned off by it. But as it has such high butterfat content, the funk is not overpowering. A beautiful marriage of fat and flavor—a balance every cheese hopes to achieve.