Ile de France Camembert

Last month I received an email from Alex at Ile de France cheese, asking if I would be interested in getting a sample of one of their cheeses in exchange for a review here on Table for Two and the opportunity to participate in a recipe contest they were sponsoring. Hardly being one to turn down free cheese, and intrigued by the contest, of course I accepted.

Given the choice between their signature brie, goat cheese, and camembert, I chose the camembert – I like mild, soft-ripened cheeses like brie and camembert a great deal, but I’ve eaten a lot of brie in the last couple of years and wanted to try something new.

From Wikipedia:

“Camembert is a soft, creamy French cheese. It was first made in the late 18th century in Normandy in northwestern France. [It] is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk, and is ripened by the moulds Penicillium candida and Penicillium camemberti for at least three weeks. It is produced in small rounds, about 250 grams in weight, which are then typically wrapped in paper and packaged in thin wooden boxes. When fresh, it is quite crumbly and relatively hard, but characteristically ripens and becomes more fluid and strongly flavoured as it ages.” More…

My sample arrived via airmail in its traditional round balsa-wood box, and unwrapping the inner paper revealed a semi-dry, almost papery white rind. The cheese seemed fairly firm to the touch, quite similar to the texture of most bries I’ve sampled, indicating that it had not aged for terribly long.

As a first taste, I sliced a small wedge and trimmed off the rind (I know that’s sort of a point of debate when eating these cheeses, but I generally remove it – I don’t like the way it feels on my tongue and feel it takes away from the experience of the cheese itself) and ate it just as it was. The texture was creamy and smooth, showing just the slightest resistance to my teeth before melting over my tongue. The flavor was mild but aromatic and earthy, with a subtle tang that lingered after swallowing and an ever-so-slight nuttiness and fungal aftertaste. Put simply, it was delicious: complex enough to make eating even a small piece interesting and surprising, but not strong enough to feel like it was slapping me in the face.

J and I shared about half of the wheel as an appetizer before dinner one night, paired with some granny smith and macoun apples and some dry white wine, and this was where I felt the flavor really started to shine. The two varieties of apples brought out different elements of the camembert’s flavor and aroma: the tart granny smiths seemed to highlight a subtle sweetness in the cheese that I hadn’t noticed when eating it “straight” while bolstering its back-end tang, and their crisp texture provided a wonderful foil for the cheese’s smooth, creamy texture; the sweeter, softer macouns almost melted on the palate along with the cheese, and shone a spotlight on its nutty, almost caramel undertones. Both apples seemed to help to downplay the fungal flavor that is common and desired in ripened cheeses, and which is generally the only element of them that could make me turn up my nose… I’m still not sold on veined or blue cheeses for just that reason. It isn’t strong in this cheese so it’s not really a point against it, but I definitely enjoyed it more with the apples to mellow it out a bit.

And that being said, I should make a disclaimer than I realize these types of cheeses are SUPPOSED to taste fungal and, well, moldy – its the mold that makes cheeses like camembert what they are. I love cheese but am hardly an expert, and in truth I think I’ve only had one camembert before this, so unfortunately I don’t have much of a basis of comparison to draw from. I suspect, however, that this is a particularly mild variety, and as such I found it entirely pleasant to eat and cook with (more on that later).

As an amusing sidenote, this past weekend I sought ought another variety of camembert in the hopes of having something to compare this one to, and I ended up with a cheese that had been aged for about 5 months – this one was soft and runny, and so strongly bacterial in flavor that I simply couldn’t enjoy it. Frankly, it tasted like dirty socks, and its hanging out in our meat drawer in the fridge while I ry to figure out something I can do with it to mellow out the flavor so I won’t waste the $12 I spent on it.

Clearly, I’m not quite ready for long-ripened cheeses. For now, I think this one is just right for me.

Thanks Alex, for giving me the opportunity to sample Ile de France’s product and write this review! I hope I’ll get to try some others later on down the road – I’ve got my eye on that goat cheese. 😉

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