The Natural Fondue of the Cheese World
In my cheese journey over the past year, I have encountered many new flavors and textures, and have learned to appreciate them. I discovered a few of them as accidents that occurred in my home cheese laboratory. That first Camembert I made with the “wrong” mold, it turns out, was a variation of a Brevibacterium linens “stinky” cheese—something I now actively seek when selecting fine cheeses. It smelled so odd that I didn’t imagine it was edible, but it clearly was. I used that “failed” batch in Italian sauces, but today I’d just saw off a chunk and eat it.
I have become such a fan of Brie, Camembert, and Reblochon washed-rind stinky cheese that I believe I have Penicillium candidum and B. Linens floating around freely in my cheese refrigerators. I think this because a few rounds of Blue cheese I made started to grow this white mold once I scraped away the blue mold. When white mold metabolizes and grows, it leaves chemicals in the curd that softens it—this is why Bries become softer over time, and other soft-ripened cheeses become so creamy. P. Candidum will do the same thing to Blue cheese if you let it, and inadvertently I did—another “mistake.” But this time, I decided to embrace this error—I put it in a porcelain Brie container, removed the mold cap, and served it like a Blue cheese dip. It was a delightful, though unconventional way to consume it.
In the cheese world, there are highly-sought-after washed-rind cheeses that are great in their solid state, but eventually get so runny that they can be used as dip. Seasonal cheeses like Jasper Hill’s Willoughby and Harbison, Upland Cheese’s Rush Creek Reserve and the Swiss Vacherin Mont D’Or are prime examples, and if you can acquire some at your local cheesemonger’s store, you are in for a treat. These cheeses are wrapped in spruce bark because once they are ripe enough, all one needs to do is remove the mold cap and a ready-made “bowl” of sublime cheese dip is ready for your artisan bread.
Recently Vermont Creamery, famous for its award-winning mixed-milk Cremont and its ash-rind, goat-based Bonne Bouche an homage to a Bucheron log released a cheese called St. Albans in a little stone crock. Murray’s Cheese has a similar version found in select Ralph’s or Smith’s supermarkets called St. Mark’s. Andante Dairy in Petaluma makes one called pianoforte. These cheeses are so delicate they will eventually reach a creamy, runny state at room temperature. Slip them in the oven for a few minutes, and you’ll have a warm fondue. I found out that these cheeses are an homage to a cow’s milk style called St. Marcellin, named for the region in France that is officially allowed to produce it. If you make your own St. Marcellin, you will have to come up with your own name.
The process for making St. Marcellin is slightly different from the one for making Brie. Based on how it looks—the “brainy” textured surface—it is apparently a cheese that makes use of the Geotrichum Candidum mold. G. Candidum is usually associated with goat milk cheese because the vegetal odors developed as the cheese ages match the sometimes meaty “barnyard” flavors found in goat cheese. However, traditional St. Marcellin is a cow’s milk cheese, and the G. Candidum contributes some savory wildness to the final product. When I researched the recipe, I found that my cheesemaking book recommends using a mixture of both types of Candidum mold.
At the curd-level, this cheese is formed almost exactly like a Brie, except in smaller, ramekin-sized plastic containers. But how does this cheese ripen to the point where its natural state is a runny thick cream? The trick is in the curdling process: instead of a 1.5 hour curd rest at 85 degrees, with St. Marcellin you add the culture, mold and rennet, and then let it rest at 72 degrees for 12-18 hours. This makes the curd extremely fragile and difficult to work with, but it is essential developing acidic whey to break down the curds, which eventually
will soften the ripened cheese. This natural souring also contributes to the final flavor of the cheese. The curds look and taste like yogurt, and take considerably longer to set up than Brie. It took me over two hours to fill the molds despite the fact that I first drained them in a large stainless steel, cheesecloth-lined strainer. After the molds are filled, they are flipped every six hours for the next 24 hours.
When I made my own St. Marcellin named St. Barnes, I decided to take some artistic license and use a blend of cow and goat milk. I also ash-ripened half of the rounds. Food-grade vegetable ash which can be purchased from cheesemaking suppliers invites in blue mold and aids in ripening the cheese a little more rapidly than mold alone. Soon the salty exterior of my St. Barnes grew mold and after a couple of weeks, I placed them into porcelain ramekins. After a few more weeks, they looked a little rough, and with that ash, they had plenty of signs of aging on the outside. Inside, St. Barnes was soft and luscious, just the way it should be. The first few rounds I shared needed some heating, but as it aged, it got softer and better. Since this cheese is becoming more popular, you should definitely pick up a round the next time you are in one of the fancier SoCal grocery stores.