hors Contrôl(é)eThe RindLinkshors Contrôl(é)e Cantal

This cheese is a slice of pure sunshine. In fact, this cheese was so good that I had eaten nearly the entire portion before I even remembered to take a picture of it. So, sorry for that.

Before I get ahead of myself, I should clarify that what I ate this week was not technically Cantal, but Cantalet, the French diminutive form of the name and of the cheese. This "little Cantal" is produced in the same way as the full-sized Cantal, but comes in a 20 lb wheel and is aged for a little less time. In his book, Cheese Primer, Steven Jenkins advises against Cantalet. This blog and my personal cheese experience already owe a lot to Jenkins' advice, but in this case I'm glad I didn't take it.

I searched high and low for Cantal in every retail cheese shop I could think of, but there was no Cantal to be found. Finally, I emailed Marion Street Cheese Market in the bordering suburb of Oak Park. After two hours on the train, I had just over 1/2 lb of Allanche pays de l'estive Cantalet, which set me back $7.86. The taste and the smell seemed completely mild in every way.

Returning to it after we'd both had some time to warm up from the chilly winter day, my skepticism was brushed aside by pure dairy transcendence. The Cantalet sliced like any other semi-firm cheese, but the moment after it hit my tongue it melted into the sweetest butter, but without the crass fattiness of eating butter. The taste was clean, delicate, and satisfying. That cheese got rationed every day like water in the desert and I'd happily eat it every day for the rest of my life.

So obsessed was I with the flavor of that Cantalet that I scarcely paired it with anything else. One night, we made a bitter salad of endive, tomato, baby spinach, and a handful of overgrown microgreens. The macro-microgreens came from our indoor garden, but you could use a small amount of any bitter greens—dandelion or radish greens, perhaps. On top of that, we generously shaved Cantalet and ate it with a dressing comprised of:

  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • the juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 parts olive oil
  • 1 part balsamic vinegar
  • 1 part white or white wine vinegar
  • fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1 egg yolk, for emulsion

Mix everything together very well. I consider all of these measurements flexible, so keep trying it and adjust to suit your taste. Since this has raw egg yolk in it, it doesn't keep well and will separate overnight in a very unappealing way.

Chicago is by no means a backwater when it comes to global culture and trade. The former Hog Butcher for the World hosts scores of ethnic and national neighborhoods and enclaves and dozens of foreign consulates. Despite this, even in Chicago, it can sometimes be difficult to come by obscure foreign goods, particularly of the quality you might find in their home country.

In previous entries, I've discussed the difficulty in finding genuine AOC cheeses in Chicago due to import restrictions. In the case of Cantal, the difficulty is volume. As I was first informed by the cheese counter at my local Binny's Beverage Depot, Cantal comes in an enormous 80 lb wheel. There is simply insufficient demand to consume that much cheese from so far away before it goes bad.

The characteristics of a cheese are heavily influenced by the milk that goes into making it. This, in turn, is influenced by the season and the feed available to the cows, sheep, or goats. The cheese I had this week was made from milk produced during l'estive, the time of year when cows in Auvergne are grazed in their highland pastures.

Thow in the complications of international trade and this seasonality of cheese becomes rather murky, much like for fruits and vegetables. Combine the possible variations in aging times and travel times and it can become unclear whether you're dealing with out-of-season milk hardly aged and shipped quickly or prime season milk that took the slow boat. Unlike fruits or vegetables, you can usually taste the final product before buying it, and taste is the ultimate measure of quality.

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