hors Contrôl(é)eThe RindLinkshors Contrôl(é)e St. Nectaire
Murray's St. Nectaire

As true French AOPFermier ("farm-made") St. Nectaire is made from raw milk and typically aged less than 60 days, and so is not legal for sale in the United States. In order to get some approximation of the experience of eating St. Nectaire, I tried two different cheeses that represent the two legal alternatives, one aged the correct amount of time to be called St. Nectaire the typically shorter period of time, but made with pasteurized milk, and one made with raw milk, but aged 60 days. Chalie Kalish provides a much better explanation of the production differences in his comment below, informed by his experience from working on a Saint-Nectaire farm.

The first St. Nectaire was from the brand Le Dolmen, which was the only brand I was able to find in Chicago. You can find it at Whole Foods Market, although I ended up buying it at The Artesan Cellar (about $9 for 1/2 lb). This cheese did have the Appellation d'origine protegée (AOP) stamp on it, meaning it was produced in the designated place and manner to be called St. Nectaire; however, it was made from pasteurized milk, so it is not Appellation d'origine controlée (AOC) certified.

Wrapping this cheese in plastic is a crime against humanity, specifically mine in this instance. The portion I had was cut off the wheel and wrapped in plastic only for the trip home, and in that short time the smell became overwhelmingly strong and acidic. Demand paper. The texture was somewhat plastic and its one saving grace is that it melts in a very pleasing way. It is just dense enough that it develops a nice brown melted crust with a surprisingly hot molten center.

The second St. Nectaire was mail-ordered from Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City ($25 for 1/2 lb, including $10 shipping). This cheese was made from raw milk, but was aged 60 days for legal sale in the U.S. The two cheeses were remarkably different. In contrast to the bright orange rind of the Le Dolmen, it had a thicker and grittier rind, earthy and slightly salty—reminiscent a peanut shell in both appearance and taste. The texture was the same; neither is spreadable. The taste and smell, however, was much more balanced and mild. There is a perfect balance between earthy, moldy, and floral, a combination I only fully recognized when I walked by a flower shop located in the basement of a builing in downtown Chicago and noticed an almost identical aroma.

While Roquefort is a needy cheese that can easily overwhelm other flavors, St. Nectaire is unforgiving. I had a few nearly vomitorious episodes trying to pair this cheese with various jams, fruit spreads, and honey—things that most accounts of St. Nectaire claim are excellent pairings. If you are trying to pair with something sweet, cut off the rind, especially if you have a weak stomach like I often do in the morning. The most successful pairings I found were with smoky flavors like coffee, tea, and chocolate, though even then it wasn't quite a perfect match.

Have any thoughts? Questions? Differences of opinion? Let me know in the discussion board below or at cheese@horscontrolee.com.

     No blog about 
cheese from an 
American perspective 
would be complete 
without mention of 
the federal laws 
that regulate dairy 
products in the 
United States. At 
issue is raw milk
--that is, milk in 
its most natural 
state that has not 
been pasteurized.
Pasteurization is 
basically heating the 
milk to a particular 
temperature to kill 
bacteria that can 
cause potentially 
fatal illness in 
humans, such as 
listeria, salmonella, 
and mycobacteria
(which causes 
tuberculosis). The 
debate over raw milk 
is complicated and 
heated (no pun 
intended).

There are different 
regulations in 
different states, 
but federal law 
bans all transport 
of raw milk across 
state lines. For 
cheese, this means 
that any cheese made 
from raw milk that 
is aged less than 60 
days cannot legally 
be sold or imported. 
Since many cheeses 
this blog covers 
must be made with 
raw milk and aged 
less than 60 days to 
qualify for AOC 
status, they are not 
available in the 
United States. In 
those cases, I'll do 
my best to find a 
legal version of the 
same cheese.

     Despite this, 
I'm still generally 
supportive of the 
FDA and its 
regulations--for 
example, protecting 
American babies from 
thalidomide in the 
'60s. I'm also happy 
not to have to worry 
about the cheese 
equivalent of 
moonshine flooding 
cheese counters.
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