Monday, 9 June 2008
Cheese of the Month - Livarot
A nation notoriously proud of their food and wine heritage, and often quite rightly so, it's perhaps not surprising that France has traditionally tried so hard to protect its precious produce from foreign imitators. The Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) is not a uniquely French invention - Spain, Germany and even the USA have similar laws to protect the integrity of their local producers - but nowhere else in the world is it more liberally used and enthusiastically enforced, with over 6500 French farmers and companies guaranteed by the system. One of them is the Normandy cheese Livarot, protected nationwide by an AOC since 1975 and Europe-wide (called a PDO) since 1996.
The reason I mention the fussy French with their AOCs (does anyone remember when you could buy Champagne from Spain?) is because in an age where even the most unlikely countries are wising up to artisan food production and the standard across the board is rising, it matters increasingly less where those products are made and increasingly more how. Stinking Bishop, for example, a cheese I reviewed last year, is a fine French cheese, soft flesh and alcohol-washed rind, that wouldn't look out of place on a cheeseboard anywhere in Europe. The fact it's made by an Englishman a few miles out of Gloucester is of supreme unimportance to me while I'm stuffing my face with it.
Anyway, back to the matter in hand. Prettily wrapped in bulrush reeds and with a sticky orange rind, Livarot would make an attractive addition to any cheeseboard. I'd been told to expect a strong odour and pungent flesh but sensing nothing too overwhelming on unwrapping it I had a sneaking suspicion this example was a little young; suspicions confirmed by a tell-tale chalky centre. However despite this, the flesh near the rind gave a good clue to what a more mature cheese would offer - dense, earthy and salty and with the complex flavour you would expect of a top-quality cheese. In order to test my theory, I may revisit the Livarot later in the year - the season, apparently, runs May to September.
It therefore seems a little harsh to rate a cheese based on what is possibly not the best example of its kind, but if John Lewis food hall is selling them, and people are paying good money for them, I think I'm entitled to mention it. And maybe if I keep my eyes open between now and September I'll find a Liverot-style cheese made in Somerset or Norfolk that's even better. Well, it will annoy the French, if nothing else.