Of all of the cheese shops we’ve visited in France (and we still have another couple to go today in Dijon), Jean d’Alos Fromager-Affineur in Bordeaux has been my favorite. Home to 150 cheeses from southwestern France, 95 percent of them raw-milk, this highly-respected shop has developed special relationships over the years with many small, local producers to age their cheeses and take them to market.
On our visit this week, we were greeted by two lovely women: Patricia Dubourg and Delphine Loriot, who generously provided us with a 90-minute personal tour of the small upstairs shop and the three, 15th-Century aging caves below. Jean d’Alos has just remodeled its street-level shop into a modern, simple-chic retail space, with cutting-edge refrigeration methods that allow cheeses to seemingly float on open shelves, inviting customers to touch, smell, (and in my case, lovingly cradle) before buying.
After viewing Jean d’Alos’ three different aging caves – one for goat cheeses, one for bloomy rinds, and the largest for cooked and uncooked pressed cheeses, Patricia and Delphine led us through a five-cheese tasting tour, first showing us the whole wheel aging in their caves, and then cutting up a wedge so we could taste with different wines.
Buche de Pussigny: We were delighted to taste this cheese, as it is made by the La Ferme du Bois-Rond farmstead goat dairy in Pussigny, France, where husband-wife team of Dominique and Marie-Therese Guillet provided us with an amazing tour of their farm and creamery earlier in the week. Jean d’Alos works exclusively with this farm to age this particular cheese to market, which is very much the same as the farm’s AOC Sainte Maure de Touraine cheese without the AOC label.
St. Nectaire Fernier: Earning the first farmhouse AOC designation in France in 1955, this cheese is rightly considered one of France’s national treasures. Made from the milk of Salers cows that feed on volcanic pasture lands of France, the cheese is aged by Jean d’Alos on straw mats, covered with breathable sheets of paper. While the rind gives off a pungent odor of straw and mushroom, the paste is soft, creamy and dreamy, with a lush nutty flavor. This could very well be my new favorite French cheese.
Tomme d’Aquitaine: Patricia told us this cheese, a recent creation, resulted from the marriage of two traditions: the production of pressed cheese made by migrating shepherds in the Graves region in spring before traveling back to the Pyrenees, and the production of the regional white wine. The rind is washed for at least four months in Sauternes wine to achieve the unique fruity flavor.
Ossau de Printemps: A classic sheep’s milk cheese made in the French Pyrénées in the Ossau Valley province, this hard, naturally-rinded boasts a beautiful natural ivory paste with hints of hazelnut. One of my favorite sheep’s milk cheeses tasted thus far in France.
Comte: Jean d’Alos hand selects wheels of Comte, ages the wheels in their caves, and sells between two and three wheels a week. Keep in mind that each wheel weighs about 110 pounds, and you’ll understand how much cheese this shop moves. We tried a wheel of this famous AOC beauty from 2009, and after the cave tour and tasting, went upstairs and promptly bought our fair share for a lunch picnic.
Near the end of the tour, I caught Patricia’s eye and thanked her profusely for all the time she had given our 20-member group from Wisconsin. I asked her how long she had been with the shop and she provided a surprising answer: 17 years. As she didn’t look old enough to already have that long of a career, I jokingly asked if she had started when she was 10. She gave one of the most beautiful answers one could imagine: “It’s from working so many years in the caves. They have preserved me.”
Who knew spending your career aging cheeses is the secret to youth?
Thanks to all of my amazing Wisconsin Cheese Originals members for joining me on this tour. I am having so much fun discovering France with all of you. Just two more days until we board the plane back to Wisconsin. I wonder how much cheese we can take with us?