Thursday, February 23, 2017

French Cheeses: Maroilles

Twenty years ago, that is, shortly after our moving to France, we were invited to dinner at a colleague's home. Our hostess while presenting a modest plateau de fromage asked almost in a whisper, do you like French cheese?  I enthusiastically nodded my head signifying, oh yes, very much. At that time, I had only tasted Brie de CoulommiersPont-l'Évêque, Roquefort, Bleu de Bresse, and Comté but they were surely French, and they were surely wonderful. That small knife with a crooked, jagged tip made no sense to me so I ignored it and used the one by my plate. Oh my! Then I proceeded to cut the cheeses in a most inconsiderate manner, as I took a goodly amount of the croûte (rind), an appreciated aspect of French cheese. Luckily I was not immediately deported and was allowed to remain so I could learn more about the many French cheeses which roughly number about three hundred. If a more flexible accounting is done, then the figure is closer to a thousand.

Last autumn, we found a 1968 book titled Le Livre Du Fromage at an open-air brocante (flea market)

The Book of Cheese contains a charming perspective, many fascinating photographic plates, and much interesting information. 

An old carte postal (postcard) showing a large Maroilles paired with beer

It is the smallest size that is found easily nowadays. Like a smoker who adores the ritual of lighting up including unwrapping the cigarette pack as much as inhaling tobacco smoke, that's the way I am with Maroilles (pronounced ma-wahl). The cheese is taken out of its snug carton and let come to room temperature.


As the wrapper is peeled back, the bracing odour presents itself.


Though the rind which is of the washed type has a sharp aroma, the pâte itself is gorgeously mellow with nutty, earthy notes.


This little beauty provides six portions.


Since much of our menu includes cheese in the main dish, we seldom make up a selection of cheeses as in a plateau. One of the intriguing bits of information provided by the old book was what famous restaurants such as Au Pied De Cochon and La Tour D'Argent served as plateaux which at that time consisted from ten to fifteen choices. But the list that caught my attention most was the one offered by Air France:  a stable consisting of Camembert, RoquefortComté, and Port-Salut with another four which could be any of the following ReblochonPont-l'Évêque, ValledieuPetit Pâtre, Sainte-Maure, Chavignol, and Boursin. As there was some sourdough rye that was still around from the loaf The Calm One had gotten from the local boulangerie, an ample slice was covered with slivers of Maroilles.


Thus lusciously laden, it was cut into strips.


Though a robust red wine can be paired with this cheese, a good quality beer is also recommended.


To paraphase a curious quote from the book, attributed to Curnonsky, if one wanted to riff on the literary description Huysmans applied to liqueurs by using a musical analogy then Maroilles is a saxophone in the symphony of cheese. I would agree if only the sax voices of soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone were all included as though it catches your attention, it's also balanced. This contented eater, comforted by the knowledge that five portions remained, finished her ritual by cozying the re-wrapped Maroilles back into its home.


À la prochaine!