Apr 8, 2014

Brains and Beauty: Ecorce des Bruyères


It turns out there's one thing I really value both in a person and on a cheese: brains. You've heard me refer to certain cheese rinds as "brainy" and now I'm finally brainy enough to explain it to you. This phenomenon actually has many names -- in scientific and layman's terms -- géotricum, l'oïdium lactis, moisissure hypolitique, and the more colorful peau de crapaud or toad's skin.

Why toad skin? I've looked at a lot of images of toad skin and can't find one that gets it just right. The photo above seems to come closest. I think the so-called toad's skin cheese crust looks more like saggy old wrinkly neck skin, but perhaps that would be too un-poetic.

Moisissure hypolitique comes closest to helping explain both what it is and how it got there. It means hypolytic mold, and broken down further that appears to mean it's a mold caused from excessive breakdown of enzymes. The longer it sits around, the brainier it looks.

Géotricum is actually an airborn yeast that affects the mold of these wrinkly, brainy goat cheeses. I know that at the Vermont Creamery, they are into géotricum goat cheeses, which makes me slightly less depressed about the idea of eventually leaving France. In fact, most of these brainy cheeses are goat cheeses, but there are some exceptions.

There are many, many examples of this sort of toad skin crust on a delicious cheese. Here are just a few from my own files, right at my fingertips:

Lingot, Ovalie Romarin,


Tomme Capra, Pictou des Deux Sevres,


Bonde de Gâtine, Saint Paul,


Ecorce des Bruyères, Pont de Pontlevoy,


Buche de Marilhoux, Mâconnais,


and one cow cheese: St. Marcellin.

But perhaps the best example of all is Dome de Vezelay, which not only has a brainy skin, but a brainy shape. When I mention this to Alex, my favorite cheese guy, he says, "You know, I've always called them little snowballs. But now that you say that, I will only ever think of them as brains!"

THE CHEESE: Ecorce des Bruyères

Ecorce des Bruyères, is a Brebis du Berry made from the farm Le Brebis des Bruyères, where farmer Annie Askamp reigns. Confusingly, all three of these names are on the sticker, but no matter what you end up calling it, it's a raw sheep's milk cheese made in the heart of goat country -- in the Cher region of central France.

The Ecorce des Bruyères looks like it would be a firm, sliceable cheese. But in fact, it's very fresh, wet, and crumbly. It's just a little too heavy to be described as fluffy, but too light to be described as dense. The flavor is very mild, with hints of salt and sheep, and we all find it absolutely heavenly with the black cherry/chocolate/chili fruit gel from Quatrehomme.


Truth be known, the cheese I would really love to use to explain braininess is, of course, the Dome de Vezelay. But, alas, I've already used it to talk about my 12,000 mile (that's 18,000km) round-trip to San Francisco for a DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) appointment. This, of course, came about as a result of my own error in having renewed my license remotely too many times in a row, which, in the end, was not really using my brains.

But Ecorce des Bruyères will do, too. It's not only a very brainy-looking cheese -- with plenty of géotricum, or moisissure hypolitique, or a marked toad-skin crust,  depending on your preferred terminology -- it's also a very brainy choice of a cheese. It's absolutely delicious, and is a very adored cheese on the platter. Not just any platter mind you: It's one of the favorites in a massive 20-cheese tasting with visiting American TV chef and fabulous cookbook author (Great Food Starts Fresh), Nathan Lyon. He oohs and aahs over this cheese, admiring both the texture and flavor, which just goes to show that he's a brainy guy.


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