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Apr 29, 2014

Call Me Master: Brie de Chèvre aux Figues

THE STORY:
 
When you see Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Worker in France) printed in huge letters on the store front of my favorite local cheese shop, the Laurent Dubois, it's not just a sales tactic, or a subjective boast. It is fact: the title of Best Worker of France (for cheese affineurs) has been conferred upon Monsieur Dubois by the president of the French republic himself at the Élysée palace.
 

 
But this isn't just for cheese affineurs and cheesemakers. You can also look for the Presidential seal of approval for charcuteries (meat delis), boucheries (butchers), boulangeries (bakeries), glaces/ sorbets (ice creams), chocolateries/confiseries (chocolates and candies), patisseries (pastry), poissoniers (fishmongers), and specifically in restaurants/hotels, maîtres d'hôtel, sommeliers (wine experts) and bartenders. There are around a hundred more titles awarded for such diverse non-food-related fields as glass cutters, ladies' hairdressers, tile-layers, eyeglass designers, shoemakers, and florists.
 
While I don't have numbers for all the years, I can tell you that in 2011, there were four Meilleur Ouvrier de France fromagers named, in the entire country. So this is not simply a label they buy and stick on their stores. It's earned -- hard-earned -- and says something very strongly and definitively about the quality of their work (and, in this case, their cheese) and their level of expertise.
 
There is a level down from this, called Maitre Fromager (or Maitre in any other field) which also shows a high level of mastery, but just beneath the top honors. Now don't get me wrong, these are still cheese experts the likes of which you don't find often, and the quality of the cheese is exceedingly high. But the Best Worker in France? Not quite.
 

THE CHEESE: Brie de Chèvre aux Figues

This is a goat cheese, made in the style of the famous cow cheese Brie, then sliced and sandwiched around a mild chopped fig filling. In order for the liquid from the figs to not seep into and ruin the cheese, there's a layer of a mascarpone-like cream spread on either side of the figs. This ridiculous, outrageous, heavenly, decadent confection of a concoction was conceived and created by Laurent Dubois, one of the greatest cheese affineurs in France, and my own, personal "local" cheese guy.


It has virtually none of the tang you might associate with a goat cheese, but none of the farminess you get from cow's milk. Rather, it is light and airy, wet and creamy, with a wonderful mix of mild savory and mild sweet. It definitely feels like a dessert; but though it's a cheese and a cake, it's nothing like a cheesecake. In fact, it's rather unlike any cheese (or cheese product) I've ever tasted, and feels more akin to a bowl of fruit and cream. Yet with a hint of savory. It's pure genius, really.


THE CONNECTION:

I buy this cheese because when I'm guiding a visiting chef, Nathan Lyon, and his girlfriend/sous-chef Sarah on a quick sweets-and-treats tour in the 5th, we meet up at my favorite Laurent Dubois cheese store. On the way out, Nathan spies this beautiful Brie de Chèvre aux Figues and says, with a huge smile on his face and his hand to his heart, "Just kill me now!" I know the feeling. Could a person simply die from the mere idea of outrageous deliciousness? It feels possible. Nathan and Sarah will be coming over to my house for a cheese tasting the following night, and so of course I know I have to go back and get a hunk of this. Any time somebody feels love at first sight with a cheese, I want to be their matchmaker.

And, of course, the cheese does not disappoint in any way. This is why Laurent Dubois has earn the title of the best. It's his ability not only to identify and understand but also to manipulate, and even to improve upon, the finest cheeses that the finest cheese-making country has to offer.

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