Jun 3, 2014

Contraband: Ginestarie


While on his trip to France, my friend's father fell in love with some cheese that comes in a little wooden box. He decided to bring it home in his luggage, and I don't know whether or not he enjoyed the cheese, but I do know he didn't enjoy throwing out all his clothes -- and ultimately the luggage itself -- because of the stink. So what's a cheese-loving traveler to do?

Say hello to the hermetically-sealed vacuum pack. It's a relative new invention, so I simply can't imagine how people in the Middle Ages and Renaissance era transported their cheeses when they flew to New York or San Francisco, for example.

But I know how I do it. For an extra euro, many fromageries (and especially high-quality ones with  many tourist clients) can seal it up tight. At this point, my food-poisoning-paranoid mother is probably reading this in anguish wondering about how to keep it refrigerated. Well, the beauty of cheese is that it is basically rotted milk that has been aged for an indefinite amount of unrefrigerated days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years. So what's an extra day going to hurt?

There are legal reasons you might not want to import cheese into various countries, including the US, which is a whole other, rather moronic story, in my opinion (and yes, I will write that moronic story). But for the moment, let's just say that when you cross the border into the US, the form asks about farm products such as fresh produce, and it asks about animal products such as meats, but it never specifically mentions dairy, so I'm holding on to that shred of justification.

Now if you actually bring in the vacuum-packed salami, on the other hand, your conscious will have to find its own justification.

THE CHEESE: Ginestarie

Not to be confused with Pavé de la Ginestarie, which is square of raw goat's milk cheese from the Midi-Pyrénées, Ginestarie is a brick of raw sheep's milk cheese from the Midi-Pyrénées. Both are named after the village where they originate, although Ginestarie is now normally made just next door in Albi. The Ginestarie is made in the style of a goat cheese, with several weeks of ripening in a cheese during which they make sure that instead of drying out, it gets creamier.

It has a fine crust that can barely contain the oozy, delicious, creamy, buttery interior. Or, when warmed up, more like a half-melted butter interior. It's a savory, salty cheese that nevertheless has hints of fruit and herbs, which seems right since it's a spring and summer cheese. It is absolutely delicious, and bread is indispensable.
This is the very cheese I smuggle across borders to San Francisco and leave with my friends. The specific brick I photograph above is the second one that I re-buy back in Paris -- you know, for "research" purposes. As you can see, taking a very soft creamy cheese, sealing it in a vacuum-pack, smashing it inside luggage, and transporting it halfway around the world does not result in the most pristine, photogenic specimen.
That being said, even at its best Ginestarie is not about the look but the taste. And the brick that is eaten in San Francisco may look a little worse for wear, but it is met with a huge thumbs up.


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