Sep 23, 2014

Fabulous Foot Fungus: Pierre Qui Vire Affiné


My favorite color is orange. Maybe because it's my university color. Or maybe because I'm a sucker for mangoes, cantaloupes, oranges, sweet potatoes, papayas, and pumpkins -- pretty much all orange produce. But though I love cheese, and I love orange, I would have to put orange cheeses at the bottom of my list. Even scientists recognize a similarity in bacteria and odor between orange-rind cheeses and "toe-cheese" -- the dirty, reeking sweat between unwashed toes.

Mmmm. Have I whet your appetite yet? Dutch scientists Bart Knols and Ruurd De Jong have discovered that this smell of "tenenkaas" (Dutch word for "toe-cheese") comes from the coryneform bacteria Brevibacterium linens, which helps turn the cheese orange and stinky, and is a close cousin to the normal bacteria found on feet (not mine, of course, but other people's feet...). These bacteria in turn produce methanethiol, both on cheese and feet, which just sounds like something that would knock a person unconscious and, in fact, practically does with the smell. Limburger is a famous cheese -- though Dutch -- made this way.

But many of the most famous odiferous orange-rind cheeses come from France (bien sûr and proud of it):
Maroilles & Livarot (no, I have not played with the color of the photograph; it is natural lighting)
 Pont l'Evêque & Epoisses (and it's less-famous-but-still-orange cousin, Affidélice/Chablis

And an awful lot of less celebrated French cheeses as well:


Le Vigneron du Marché & Mizotte de Vendée & Le P'ti Maraichin



The orange rind is obtained by washing the cheese during the aging process, usually with salted water, although sometimes alcohol is added into the mix, as with Epoisses. Interestingly, the salt serves to keep the food safe to eat and discourage dangerous molds from the developing; in other words, it's a natural preservative. Counter-intuitively, the more frequently the cheese is washed with the salty brine solution, the stinkier, oozier, tackier, and oranger it will be. (Yes, I am fully aware that some of those are not real adjectives.) Obviously, the orange molds are not harmful, despite the fact that they smell like toe-jam.

This sort of orange is different than the oranges of Galette des Templiers (crust has a hint of Marc alcohol but is mostly colored by paprika), Mimolette, and Gouda de la Citadelle d'Arras (the latter two colored by annatto, like some Cheddars).

As an interesting aside: scientists Knols and De Jong have determined that mosquitos are most definitely attracted to dirty, stinky feet. And, similarly, they are caught in Limburger traps at double the rate of non-Limburger traps, paving the way for possible anti-malarial/ anti-mosquito-bite technology. Orange stinky cheese: a life saver?

THE CHEESE: Pierre Qui Vire Affiné
This eponymous, organic, raw cows' milk cheese is made in Burgundy, at the Pierre Qui Vire monastery. The "Affiné" in the name tells you it's aged, though you might have guessed that from the orange crust, anyway. The cheese has been made by the monks there since the 1950s, and you'll be tempted to guess that the cheese you're tasting is one of the originals. 

Stinky, sticky, soft (in texture), and strong (in flavor), it's a classic Burgundy cheese, made in the Morvan Park, just around the corner from Epoisses, where the most famous, regional, stinky orange cheese originates.
I actually visit the Abbaye de la Pierre Qui Vire (the Monastery of the Stone that Turns) down a confusing series of long and winding roads through the park. On the day I am there, the cows are hiding, so I see the goats at pasture:


This is yet another cheese where I'm happy for the sample: I don't want to buy the entire round, especially since I will have to carry it in the hot summer car with me for the rest of the day while I tour around Burgundy, at the end of which I will be picking up the girls from horseback riding in the rain, so that they will undoubtedly stink up the car with the odor of wet horse and sweaty socks anyway.
An orange cheese for a story on orange cheeses, all of which smell like stinky feet. It's a pretty obvious connection, really.


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