Apr 24, 2015

The Best Season of the Year: Fleurs d'Anjou


Pippa's excited because we are coming onto, second only to Christmas, the greatest season of all: Melon Season. The first of the melons -- what an English speaker would call cantaloupes -- have started appearing in the markets. Organic ones are still expensive and inconsistent, though the non-organic ones imported from Morocco are heaven itself (I simply couldn't wait for the organic price to go down and quality to go up).

Even better yet, once melon season hits, our local little ice-cream shop -- world-famous tourist destination Berthillon -- starts producing the seasonal melon flavor. Ever the optimist (or just desperate for melon ice cream), Pippa starts scouring the shops in April, despite the fact that it has never appeared until May. Why not melon ice cream in the winter (they have other summer flavors like wild strawberry or blackberry)? It's like wearing white after Labor Day; it simply is not done.

I have to say that American cantaloupe has nothing on French melon. The French version seems to have a much more intense, rich, full flavor. When it's juicy and sweet, it's an unbeatable dessert, despite the fact that the French oddly consider it to be an aperitif. They will eat no other fruits before a meal, but rather save them all for dessert, except for melon. This is served before a meal, with or without ham slivers.

Perhaps the only thing Pippa loves more than melon at home, melon in restaurants, and fresh melon Berthillon ice cream (over 60% pure fruit, and the rest only water, sugar, and lemon) is when the first course of the school lunch, normally reserved for salads and vegetables, is melon.

THE CHEESE: Fleurs d'Anjou

Fleurs d'Anjous is an organic, artisanal cheese made from the pasteurized milk of Jersey cows. The cheese is made in Anjou, the historic name for a department/province-sized area, controlled by the local Count or Duke, at various points, just below Normandie and next to Bretagne. This explains the proximity to Jersey cows, just off the shore of the coast there (and yet, surprisingly, a very inconvenient and expensive place to get to for a vacation. Believe me, I've tried).

It's a sticky, stinky orange-rind cheese, with a creamy but firm interior. The cheese, which is named after the flowers of Anjou, does indeed have an array of complex flavors -- floral and sweet along with foot fungus -- that is (probably, mercifully) minimized by the pasteurization. The cheese is aged 21 days, during which it develops its full flavors that also are said to include hazelnuts. I don't get hazelnuts, but the experts do -- the ones who gave it a gold medal at the World Jersey Cheese Awards.


Since the French Revolution, most of this area has been known as the Maine-et-Loire department, but there's still a nostalgic, poetic association with the name, for both this cheese and, of course, d'Anjou pears, which are pears...d'Anjou. Finally, after all this time, you've had the name explained!

So by name, it's not a melon cheese, it's more of a pear cheese. While we love the pears that appear for the last few months of winter, we all cheer when it's finally time to say good-bye to pears and hello to melons. Plus, it means that all the summer berries and stone fruits are just a few sunny weeks away.

By looks, on the other hand -- all round and cantaloupe-orange, the Fleurs d'Anjou fromage is more melon than pear.


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