One of my first great cheese experiences was the discovery of a special place in France, and not necessarily just one cheese. Actually, it was multiple kinds of cheese at one time all from the same place. Recently, a highly-acclaimed sommelier everyone should know – Yannick Benjamin – whom I have done many Virtual Wine & Cheese tastings together said, “What Grows Together; Goes Together.” And, that points best to this special place – the Loire Valley in France.
The Loire Valley is known for its dry white wines, such as Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, and Chenin Blanc – and it has the second-highest concentration of sparkling wine in France and one notable one – Bouvet Ladubay, owned by the prestigious house of Kobrand. The Valencay appellation in the valley is also significant as it is one region that covers the production traditions of both wine and cheese making it unique in two ways.
Artisanal’s Valencay cheese from the Loire Valley was an early discovery for me that still has a special place, so much so, that we brought a lot of Loire Valley cheeses into Artisanal during the holiday season to help our customers celebrate. Within our line of cheese from the Loire Valley is this vibrant, creamy, and delicious white goat’s milk cheese covered in charcoal ash. The edible ash coating is a tradition going back hundreds of years and as lore has it, to keep the flies off the cheese to allow it to grow a natural and very thin rind. With its soft creaminess and milky flavor, Valencay is refreshing and pairs so well with the crispy wines of the Loire Valley, especially Bouvet, as the tiny bubbles add effervescent that melds well with the lusciousness of Valencay and helps clear one’s palette too – a sparkling experience for sure.
For history buffs – the flattened top of the pyramid-shaped Valencay derives from the rule of Napoleon, who upon his return from Egypt demanded that the tips of the pyramid-shaped Valencay be cut off. There is always great joy and conversation when cheeses from the Loire Valley are being enjoyed with friends and family, but if there is a pause in the evening’s exchange the ‘beheading’ of Valencay is a perfect interlude to show you-know-your-stuff and restart the festive engagement.
At Artisanal we currently feature three classic Loire Valley cheeses – Valencay, Artisanal, Selles-sur-Cher and St Maure. Each of these cheeses has its unique image and style, but they are quite similar in taste, and certainly, quality, as they are superstars of a region acclaimed for greatness in wine and cheesemaking. A swipe of these cheeses on a baguette or our Artisanal Crackerthins is the simplest and a delicious way to enjoy the cheese of the Loire Valley.
The Loire Valley is filled with small-batch artisan makers on both sides of the aisle that produce pairing marriages of wine and cheese that are made in heaven, or one more special place, “the Loire Valley” as our French friends would want us to think. It’s certainly worth a trip from the Atlantic Ocean to a stay in Pouilly-Fume along the Loire River a life-lasting experience as you visit the winemakers, see how the cheeses are made, and take in the singular beauty of the Loire Valley.
I love Artisanal Cheese and enjoy sharing it even more – you can Taste the Difference!