Monday, July 03, 2006

Jean D'Alos

Jean D'Alos is the Bordeaux affineur from whom Cowgirl Creamery sources all of its French cheeses. Working in the Cowgirl shops in San Francisco there was always a hint of awed reverence for Jean D'Alos and his cheeses, not without warrant. Jean D'Alos is of the respected profession of affineur, visiting cheesemakers around the countryside, hand-selecting cheeses to take back to his caves in Bordeaux for aging and eventual sale. I was hoping that my tentative link to Jean D'Alos through Cowgirl would help me to locate Ossau-Iraty makers and make some connections. As it worked out we visited Bordeaux (and the Jean D'Alos shop) at the end of our cheese tour, and we had been quite successful in locating cheesemakers without any assistance. However, it was still a valuable experience to visit the shop and see the amazing variety of perfectly ripened cheeses, most of which are unavailable in the United States. I was also able to speak briefly with Priscilla, who has worked with Jean D'Alos for about twenty years and is a virtual encyclopedia of cheese knowledge. She made me appreciate how little I actually know--I had a hard time knowing what questions to ask her and was surprised by the depth of knowledge represented in her responses. The most interesting information I learned from her was that there is a definite distinction between the Basque region and the Bearn region in the production Ossau-Iraty cheese:

curd cooked at 30-32 C
the cheese curd is poked to help release whey
the pate has small holes
the cheeses are rubbed with salt, not brined
example--Panache d'Aramits

cured cooked at higher temp, 34 C
cheese pressed smoother and firmer, with a pate more similar to Comte
cheese brined
example--Abbaye d'Bellocq

Looking back at my notes for the various cheesemakers we had visited I found it hard to separate them into these two distinct categories. I actually was suprised at the variation in the cheese between each producer considering the similarities in their cheesemaking processes, and I found it difficult to make any definitive conclusions about differences in the production and the final product. This new information just made me appreciate that we had only seen a small sample of the numerous farmstead producers of Ossau-Iraty.


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