The Miracle That is Cheese

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If I were to try and convince someone of the existence of a higher power, I would do so through the miracle that is cheese. Without prior knowledge, who could possibly imagine that the delectable morsels we snack on are created through the transformation of something as simple as milk? In my opinion, the miracle that is the creation of cheese is practically on par with Jesus’s miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Following this logic, the cheesemakers that act out this miraculous transformation on a daily basis are essentially prophets, spreading the word of good food.

I may be going a bit too far with this, but the gist is that a good cheese tastes truly miraculous. The miracle worker with whom I am apprenticing right now, Marisa, makes a whole range of miracles whose flavors I will attempt to describe.

Marisa’s fresh goat cheese rounds are creamy and delicate, with a light creamy flavor that dissolves quickly on your tongue, leaving you wanting more. At the same time, the large cheeses are dense and smoothly consistent in texture, perfect for eating on a crepe with honey or caramel, in a salad, or just completely plain.

Her ‘demi sec’ (‘half dry’) cheese is a aged somewhere between 2 and 3 weeks, the point at which the cheese develops a bloomy rind and a gooey, sometimes almost liquid interior. The rind has a sharp, almost acidic flavor that balances perfectly with the dense and creamy paste. It’s full flavor makes it delicious all by itself, but we also sometimes cook it in to small, flaky tarts; when warm, this cheese really packs a punch.

Her ‘sec’ are small ‘crotin de chèvre’, which technically translates to goat poop, but is also the name for small, well-aged dry goat cheeses. This hard cheese is extremely dry and covered on the outside with a fine, brown powder which is in fact millions of tiny spiders that work away at the cheese, lending it its unique flavor. This cheese has such a strong, sharp bite that we tell customers that it eats holes in your tongue–it isn’t for the faint of heart.

Finally, her  buffalo mozzarella are brilliant balls of pure heaven, spheres of rich and smoothly textured cheese from which buffalo milk leaks as you slice. The fresh flavor of the buffalo milk intertwines with the more complex curd, which has the classical gamey taste that often comes with buffalo milk cheeses. If all of this isn’t enough to make you a believer in the miracle that is cheese, I don’t know what is.

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Marisa and Fred’s Story

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Marisa and Frederic Thomas never imagined themselves as ‘paysannes’, raising goats and making cheese for a living. They originally bought two goats to keep their horse Histoire company, not intending to even have to milk them. Fast forward a few years, however, and Marisa couldn’t resist the urge to try making some of the fresh goat cheese that is so commonly found in French markets.

By 2005, Marisa had expanded her herd to 30 goats and was milking them outdoors from a portable milking station. In the summer, this was ideal; she worked in a bathing suit and rubber boots, enjoying the sun, and tells me that everyone envied her tan. However, when the weather was bad (and in Brittany this is often), milking her 30 goats two-by-two out of doors was a 3 hour long nightmare

In 2009, after having made cheese for a few years with no training, Marisa went back to school and got her professional license to raise goats and make cheese. The same year, Marisa and Fred decided to build a barn to house their goats so that they could continue to expand the business, naming it the Chevrerie de la Baie. To them, this didn’t seem like a big deal, considering that they had already built the house they live in now with their own hands.

Soon after, they decided to buy their first buffalo, an addition to the farm that would eventually allow them to make buffalo mozzarella. Marisa didn’t succeed in making her mozzarella until 2013, due to multiple hiccups (including finding out that their only male buffalo was sterile).

Today, Marisa and Fred are still expanding, adding buffalo and goats to their herds, adding on to the barn, and even adding cheeses–Marisa plans to tackle making burratta next. Every day during the busy season, Fred and Marisa have to work 12 hour days, but every day they sell out of cheese and end up having to turn people away. This story is still ongoing, and their hold on running a successful business is still sometimes tenuous, but the most incredible part of their rise to local cheese fame is the fact that they figured it all out themselves. They built their own barn, learned how to take care of large herds of goats, taught themselves how to make the cheese, and even took the leap to be one of the very few buffalo mozzarella producers in France.

Marisa, the head cheesemaker, is an embodiment of the vision, courage, and hard work that goes in to making an exceptional cheese. She has made goat cheese for years in a country where cheese like this is taken for granted. Fred and Marisa’s creativity and innovation cheesemakers is truly inspirational, and I feel lucky to get the chance to work with and learn from them. And, if you ever happen to be in Brittany, don’t miss visiting their farm–it is one of the most beautiful places in France. Poke around their web page and you’ll see what I mean: http://www.chevrerie-delabaie.com/