My homemade Coulommiers has matured from tasteless milk curd to strong cheese and is calling for release from the fridge. Sitting out on the kitchen counter prior to tasting, the cheese receives several hours of admiration and by dinner time yields like a soft down pillow under the pressure of my thumb. It has developed a velvety white bloom, a wrinkled rind and an aroma that can only be described as "barnyard."
The first wedge reveals a creamy, pale yellow interior that oozes gradually out onto the plate. The milk and mushroom flavours of the cheese are contrasted with a tart rind. There's a pleasant nutty taste that's a bit unusual and I wonder if the neighbour's cow might have been grazing under the walnut trees that grow on his finca. Walnuts can be poisonous for horses, but what about cows? Maybe Argentine bovines have a taste for nuts, a secret craving that ends up enhancing their milk.
Transforming a pail of fresh milk into a round of mature cheese is a craft gleaned from art and science and for some, the miraculous process is akin to a religious experience. "Cheesemaking has enriched my spiritual life," says Mother Noella Marcellino, the Benedictine nun whose passion for cheese is the subject of the PBS documentary"The Cheese Nun." Her experiences making artisanal cheese at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut led her to pursue a Ph.D in microbiology and a Fulbright scholarship to do scientific research in France. She examined the fungi Geotrichum candidum in the Auvergne region caves and identified 14 strains of the bacteria that grew in the ripening rooms of seven cheesemakers. Mother Noella is a strong advocate for preserving biodiversity in the cheesemaking process. In addition to her ongoing work making Bethlehem cheese at the abbey, she has become a popular lecturer, a consultant to artisan cheesemakers and adviser to the cheese industry in the United States. She believes that cheesemaking is her calling and has devoted her life to the vocation.
Coulommiers can be successfully paired with white or red wine, but on the advice of a Frenchwoman who knows her fromage, we serve our cheese with a glass of champagne-style sparkling wine and a slice of green apple. It doesn't need crackers or bread or anything else on the side. The effervescent, dry Duc de Saint Remy Extra Brut is made in the province of San Juan, using the French methode champenoise for elaboration. A blend of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, this sparkler comes from the Saint Remy bodega established by Swiss-born brothers Hector and Manuel Maglione who emigrated to Argentina in the 1920s. The contrast between earthy aged cheese and youthful bubbly is delightful, with the champagne's fresh citrus notes offsetting the pungent density of the Coulommiers. A bottle of Duc costs 18.19 pesos at Vea supermarket.