MALVAULT AUX ÉPICES
Raw Goat Cheese from the Poitou-Charentes region
This cheese is one of the tests that show if a fromagerie (cheese shop) is truly hardcore and on top of their game. The Malvault aux épices is one of the hardest-to-find cheeses in France. This round little wheel (sometimes it’s shaped like a heart and called Coeur d’Épices, but it’s the same cheese) will make you think it’s spicy, but it’s totally faking as the taste is more multidimensionally savory than hot n’ spicy. Those red pepper flecks are Piment d’Espelette — a gentle red pepper that doesn’t bite back. Rounded out with fresh shallots, mustard seeds, paprika, a touch of garlic, and white peppercorn, you’ll find it shamefully easy to eat a whole wheel.
Produced in spring and autumn in one of our culinary-meccas, the region known as Poitou-Charentes, which happens to also be famous for its’ otherworldly butter, this is the cheese that will change your mind about goat cheese (IF you even need convincing). It’s usually priced about 7–9€ per piece of about 180 grams (these are Paris prices, everything’s cheaper in the countryside *sigh*).
Update December 2022: the couple who makes this cheese have retired and I have only been able to locate a similar (but delicious) replacement at Fromagerie Jounnault at the Marché Des Enfants Rouges in le Marais neighborhood.
Raw cow’s milk cheese from Meaux
I’m all for Trendslutting. Paris finally has good coffee thanks to our dear beloved Bobos (that’s French for hipster. It means bohemian bourgeoisie). Peasant foods are trendy right now. Paris is at its coolest when it rejects cool, and so comes le Brie Noir or ‘Black’ Brie. While the normal Brie (or Brie de Meaux) is the life of the party, a popular Chad of the French Cheese canon, holding court at the cheese board — everybody loves this guy and he goes with any wine. The Black Brie is like the goth hissing at the back of the class from time to time without any apparent reason.
Originally, Brie Noir was not a distinct type of cheese in and of itself, but the rejects from the production of normal Brie de Meaux. If something appeared slightly off, whether in shape or in the crust on a wheel of Brie, or there was just a surplus, the unfortunate wheel was imprisoned in the back of the aging cave to atone for its defects (or bad luck) for a sentence of 8–10 months (2 years if the fromagers are feeling extra vindictive) vs. the 4 weeks or so for a normal, upstanding, Brie.
Week 12 of atonement brings what the cheesemakers refer to as the ‘releasing of the fire’; sort of the Brie’s revenge for it’s rejection. A strong ammonia cloud is released which makes it nearly impossible for laborers in the cheese mines to enter the cave for a while (the cheese is sort of spitting at the guards). The color changes from yellow (when it lives it’s life as a normal Brie) to beige and then to an eventual ashy chestnut. Then it emerges, not as the delicate and pungent Brie de Meaux, but instead as a flatter, greyer, drier and more daring cheese, like Brie’s naughty alter-ego, taunting you diabolically atop your shoulder during a wine tasting. Will you survive the black sheep of the French Cheese family?
As further evidence of it’s dramatic glow-up, Black Brie was traditionally used as sandwich fillings for the laborers in the wine harvest. Only the Black Brie could withstand the afternoon in the hot harvest-time sun, earning it the nickname Brie de vendages or Brie de Moissons, essentially ‘Harvest Brie’; kind of, « Here ya go, Pierre. Good luck with smelling your sandwich all day ». Now, it’s an expensive and hard-to-find luxury cheese that will cost about 26€ per kilo.
While the grandma generation has been tarred with the rumor that they used to dip Brie Noir in coffee in the morning (perhaps to genrate breath that could be wielded as a weapon?), the younger generation places it on a cheese ‘planche’ (board) just like it’s a regular, respectable Brie or something. Act like you belong.
In the ultimate flex, Brie Noir now costs more than regular Brie de Meaux.
TRAPPE ECHOURGNAC (made by nuns) TIMANOIX (same cheese but made by monks)
Pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from the Perigord region
Now, this cheese is easy to love. Strong but not crazy-strong, it’s relatively smooth if it’s on the younger side.
Trappe Echourgnac is hard to find, so if you spot this at a cheese shop, you know they ‘have a guy’ (or an in with the sisters) that helps them stock it. In fact, there are frequent shortages in Paris as most of it is consumed in the surrounding region and doesn’t even make it too far from the convent or abbey.
Made since 1898 from the same recipe, in the 1990s the nuns decided to experiment with ageing the little wheels in walnut liquor. This may have been an excuse to keep the Convent stocked with barrels of said liquor (what would Jesus do? Regardless, they never looked back). The brothers took note and joined in on the fun to attempt to meet demand for one of France’s most nuanced cheeses (if you eat the crust that is).
If you are lucky enough to be presented with Trappe Echourgnac (or a Timanoix) make sure to flex that you are a real insider and eat the crust!
It’s priced from 9€ ‑18€ per mini wheel depending on the neighborhood and hookup situation. (Laurent Dubois seems to be charging an eye-watering 18€ per wheel, which, ok inflation? That’s going a bit far, non? Fromagerie Jounnault also has it, as well as Charlicot in the 11th (my fave spot) and La Fermette on Rue Montorgueil.)
TOMME BLEU DE CHÈVRE
Raw goat’s milk cheese from Le Bas Dauphiné or Val-de-Loire regions
This is the bleu cheese for people who don’t like blue cheese. It’s embarrassingly easy to develop a habit of tossing it back like popcorn. Once I start, I cannot stop, which can almost never be said about blue cheeses (I’m looking at you, Bleu de Gex. One tiny cube of that and I’ve had enough of the Bleu thing for a month).
This cheese stands alone. Most Bleus are usually something ‘tasted’ in the purest sense: one taste is enough. This is not so for Tomme Bleu de Chevre. Take a big piece (or two) when no one’s guarding the cheese board.
Tomme Bleu de Chèvre comes rolling your way after hiding in a cave for either 2–3 weeks or up to 6 months for the drier, sturdier types. During that time it is injected with a strain of penicillin called P. Roquefort which causes little blue lines to form in the places where it was jabbed.
This type of dairy ecstasy, like regular ecstasy, doesn’t come cheap; about 26€ per kilo. (Update: temporary unavailable as they switch to organic farming certification. A good substitute — Bleu d’Auvergne or Blue de Brebis from the Basque region. Stay tuned.)
By the way, our FAVORITE cheese shop in Paris is Charlicot at 6 Rue de la Folie Méricourt in the ‘bo-bo’ Folie ‑Mericourt neighborhood in the 11th arrondissement. Charlie is the cheese expert-chick and will seriously hook you up there. Usually the freaky and lovable cheeses we write about can be found there.
Indecorous Culturevore and Polychrome Chow Virtuosa Kat Walker likes nice things.
She once went to a job interview for that was supposed to be for sales but was actually for prostitution (the high-class version, she hopes lol) at a fancy hotel in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower (article coming soon) and, another time interviewed for a position as a phone psychic.
She passed both with flying colors. However she declined the human trafficking position but stuck around longer than she should have to be able to write about it. (Are you not entertained?)
As for the telephone psychic gig, she only lasted one day, even though the pay was excellent. Wooooooo…..She sees you subscribing to our weekly PARIS RIGHT NOW dispatch and also our Patreon. There is also a man in your future.
Now she is settled in as your Editor-in-Mischief here, leading the charge to not take Paris so damn seriously…let’s frolic a bit, non?
When she’s not writing about croissants, love, culture, and lovable, sexy croissants, she is a gonzo performance artist whipping up a (usually) political ruckus. Her rabble rousing has provoked the attention of various public forums, like the time she appeared in the movie The Yes Men Fix the World as Russian journalist Laika Gagarina or was featured in RollCall’s Heard on the Hill for her mockery of the U.S. senate. Other efforts have landed her in the Le Nouvel Observateur, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Reader.
In other places and other lives, the actual live guy who played Ross on Friends came to see her show at a NYC gallery.
She has never had a weirder lunch than that one when an FBI informant offered to kill her business partner for her.
She declined (phew) and that’s why she’s here, freely- and un-jailed-ly writing about croissants and perverts and the Eiffel Tower (in that order, usually) for PARIS > DEFINED MAGAZINE.
Her perfectly impossible dinner in Paris would be at Pierre Sang on Gambey (the waiter chooses the wine) with Genesis P. Orridge, Napoleon Bonaparte (he picks up the tab and the waiter knows this in advance when picking wines), Christopher Hitchens, Anais Nin, and Ketamine in attendance. Drinks after at le17 but back in time, like 2017.
Her favorite French word is ‘bruit’ but only when a hot girl says it slowly.
In a bid for your attention and approval she writes things here and manages this unruly tribe of Parisians endeavoring to bring you what Parising is really about.
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