The best cheese in the world undoubtedly comes from Europe where artisans and big producers endeavour to create the finest dairy products. Cheese producing countries that come to mind are traditionally EU member states with France leading the way in both local consumption and international exposure. The choice of types of European cheese is staggering with every taste catered for from rich and creamy soft cheese served simply with good bread to tart hard cheese grated over your favourite pasta dish.
The dairy industry in the European Union is the most productive and successful; and is highly regulated to guarantee the best products are available to the consumer. In France, for example, the CNIEL (Centre National Interprofessionel de l’Economie Laitière, France) is a privately run organisation whose main objective is to promote dairy products and to facilitate relationships between dairy producers and processors. There are similar organisations in other European Union member states, which ensure that the quality of European cheese produced is always of the highest quality.
Cheese making is an ancient artisanal process and legend has it that it was made by accident by an Arabian merchant who put milk into a sheep’s stomach pouch and went across the desert. That night he discovered that the milk had separated into curd (solid) and whey (liquid) caused by the rennet (enzymes found in the stomachs of milk-fed animals) in the sheep’s stomach and the heat of the day.
Europe may now be the centre of the cheesemaking industry but it is thought that travellers from Asia introduced the process. The mighty Roman Empire was also responsible for the spread of cheesemaking throughout its territories; and during the Middle Ages European monasteries experimented and began producing different types of cheese. There are records of Gorgonzola being made in Northern Italy in 879AD and Roquefort in France in 1070AD.
With this illustrious past, Europe is still the epicentre of the cheese industry with their local populations consuming the majority of their products; although it is interesting to note that emerging markets like Malaysia’s consumption is increasing steadily as consumers become more knowledgeable and adventurous with their palate.
Cheese is divided into four types:
– Soft: Ripened from the outside in with a white rind, often runny at room temperature.
Examples: Brie, Camembert, Reblochon, Mont d’Or
– Semi-soft: Smooth or creamy interior with little or no rind. Flavour ranges from mild to pungent
Examples: Raclette, Abondance, Morbier, Port Salut
– Hard: Firm texture with tastes ranging from mild to pungent; easy to grate
Examples: Emmental, Beaufort, Mimolette, Tomme de Savoie
– Blue: Green or blue veining caused by the addition of the mould penicillium roqueforti during production
Examples: Saint Agur, Bleu de Auvergne, Bleu de Gex
The Cheese Platter is a simple yet classic way to present and enjoy different types of European cheese. Recently, the Orchid Conservatory at the Majestic Hotel played host to an exciting Cheese Platter experience with Chef Jean-Michel Fraisse who introduced a variety of delicious European cheese with a unique twist – pairing the cheese with different types of teas. “European cheese is usually paired with certain condiments and wines, but to show how inspired and distinctive cheese can be as an ingredient, we have decided to use tea to enliven the tasting experience,’ said Chef Jean-Michel. This prestigious event was part of the Open Your Taste with European Cheese campaign organised and presented by the European Union and the CNIEL.
Chef Jean-Michel’s cheese platter comprised the following types of cheese – St. Marcelin, Reblochon, Comté, Fourme d’Amber, Brie and Bethmale – paired with a selection of teas.
The Majestic culinary team also offered a special cheese-based menu to showcase the versatility of cheese as an ingredient.
This was an epicurean experience for all the senses with blind taste tests, the chance to see how a unique cheese platter was created and most importantly to eat well!
European cheeses are readily available from premium grocers and supermarkets.