I have a little thing for goat cheeses rolled in ash. I find them arresting, like Alfred Stieglitz photos. Black against white, grainy against creamy – I revel in the contrasts.
Valencay is one of those leave-me-breathless cheeses that Stieglitz probably would have photographed if he and Georgia O’Keefe hadn’t been so obsessed with driftwood. As an object, it’s architecturally pleasing – like a smoldering pyramid; as a cheese, it’s downright ethereal.
Pick up any cheese book, and you’ll find the author fawning: Janet Fletcher calls Valencay a “classic.” Steven Jenkins writes, “Napoleon loved it, so will you.” And Patricia Michelson waxes on about baking Valencay brownies in her delightful book, The Cheese Room.
If you want to make an impression, take Valencay to a party. I did this recently and even small children became spellbound. They ate it. Even picky, Grinch-faced children demanded a taste. There is…how can I say this…a Valencay spell?
Were Harry Potter to request a wizardish cheese, I’m fairly certainly Valencay would appear out of thin air, floating like a conical hat.
A few tips for serving: Let the cheese come to room temperature. Dig out a mineraly white, preferably from the LV (that’s Loire Valley, people, not Louis Vuitton). Reassure your guests that the ash is edible and virtually tasteless.
At peak ripeness, Valencay is the consistency of dense snow, moist but powdery. In its younger stages, Valencay is wet, like rum-soaked cake. Both are delicious.
If you want to compose a cheese board of visually arresting French cheeses, select the following: Valencay, Morbier, Carles Roquefort. The sight of them will quicken your pulse, not to mention the taste.
For more cheese thrills, please visit Madame Fromage