Many wheels of cheese are beautiful, but only a handful are arresting. When I walked into Di Bruno Bros. on 9th Street and saw cheesemonger Rocco Rainone holding what looked like a lichen-covered wagon wheel, I lost all restraint. “What…is…that?” I demanded, pushing past a crate of bell-shaped goat cheeses.
“Puits d’Astier,” Rocco whispered. It sounded like a new fragrance. Pwee d’awz-tee-eh. And it might as well be. Since Saturday, I’ve been patting Puits d’Astier on the insides of my wrists, and wherever I go in the world I leave the aroma of sweet sheep’s milk and hazelnuts. It’s true. Riders of SEPTA, Philadelphia’s public transit system, know me and thank me. Expect men who peddle scented oils from duffle bags to pursue you with bottles of faux Puits d’Astier soon.
By the time you read this, the nine wheels of Puits d’Astier floating around the city may be gone. “We’re almost sold out. Leslie is selling a chunk right this minute,” chief affineur Richard-Luis Morillo at the Rittenhouse shop told me Monday, as I started this post. “But we’ve ordered more.”
Puits d’Astier is a gorgeous 16-pound donut aged by star affineur Rodolphe Le Meunier, a fifth-generation cheese specialist who oversees a cave of more than 350 cheeses, turning their dull rinds into musical scores. Check out the three stripes on his collar – a distinction that means he is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), or a nationally recognized artisan.
Le Meunier, who is young and just starting his career, is about to become a household name – around cheese houses, anyway.
“This is a new relationship for us,” Emilio Mignucci, vice president of culinary pioneering and co-owner, told me on a recent morning as we sampled Puits d’Astier over cups of tea (oui, tea). “Rodolphe’s affinage is exquisite.”
Next time you pop into Di Bruno Bros., just say “Rodolphe.” Don’t worry if you can’t remember “Puits d’Astier.” If it’s in stock, you won’t be able to miss it. Just keep your eye out for a giant donut that appears to be covered in yellow sprinkles. When cut, it bulges with perfectly ripened ewe’s milk that is sweet tasting and nuanced, like flint and buttercups. Like a cream-filled bismark.
For more stars of the dairy circus, please visit Madame Fromage.