We have made it to the end of my “8 Weeks of Celebration Cheeses” series—and subsequently to the end of 2018.
If, like me, you are scratching your head and wondering where the time went, just know that it tends to fly when you are having fun—as you should be when cheese is a part of your life.
It is the culmination of the holiday season, the month of December, eight weeks of cheeses worth celebrating, and a year’s worth of lessons learned.
That means it’s time to pop a bottle of bubbly and get down with 2018’s eighth and final Celebration Cheese: Langres!
If I revealed this one more quickly than the last seven, it’s because I couldn’t contain my excitement any Langres. (Bah-dum-tiss!)
There are many, many other cheesy reasons to celebrate, but this one is terribly fitting—particularly the way that it ages while sitting.
Langres (pronounced “lawn-gruh”) is a washed-rind cheese from the Langres plateau in the Champagne region of France. It is in the same family of cheeses as Époisses and Soumaintrain, but looks notably different from them—as I will discuss a bit later.
During the 1800s, it was a farmhouse cheese that developed in popularity over the course of the century. It fell out of favor during World War I and the rise of factory cheese production, but was revived by small artisan cheesemakers during the 1950s.[i]
The cheese is name-protected (AOC), which means that its production is controlled—just like that of previous celebration cheeses Comté, Gruyère, and Stilton.
While Langres is traditionally made with raw milk, there are pasteurized versions available—which is great for those of us living in the US where such a young raw-milk cheese would be illegal to sell. The cheese is made from the whole milk of Montbéliarde, Brune, and Simmental cows.[ii]
When the curds for Langres are made, they can not be washed, kneaded, or pressed; this gives the cheese a silky, sumptuous texture.[iii] During the five to six weeks during which the cheese is aged, it is rubbed with a salt brine solution that contains annatto coloring to give the rind a bright orange color. (Annatto is a natural coloring made from a South American plant.)
Langres comes in two sizes of wheels: a small wheel weighing around a third of a pound, and a large wheel weighing nearly two pounds. I believe the small wheel is the most common size available, however we started carrying the large wheel this holiday season so that we can cut people smaller sizes if they want.
I have often heard this cheese referred to as “Champagne cheese,” not just because it comes from Champagne, but because you can get really fancy with your beverage pairings for this cheese.
Since Langres is not flipped while it ages, it slumps down in the center and has a little crater on top (called the fontaine, or fountain) that serves as a perfect cup for special beverages like Champagne, Chablis, marc, or brandy.[iv]
Basically, you cut a slit in the top of the cheese wheel, then pour enough champagne or liquor into the crater to fill it. The champagne (or brandy, marc, Chablis, etc.) soaks into the cheese and changes the texture. The transformation is actually really exciting to experience.
Before you add any alcohol to it, Langres has a striking orange, wrinkly rind and a smooth, creamy white interior. It has a strong, floral perfumey smell. Biting into the cheese, I taste berries, heavy cream, juniper, and wildflowers. It is floral, grassy, and a little bit spicy in flavor, and the texture is fatty, creamy, and tongue-coating.
We poured Champagne over a whole wheel at the shop during our weekly wine tasting last week so that we could enjoy the cheese’s transformation firsthand. Our wine clerk had read that we should choose the yeastiest Champagne in the shop, so that is what she picked.
As the wine soaked into the cheese’s paste, the texture turned from smooth to bready—much like the interior of a brioche. The flavor profile was still creamy, but it took on a decidedly yeasty palate, accentuating the juniper note I had tasted before and bringing out more hay flavors.
We’ll be pouring Champagne over a wheel again this Friday, December 28, and if you’re in the airport area south of Seattle, you should come join us at the Burien PCC Community Market between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. for a treat.
If not, find yourself some Langres—either a wheel or a wedge—and give 2018 the celebratory send-off it deserves. After all, you deserve it, too.
[i] Jacquot, Alexandra. “Langres.” Oxford Companion to Cheese. Oxford University Press: New York, 2016. 427.
[iii] Masui, Kazuko, and Tomoko Yamada. “Langres,” French Cheeses. Dorling Kindersley: New York, 2004. 151.
[iv] Jenkins, Steven. “Champagne and Ile-de-France.” Cheese Primer. Workman Publishing : New York, 1996. 68.