Reblochon, an Alltime Favorite Cheese
Today Reblochon is the #4 best selling cheese in France and was one of the first designated to get the Denomination of Origin which protects a production area and enhances the link to terroir and origin of Reblochon. But, you will not find raw milk Reblochon in America, our overly-protectionist Food Police (FDA) have made this unfortunate change in just the past few years.
So, the only way to experience this gem is to make it yourself.
Reblochon is one of my all time favorite cheeses and the mountains of Haute Savoie one of my favorite places on planet earth and that's saying something considering where my travels have taken me over the years.
The lush summer pastures reaching high into the peaks make a huge difference in the milk.
While visiting a cheesemaker on the mountain, the light on the Aravis peaks was just too much for me to resist. I excused myself from the table to take this picture leaving the cheese and wine behind. When I returned, the conversation turned from making cheese to why it is important to live on the mountain.
I am sure that moments like this are part of why they are here and then we went back to the cheese and wine and talking about life on the mountain
Reblochon, the Illegal Cheese of the 13th century
Since as far back as the 13th century and for many centuries, this was the illegal cheese of the farms in the mountainous region of Savoie France bordering Italy.
Reblochon was the product of a clandestine milking of the animals while avoiding the inspection of the taxman. It resulted in the very rich cheese that was never to see the market table and shared only with family and friends.
This was the way it was until after the French Revolution, following which, freedom was taken from the wealthy land owners and given back to the tenant farmers after the fall of the Ancien Régime.
As a result this cheese was no longer considered to be the secret or illegal cheese of history. It could then be sold openly and quickly gained in popularity.
As of 2004 in America raw milk Reblochon has again become the illegal cheese due to the myopic attitude of our 'Food Safety Lords' (AKA FDA) with their recent changes and enforcement of laws concerning the pasteurization of soft and semi-soft cheese.
Today the only real way to appreciate this cheese as it was developed, is to make it in your own kitchen and we will get to that as soon as I tell you more about this 'Secret Cheese' called Reblochon. Yes, there are some pasteurized versions BUT they are just not the same.
What is Reblochon Cheese
Reblochon is a smallish cheese about 7-8 inches diameter and when ripe collapses to about an inch. The surface is a cream to rose blush showing through a beautiful dusting of mold growth. If it shows a red circle it indicates a fruitier (Coop) production and if it is a green circle on the rind it is fermier or farm production (Yes).
When you slice into it after allowing it to come to room temperature it will soon slowly flow from its shell.
The cheese has a velvety taste of ripe cream and a nutty aftertaste. It has an unctuous and very supple consistency with slight cellar smell, which is quite strong when the cheese is ripe.
In 1958, the producers of Reblochon, were among the first to get the Denomination of Origin protects a production area and enhances the link to terroir and origin of Reblochon.
Reblochon de Savoie farmer is produced manually on the farm with milk from the same herd, 2 times a day, just after milking.
It has the a creamy and the same nutty taste the fruit, its taste is rather more assertive. You can recognize this by its green casein label on the surface of the cheese (usually covered by a thin layer of white mold).
The Reblochon Fermier is one of the only three French AOP cheeses that must be made by the farmers in the high pastures where the cows graze. Each farmer must make his or her own cheese and cannot work with the milk from other farms.
Today the entire production of farm-made cheese is made by fewer than 150 farmers; less and less farmers want to spend five to six months of the year, making cheese in the mountains. That means less farm made cheese and higher prices.
These are collectives in the valleys and the cheese is made from whole milk exclusively.
Reblochon de Savoie PDO cheese is produced with milk collected from several farms in the production area. It is recognizable by its red casein pellet.
In the not too distant past even this milk was all Raw Milk but today much of it is Pasteurized Milk on the Coop level and often made only once per day.
It is very interesting to note that the same cheese is made in Italy just on the other side of the mountains. This is not surprising considering that before the unification of France Savoie encompassed a large portion of northeastern Italy. The center of government was actually Torino Italy.
The process is the same but they call this cheese Rubrichon ('rubra' referring to the rosy surface of the cheese) because of the French PDO designation confining the production area to a specific area in Haute Savoie.
The Mountains of Haute Savoie
Where do I begin with these mountains?
Whenever I fly in to eastern France or northern Italy, Geneva is my destination so that I can at least spend a few days in these beautiful mountains. They are the home to some of the greatest outdoor sports and some of the most beautiful mountain pastures.
The City of Annecy (One beautiful city) and its namesake lake sit just at the base of the mountains and its all splendidly uphill from there. The mountains are dense with pastures and cows with no fences. The summer pastures become ski runs in the winter.
In the valley of Thones as well as all along the spine of the Aravis chain, Reblochon and Tomme de Savoie are the dominant cheese. Further south the cheese becomes much larger in the form of the Beaufort cheese and further north the cheese of Abondance. Essentially everything South of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) south to Grenoble is so worth while.
In this day and age with the small farms decreasing globally, great effort both locally and nationaly are expended to keep thier small farms running. In the Reblochon production areas most people have a summer and winter farm to keep production going year round. Much of the Reblochon is actually sold from the farm door. When we are there we have one farm high in the mountains we always go back to for our cheeses (but we can not tell you where it is). We have tried many cheeses over the years and theirs just happens to suit our taste the best.
Work on these farms is always hard but must be so rewarding to keep the generations coming back.
The photo below left shows how direct these farm sales are, we get a cheese right from the farm door taken fresh off the shelf in the cave.
Life in the mountains is still much the way it was in the past but with a few ammentities such as electricity and easier access to the farms make it easier (but still hard) and more attractive for the generations to remain on the land there.
In France the culture (both private and national) supports keeping the small farms due to their respect for the products they produce and the high esteem they hold for what they eat. A truly sustainable future for land preservation is to keep the small farm working in the way it always has.
A valuable lesson that we should all be looking at I think.
The History of Reblochon
As far back as the 13th century in the Thônes Valley in Haute-Savoie, Reblochon de Savoie PDO has been the product of a secret milking. During the 14th century, Farmers who worked these Alpine pastures needed reward the owner (mostly monks and nobles) on the basis of the milk collected. Under the watchful eye of the taxman (Gruyere), they would do an incomplete milking. They would then come back unnoticed and finish their milking later (in dialect "Re- blocher "means to pinch the udder again.). This second milking is rich in cream and served to make cheese for their own consumption, it was considered the secret cheese and made only for family and friends.
In the 16th century the cheese also became known as "fromage de dévotion" (devotional cheese) because it was offered to the local Carthusian monks of the Thônes Valley by the farmers, in return for having their homesteads blessed. During the early years, transporting cheese out of the mountains was a real hardship so the market was small and few cheeses were sold so herds were small. Up until the early 20th century the production of Reblochon had only reached 40 tons per year.
However, The development of railways, tourism and winter sports have quickly made Reblochon much better known throughout France.
With an increasing market, the herds became larger and production increased. In times past, the cheese was made, aged and sold mostly on the farm by the family. Today however, much of the finishing that was done on the farm in the past is now handed off to a specialist (Affineur) to age and sell. The way this works is that the farm manages the animals, milking, and early production then once a week they bring these to a central market and sell the young Reblochon to the Affineur to ripen in a very specialized manner in their caves and then find a market for them.
Milk is taken from a mix of Montbeliard, Abondance, and Tarine cows two times a day on the farm normally beginning at 5:30 Morning and Afternoon to establish a 12 hour production cycle.
- The Reblochon is made directly after milking and is primarily an uncooked cheese. It takes 7-8 liters (1.8-2.1gallons) of milk heated to 32-33 ° C (89-91F) to make 1Kg (2.2lbs) Reblochon
- (a single cheese weighs about 1 lb.)
- The cheese after processing and salting cools to 17 ° C (62-64F) where they remain for a day or so allowing the first yeast and mold to develop.
- They are then washed with a brush before ending up in the cellar at 14 ° C (57F) where they will be aged.
Whereas the process up to this point is fairly simple and straight forward, the aging is very specific and a proper aging depends on the success with which it is carried out.
During maturation, pine or fir (epicea) serves as aging boards. They are light, resilient and much like a sponge in that they can absorb and give back moisture, the aging boards provide the optimum moisture balance for the young cheese. While on the boards and before the cheese is ripe they are washed several times to encourage the proper surface development.
When the first cheese ripen on the fresh pine boards, the boards are not yet at their best because the aging boards have not yet been seeded with the proper flora. Only after repeated use indicated by the darkening wood and distinct cheese footprints on the surface, that the boards are ready to ripen the best quality.
The board in this phone is the one I've been using for the past few years, note the marks left behind by many reblochons. It is cut to size to fit in my plastic covered trays for proper moisture and a bit of isolation.
My cleaning program is a stiff brush, hot water (no detergent), and a day or so in the sun for the UV to do its own sanitizing. In the mountains I see the same with specialized racks that can be wheeled out nto the sun for exposing their aging boards to some UV. This leaves the proper bios in the board itself. If using a new board it may take a few cycles before these boards work on their own. Until then it is essential to seed the cheese with the proper cultures in the first couple of washes. Eventually these dominate the board bios.