Our focus for this month will be a very specific cheese "Saint Maure de Touraine." While the name Saint Maure is not protected and is used for cheese from other countries in similar log like shapes, Saint Maure de Touraine has been protected by a specific AOC designation since 1990. (AOC translates from French to mean Controlled Name of Origin.)
Saint Maure de Touraine cheese has the highest production of any goat cheese in all of France and originally had no protection until 1990.
It was a recent re-read of one of my favorite books by Patrick Rance titled simply "French Cheese" (unfortunately only a small amount were printed and it has long been out of print but still shows up in used book stores) that had me thinking of writing this recipe page for this cheese.
In reading the book "French Cheese" Rance talks about his first adventures into the St Maure area during the 1950's when the cheeses in the market were all natural rinds and it was not the practice to add ash or charcoal to the surface of the cheese but to just allow the natural drying off and mold formation to develop depending on the particular ripening environment. He noted that there was an incredible variation in the cheeses he saw and tasted, ranging from rouge to grey to blue-black - all most likely due to moisture levels and the native molds where they were aged.
By the time he was writing his book in the mid 1980's many of these cheeses were now being treated with ash/charcoal and more salt than was needed and the character of the cheese was not what it had been. He felt that the salt overshadowed the qualities of the milk.
The AOC regulations since 1990 now specify that the ash is a part of the final process, but the salt used by many of the farm producers has been brought back into balance.
Although you will find many variations on the St Maure style of cheese, there is only one legal Saint Maure de Touraine. Since it is now an AOC cheese, this will be found along the Loire River in France near the town of Saint Maure (of course!).
This cheese differs from other log or "buche" shaped cheeses in that:
- It is always a lactic fermentation with little to no rennet added.
- Ripening/coagulation takes place for about 24 hours.
- The curd is never cut before molding or pre-drained, instead it is ladled directly into the molds either individually or with a large scoop and a distribution tray for many molds ganged together.
- It has a piece of rye straw inserted through the center of the cheese after draining but before removing from the mold. This helps to hold the cheese together while unmolding and during its young life, provides a means to handle the young cheese, and provide some aeration to the cheese center during ripening.
Today this straw actually has printed on it the makers info to mark each cheese origin. (I can only imagine how they do that!)
- It also develops a natural grey flora on the surface which helps with aging and transforming the paste as the cheese is ripened.
On the industrial perspective, the largest amount of this cheese is produced by a handful of large scale producers. This little video by Will Studs (start about half way through it) will give you an idea of how that goes!! I do not think it is the AOC cheese since it simply says St Maure and not "de Touraine" and no "AOC" on the label but you will get the idea of how they can produce a lot of cheese.