About this Cheese:
The Pouligny St Pierre is an unpasteurized, natural-rind cheese made from goats milk. It has an elongated pyramid shape, with a soft, wrinkled, ivory-colored, natural rind. As the rind dries out in aging, the wrinkles deepen, and gray, white and blue moulds gather. The cheese takes its name from a local village. The rind is soft and ivory-colored when the cheese is young. As it ages and dries, the rind becomes reddish-orange, providing a magnificent contrast to the firm, pure white, and slightly brittle interior.
The traditional French version has very thin rind. It does not have these same mold growth as brie/camembert but a light coat of Geotrichum with some spotting of Penicillium (traditionally P.album) and in later weeks it may develop random blue spotting. The rind should not be snow white and no paste transformation under the rind like Brie/Camembert. They should become dry, brittle and flaky. The final cheese becomes very dense in texture and flavor.
The Pouligny St Pierre is said to have started out looking more like real pyramids at one time but now they all seem to have a little bit missing off their tops.
The story of the missing top is that Napoleon saw to this minor redesign following his less than successful campaign in Egypt. Following a dinner with Tallyrand and the presentation of the cheese, it was said to be too much of a painful reminder of his Egypt failure, and out comes his sword and off goes their heads. I am sure a goodly amount of wine preceded the show though. The cheese remains this way today.
However, as much as I love a good story, the practical side of me says that no one was going to try to balance the cheese forms on that little point for draining in the first place.
I know I will probably get questions about the pyramid form but the best I can find is that folks say it represents the top of the church roof in the village of the same name. Others of a more practical nature say that it is just a good shape for draining well in the molds. So just pick one because I really do not know.
A Bit of History:
The Loire river marked the northern extent of the Saracen advance as they moved through Spain and into France during the 8th century, where they reached the southern banks of the Loire River. One of the great contributions from the Saracens was the introduction of their goats to the region and their methods of making cheese that came with them. Goats, rather than sheep, were the most sensible choice for these travelers because of the range of pasture they could adapt to and the ease with which they could be moved.
Most of the invaders were later repelled, but some remained with their goat herds, ultimately providing the foundation for their famous goat cheeses or chèvres, which means “goats” in French. This influence remains strong to this day.
Today, this region is one of the worlds great producers of goat cheese. Of the 48 AOC cheeses in France, 6 are goat cheese from this region, south of the Loire (the first 2 on the list are modified pyramids):
- Pouligny St. Pierre (AOC 1972)
- Valençay cheese (AOC 1998),
- Crottin de Chavignol (AOC 1976)
- Chabichou du Poutou (AOC 1990)
- Selles-sur-Cher (AOC 1975)
- Sainte-Maure de Touraine (AOC 1990)
Variations in Style:
The final cheese can vary considerably in presentation. The biggest reasons for this are:
- The balance of proteins and fat in the milk. The fat is the flavor component and the protein provides the structure and texture of the final cheese. Too much fat makes for a difficult draining and high moisture.
- Final moisture after draining and drying. This will be affected by the solids and conditions as the curds are moved to the mold, as well as in the salting and drying stages before moving to the aging room. The higher moisture cheeses have a very pronounced wrinkled surface from the geotrichum growth and shrinkage.
- Time and conditions of aging. There is a wide time frame in which these are presented for sale. The fresher ones may be only a week to ten days old and snow white in appearance with a creamy paste. The older ones (5-8 weeks or longer) tend to dry out and the surface dries to a darker condition. These develop much more character and can be quite brittle when cut.
- The natural molds or those added by the maker. The traditional molds that developed on these cheeses were all regional dairy molds. Always dominated by varying Geotrichum strains, but also may have a Penicilium strain P.album, different from the other strains in that it will turn a blue/grey surface as it develops and not the traditional snow white of the modern P.candidum strains. This is considered to have been the original mold developed on brie and Camembert but now replaced in favor of the snow white mold cover.
I include some photos and descriptions of these variations below:
#1&2 show a very moist cheese showing the wrinkles/ridges typical of the geotrichum at high moisture
note the amount of breakdown in the paste just inside the rind when cut.
# 3 is a cheese that is quite young and a bit drier than the ones above.
Spots of blue are beginning to form on the ones to the left. Perhaps more moisture in the tops of these.
Remember that they drain top down so the last residual moisture may remain there
compared with the one to the right
#4 shows the development of the P.album blue grey mold mentioned above.
#5 shows a very matured cheese that has dried down well.
Not enough moisture left at the surface to support the molds and it dies down