Saturday, October 01, 2011

On Location: The Making of L'Epoisses

You know you're having a good time in France when you forget you're going to tour the only raw-milk commercial cheese factory in the world making Epoisses.

Such was the case yesterday morning, as our group of 20 climbed on the bus for another day of cheese touring. After an amazing dinner the night before - and several bottles of wine - I couldn't quite remember where we were headed. So you can imagine my delight when our guide and driver (thank goodness someone is in charge) directed the bus to Gaugry Fromagerie for a tour and tasting of raw milk L'Epoisses.

Oh. My. God. I'd forgotten how much I liked this stinky, washed-rind AOC cheese. Traditionally manufactured for centuries by the monks and farmers of the region of Epoisses, today it is made by three commercial factories and one small farmstead dairy in the Dijon region. Gaugry Fromagerie is the only commercial factory making raw-milk Epoisses, and we were delighted to get a tour of the plant and a tasting.

When we arrived, Francoise Gaugry herself greeted us at the door. She and her two brothers currently own and run the company, started by her grandfather in 1946 in the city of Dijon. Seven years ago, they built a large and modern factory on the outskirts of town, complete with a long hall of viewing windows, tasting room and retail shop.


In her beautiful, lilting and very formal French (one of the pleasantries for me on this trip is listening how people in different regions of the country have different accents and styles of speaking), Francoise explained the make process, which our guide, Catherine, translated.

In a nutshell, the milk from local, regional farms is brought to the factory, where it is pumped into vats, with cultures and animal rennet added, and allowed to coagulate for 18 hours. Francoise explained this is the ancestral method of "lactic clotting" practiced by the monks.

The clotted milk is then placed into forms. This is the part we got to witness, as workers were filling forms when we arrived. I had not before seen the technology they were using to do this - bringing stainless steel tubs of curd to a machine, placing knives and forms over the tub, inserting into a rotating cylinder, which then turned upside down, cutting and dropping the curd into forms in one fell swoop. Here's a series of photos so you can better see what I mean:







Once the cheese is put into molds, it is allowed to drain, flipped twice, and then removed. The cheeses then go through a dry salting machine, which coats the wheels in a "cloud of salt" - we saw a video of this process, as they weren't doing it during our visit. Wheels are then placed in the drying room. Here they are:



Then, they are moved once again to the aging room, where workers wash them with a mixture of salt, brine and red bacteria, which gives the wheels they're reddish-orangish final look. Wheels shipped to market have a 10-week shelf life.

In addition to AOC Epoisses, Gaugry Fromagerie makes several other types of Epoisses-style cheeses. We had the opportunity to try five of their cheeses in the new tasting room, built beautifully with plates of cheese and wine waiting for us at the bar. Francoise led us through the tasting.

The picture at right says more than I could ever say with a few words. I'll just say that each cheese was amazing in its own right, and if there were any way I could get this cheese back to the U.S. in my suitcase without TSA confiscating it, I'd do it.

Oh well, that's why we came to France -- to taste and learn about cheeses we're not able to get in the United States. Thanks so much to Francoise and her team at Gaugry Fromagerie for a wonderful tour and tasting.

While we can't take their cheese with us, we did leave a bit of Wisconsin behind, in the tasting room's guest book. Au revoir, raw milk Epoisses.

3 comments:

Pablo Escolar said...

Great post! I also visited that little mecca of epoisses last year. The epoisses in France is so, so, so, much better than what we can get in the US. But, the stuff in the US is still pretty great.

Katie Johnson said...

I think TSA only cares if it's under 3 oz and in a quart Ziplock bag. :-) Sounds like an epic adventure!

gordonzola.net said...

OMG, so jealous over here.