Cheese: Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage
Who: Aged by Jean d’Alos
Where: Haut Savoie, southeastern France
Milk Type: cow, raw
Shape: Big wheels! ~80-130lbs
Flavor: buttery & lightly savory, fruity, sharp but quickly receding tang
For my money, Beaufort, in its Chalet d’Alpage version, with milk drawn from Tarantaise cattle grazing high up in the summer Alps, is one of the most graceful and exquisite representations of alpine-style cheeses. Subtle and never unbalanced, yet rich, sweet and savory. Beaufort is a cheese for pondering quietly. Beaufort’s subtlety suits it for a wide range of pairings, too, whether you prefer a fruity red (I’ll be eating it and 24 month parmigiano-reggiano with Nebbiolo this week), or an acidic Riesling or Chardonnay. Easily paired with scotches and ales, too.
The shepherds that raise the herds destined for Beaufort and other fromage d’Alpage keep their cattle above 1500 meters (almost 5000ft) in the summer, in fact, it’s a requirement of the cheese that the pasturing must be done above this elevation! The terrain that stretches across the Haute Savoie is considered by some among the most superior pastureland anywhere in the world. Of course, raising dairy at elevation adds to the labor but the net result is a very fine cheese. The making of Beaufort is indeed laborious. It’s a cooked-curd cheese… adding a step or three… to scald the milk, to mill very fine curd grains, but that’s only the start. The enormous wheels, at 80lbs or more, are then pressed under more than a ton of pressure for most of a day, turned a few times during the process. Then they rest for a day, then a day in brine, then weeks of turning and salting – wherein the cheese is rubbed daily in “morge”, a slurry of salt brine, scraps of old cheese and whey. It’s a bacteria-rich soup that gives the rind its color, flavor and odor. Beaufort will eventually age at least six months. Taken longer, the sweetness gives way just a bit to a more savory bite. Imagine the work of hand making each of these cheeses, moving and turning and rubbing and aging thousands of tons over the course of development!
And all that coming from a few simple and free-ranging cows…