The Franche-Comté region in eastern France has a certain amount of fairy tale appeal. Nestled into the gentle Jura Mountains, dotted with tidy dairy farms, rolling pasture land and pine forests where snow comes early in the season, the region is also one of the country’s great terrors. Terroir in French refers to all of the details of where a product comes from. In the case of cheese that includes the kinds of grasses the animals graze upon, the season the cheese was made in, in what kind of atmosphere it is aged.
One of the great cheeses of France is made in the Franche-Comté, Morbier. Made from raw cow’s milk, the cheese is pressed and has a fine texture. There are some 50 makers of Morbier cheese and 11 affineurs or those who age or ripen the cheese. Affinage brings the cheese to maturity and gives the cheese its desired texture and flavor. This usually takes place in a cheese cellar which is the case for Morbier, aged for a minimum of 45 days.
The cheese is aged in a wheel that is some 15 inches in diameter and has a thickness of three inches. Morbier has a distinctive black line running through its middle which gives the cheese its fine texture and some of its flavor. Morbier emerged in the farms of the region in the 18th century.
To protect the precious curds, the dairy famers would put a layer of charcoal ashes over the curds from the morning milking before proceeding to add the second layer of curds from the early evening milking. Today this line is made with vegetal charcoal. The milk that the Morbier is made with comes exclusively from two breeds of local cows, the Montbéliarde and the French Simmental. The resulting cheese which is protected by an AOC – appellation d’origine contrôlée – meaning a controlled designation of origin as well as an AOP, a protected designation of origin, is highly aromatic.
It goes well with fruits and a white wine from the Jura. But is has been wending its way into savory recipes. For instance you can peel and slice two pears, wrap each slice in a thin slice of Morbier, sprinkle some crushed lemon verbena tea leaves over the top, tooth pick it and place in a glass verrine with a little apricot juice in the bottom for dipping. It also works well in a salad of mixed greens, halved cherry tomatoes and nicely browned lardoons. A favorite is a raclette made with Morbier with the melted cheese being poured over the local sausage, Morteau, and boiled potatoes. You will however need a raclette grill to do it right.
©The Gourmet Gazette
For a raclette maker/grill