Beaufort Chalet (Alpage)
Produced in the Haute-Savoie region of southeastern France, Beaufort is one of the most famous "Alpine" cheeses, weighing in at an impressive 80-130 lbs. References to the production of Beaufort date back over 2,000 years, before the Roman occupation of France. Government legislation finally caught up in 1976 when Beaufort was granted AOC (name protected) status.
Milk for production comes from a multitude of small farms. 80 percent of the milk used is sourced from Tarantaise cows, an ancient mountain breed, with the remainder coming from the Abondance breed. It takes the milk of 45 cows from two milkings to make just one wheel of Beaufort.
The cows graze the high pastures of the Haut Savoie that stretch across Beaufortain, Tarentaise, Maurienne and part of the Val d'Arly regions, an area highly regarded for superior grazing during the summer months.
Three versions of Beaufort are produced: Beaufort, Beaufort d'Ete (Summer Beaufort) and Beaufort d'Alpage which is made in the mountain chalets.
Milk is heated to between 89°- 95°F, traditional rennet is added, and after being allowed to coagulate for 30 minutes, the curd is cut into wheat-size grains. The curds are slowly stirred for 10-15 minutes before being reheated again (known as scalding) to a temperature not exceeding 133°F. This process expels more whey from the curds but leaves enough moisture in it so that they don't become too dry.
The curds are then scooped out of the vat using a large cloth, and placed in a beechwood hoop or mold. The hoops have a distinctly concave side that gives Beaufort its unusual shape.
Cheeses are pressed for 20 hours under enormous pressure - up to one ton - and turned several times during the first 24 hours. After unmolding, cheeses are transferrd to a cool "cave" and stored for another 24 hours before being submerged in brine for a day. Thereafter, cheeses are turned and hand salted on one side every morning and rubbed every afternoon while being stored on spruce shelves.
This process continues for one to two months, and when the rind is deemed satisfactory, the routine changes to twice weekly turning, and an application of mixed salt and a substance called "morge." "Morge" is a mixture of brine, old cheese scrapings and whey, and is known to contain at least 480 species of bacteria. This process develops the characteristic russet-colored rind of Beaufort.
Wheels of Beaufort are matured for at least six months. During this time, flavors of the cheese concentrate and develop, becoming extremely deep and complex - especially with cheeses made from summer milk.
Aromas are mildly pungent and pleasantly barnyardy. The rind of Beaufort is a reddish-brown color and slightly sticky.
Flavors are savory, herbacous and fruity with notes of butter, grass and salt underpinned by a granular sweetness. A wonderful cheese.
Pairs well with Champagne, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gamay, and Tannat.