A Cheese You Should Be Eating: Beaufort
"I cannot imagine a cheese consumer who would not love Beaufort."
Beaufort is a remarkable cheese, one of the noble Alpine cheeses. It's produced exclusively from unpasteurized cow's milk in the French Alps of the Haute-Savoie, from the milk of cows that, in the best examples of the cheese, graze on sustainable mountain pastures, imparting unique grassy, flowery aromas to the meaty cheeses, which have a firm yet buttery taste which melts easily in the mouth.
It's a behemoth of a cheese, with wheels weighing up to 130 pounds. Beaufort is without doubt one of the finest hard cheeses produced in the world today, and, if my experience behind the cheese counter is any guide, it's mostly unknown in this country.
Even if you don't know it, I'm certain you've tried an Alpine-style cheese at least once. Gruyere, according to cheese expert Max McCalman is a general term that encompasses all of them, but the best known are probably Swiss Gruyere or Emmental. In France Comté, also known as Gruyere de Comté, is a celebrity, commanding huge prices for wheels judged exceptional by the country's exceedingly knowledgeable affineurs, or professional cheese agers.
All alpine cheeses are remarkable: they are some of the biggest cheeses in the world, with wheels of Comté topping out at an eye-popping (and back-straining) 110 pounds. Many of them are brine-washed, encouraging the same bacteria that give Epoisses its stink, but with different results: over long-aging, these bacteria give the cheeses a distinct, pleasant, meaty depth.
Beaufort Is Special
Beaufort, however, has a special place in my heart. Its characteristic shape—a large, thick wheel with concave sides—gives rise to a charming origin story. Apparently it allowed farmers to easily transport them down the mountains by winding ropes around the wheels, so as to lash them to a donkey. It has a much subtler taste than Swiss Gruyere or Comté because its curd is cooked at a much lower temperature, which also leads to a slightly more giving, creamy paste.
Beaufort also has strict AOC labeling requirements, especially for the most prized types, which I recommend you seek out. Beaufort alpage must be made in a mountain chalet, during the summer months, from a single herd of cattle grazing in the mountain pastures.
This Beaufort, on top of the meaty, caramel, and buttery flavors common to all the cheeses, has floral and herbal notes from the grazing ground that are distinct from any other herd's cheese. How cool is that?
The Hard Sell
For most cheeses, I'm quite willing to imagine that there are people for whom that cheese is not their cup of tea. But, and this is as strong a recommendation as I can think of, I cannot imagine a cheese consumer who would not love Beaufort. I have made myself sick on at least one occasion by eating it. That's how good it is.
To buy it in the United States, make sure you check for the AOC label, which will guarantee a certain level of quality. If at all possible, find the Beaufort alpage; nothing else is quite as good. As an interesting alternative, I suggest the fantastic Pleasant Ridge Reserve, made in Wisconsin with a Beaufort recipe (although, sadly, not to the gigantic wheel specification of real Beaufort).
And, should I somehow have steered you wrong with my forceful recommendation, and you find that you cannot stand the Beaufort you have just purchased, please let me know so that I can take it off your hands.