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Eat This Cheese: Brebirousse d'Argental

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[Photograph: @sstiavetti]

Some days I want complicated cheeses. I look forward to nuances of flavor, a vibrant gradient of moldy flora, maybe a few hidden flecks of intrigue buried within a billowing or stalwart texture. As a person who loves interesting food, there are days when I want to eat something that's smarter than I am...like a cheese that flushes my food jerk IQ down the john and asks me, "Who the hell do you think you are?"

Today is not one of those days.

The past few months have been sort of brutal, with life grabbing me by the collar and flinging me down a flight of stairs, then dragging me back up just to enjoy another bumpy descent. A friend of mine tells me that an old Chinese curse consists of nothing more than, "I wish you an interesting life." Well, when life gets this interesting, all you want is a simple cheese.

Enter Brebirousse d'Argental, a Lyon-based sheep's milk cheese that resembles a squat red embroidered pillow. Its mottled surface is dry to the touch but yields to a gentle prod, revealing the young, soft-ripened flesh that lies beneath its bloomy rind. This funny-looking little cheese doesn't release an intense, paint-peeling aroma, though it does carry with it a touch of pungency that might let you know it's tired of hanging out in your fridge and really wants to be eaten. Now.

My first bite of this cheese caught me by surprise. Its creamy texture is similar to, I dunno, the texture of that perfectly smooth, perfectly viscous cheese packet that comes in a box of Kraft's Velveeta Shells and Cheese. Now stay with me for a second. I know this is a column about serious cheese, and I know that Velveeta is probably the complete antithesis of anything you might expect to read about here. BUT! One would have to admit that the texture of Velveeta, that very same squishy, nu-ku-lar orange mishmash of chemical flavoring and coloring most of us grew up on is, actually, pretty damn comforting and familiar.

I think I just made myself completely unpopular among any reputable cheese circles, but I don't care. I dare you to take a bite of this cheese and tell me that it's not the most perfectly smooth, creamy thing you've had outside of that damned blue box.

The flavor of Brebirousse d'Argental is clean and clear, with a smooth buttery softness that smacks of salt, grass, and that lovely quality of fattiness that only sheep's milk can afford. There's a generous swath of meatiness there, too, to the point that eating a huge mouthful of this cheese might induce a quivering umami-gasm if you're not expecting the sensation across your palate.

But despite all this talk of silken texture and superlative flavor, this is a simple cheese: simply smooth, simply buttery, simply uncomplicated. Don't waste your time digging for unnecessary nuance; just lean back and experience the joy of dairy that doesn't have to try to be good. It just is.

About the author: Stephanie Stiavetti is a writer and cookbook author in San Francisco. Stephanie's cookbook, Melt: the Art of Macaroni and Cheese, celebrates America's favorite dish by recreating it with small production, specialty cheeses. Her food blog, The Culinary Life, is a repository for all things comfort food related, from savory dinners to transcendental desserts.

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