Whenever I go to my local cheese shop, I notice a small, plastic-wrapped crock hidden among the blocks and wedges. I've asked about this little guy before, but then proceed to quickly forget the details and continue on with my shopping. But the little pot has stuck with me, despite the fact that it was never the object of my attention for longer than a few seconds.
Then, one day, the cheese gods poked me in the ribs and whispered in my ear, "Buy this cheese, for cripes' sake!"
Produced in the Rhône-Alpes region of France, St. Marcellin is a delicate little cheese that requires protection from the world—so much so that it arrives at your home in a tiny terra cotta crock, sheltered from the bumps and bruises of commercial life. And for good reason, too. The rind of this cheese is almost non-existent at room temperature, and once warmed, even the gentlest prod of a cracker causes it to burst forth a fountain of sensuously unctuous cream.
While St. Marcellin is satiny-smooth upon first taste, its personality is more complex than its feather-like texture might first let on. Aged for a month, this cheese's thick creaminess and mushroomy flavor is best enjoyed relatively young while its silken texture is still intact (though I'll bet some lovers of moldy, further-aged St. Marcellin will argue me on this point).
To celebrate this cheese in all its glory, it can be lightly warmed in the oven, a task for which its little crock is perfectly suited. Just slide it into a moderately hot oven for a few minutes and serve it with a crusty french bread or your favorite crackers. I personally love this little cheese paired with crisp, fresh fruit, such as apples, persimmons, or cantaloupe. It loves a tart or gently astringent flavor partnership, which highlights the earthiness of the cheese along with its sublime texture.
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