And the Cheese Tray Stole the Evening

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            We are eating a lot of rich food this week, particularly shellfish.  I thought I might have an inexhaustible appetite for shellfish, but I am noticing a saturation building up.  I read Bill Bryson’s new book Home this winter.  In one chapter he described how plentiful lobsters were on the Atlantic coast of America during the Industrial Revolution.  They were so common, in fact, that factory workers included in their union negotiations a limit to the number of times per week they would be fed lobster as their employee meal.  So I guess it is possible to have had enough. 
            For something different, we tried a restaurant of Galician culture.  This is an autonomous cultural region in the northwest corner of Spain on the Atlantic.  Galicia has some topographical distinctions from other parts of Spain.  Due to the mountains that rise up from the sea, Galicia has a multitude of small rivers giving it the moniker, “land of a thousand rivers”.  Another distinguishing feature, and also related to its interaction with water, is the presence of many, many inlets called rias, which were drowned out estuaries following Europe’s last ice age.  These inlets are rich beds for the growth of sea life.  Our restaurant was called Rias de Galicia and now we both have the context to understand the name.
            But it was not the seafood, but the cheese tray, offered at the end of the meal, that was the most interesting for us.  Because of Galicia’s geographic connection to the British Isles, and the mountains of Switzerland, France, and Italy, they had sourced a rare combination of cheeses.  When we read the following description on the menu, we simply had to try them:
These cheeses have been selected after a tasting blindly of 28 of the best cheeses of all the world among our customers and friends: and then it goes on to actually name the restaurants nine and possibly blind friends who gave their thumbs up to the cheese platter selections.  We didn’t have one disagreement and here they are from left to right.
1.     Abbaye de Citeaux                        Upper Savoy (France)
Made using only raw whole milk from cows which pasture in the monastery.  It comes from the Reblochon family and has a creamy texture with a yeast and fresh walnut taste.
2.     Vacherin Haut-Doubs                        Mont d’Or Massif
                                                                 (France-Switzerland border)
There has always been some discussion about who was the first to produce Vacherin cheese.  From this confrontation (their word), we have had two different kinds of Vacherins:  the French Haut-doubs and the Swiss Mont d’Or.  Either way, the cheese, being made of raw cow milk, is sticky and tender.  The taste will remind you of grass and it smells like cut wood and resin.
3.     Pouligny St. Pierre                        Central Region (France)
It is popularly know as the Eiffel Tower because of its shape.  It is made of raw goat milk, giving it an intense smell of goat milk and straw.  It becomes acidic as it ripens, with a hazelnut aftertaste.
4.     Payoyo with bran                        Cadiz (Spain)
Coming from the south of Spain, this cured cheese is made of raw Papoya sheep milk and ripened with fat and bran for a minimum of 8 months.
5.     Abondance Fermier                        Summer 2008, Upper Savoy (France)
Abondance is an original cheese from the Upper Savoy between Lemman Lake and Mont Blanc.  It has been made for more than 1000 years by St. Marie d’Abondance monks.  It belongs to the gruyere or comte family, but is smaller with a stronger taste.
6.     Cheddar Montgomery’s             Offaly County (Southern Ireland)
Typical English cheese is made of raw cow milk and curd.  It takes more than 12 months to ripen and is one of the most valued kinds of cheese in the isle.  The taste is balanced and the smell is of humidity and wood that comes from the cotton cloth and the fat that cover the pieces when they are taken to the natural caves to ripen.  It is sweet and not very salty.  
7.     Testum al Barolo                        (Northern Italy)
This is a mixture of cow, goat, and a little buffalo milk, managing to have an amazing image since the cheese is wrapped with Barolo wine raisins.
8.     Stichelton                                    Nottinghamshire (Great Britain)
Unlike the famous English Stilton, this wonderful kind of blue cheese is made of raw and whole cow milk.  As it comes from London surrounding, it ripens quickly and so does its taste.  It is sweet, tasty, and with a strong hazelnut final taste.  
And to complete the tasting:
Three confits:  rose petals, green figs, and wild strawberries
Three dessert wines:  Ochoa Moscatel, Oremus Tokaji, Olivares
The cheese menu ends with an invitation:  
If you want to be promised of the next selection of cheeses of Rias, make it for us know.

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