Questions and tips about our cheeses
There’s an art to cutting a cheese! You really don’t want to mess up this step before you even eat the cheese. Firstly, it all depends on the shape of the cheese. A square or round cheese, like the Boû d’Fagne, the Herve Remoudou Exquis or indeed the Bouquet des Moines for example, should be cut like a star. In other words, imagine you have a cake in front of you – you put the knife in at the centre of the cheese and cut outwards to form triangular portions. It’s as easy as pie! By cutting it this way, you get to enjoy the subtle taste of the heart of the cheese as well as the stronger, but equally delicious, taste of the rind. If you have a rectangular-shaped cheese, you just need to cut slices of whatever thickness you prefer. This second technique is best for beer-ripened Herve.
The best option by far for cheese-lovers is to buy and consume your cheese as and when it is at its tastiest and most delicious. However, it’s not always possible to do this. So, we are going to provide you with some techniques to preserve a cheese in the best conditions. The first thing to know is that certain cheeses keep better than others. A hard or veined cheese, for example, will last better than a cheese with a bloomy or washed rind like Herve cheese. Similarly, a cheese which stays whole and unopened will keep better. But the moment you decide you want to open your cheese, that’s when you need to be vigilant. Once you have cut yourself a piece, make sure you put the cheese back in its wrapper and close it properly. Put your cheese in the salad drawer of your fridge, because this is the warmest and dampest place, and also it means your cheese is kept away from other foodstuffs and won’t impair their taste by being in too close a proximity. And finally, don’t forget to take it out of the fridge an hour before cutting a piece.
To create a great cheese platter, let your imagination run wild! One piece of advice is to arrange several varieties of different cheeses, with varying shapes, colours, tastes and types. For example, you could use a hard cheese, a cheese with a bloomy rind, another one with a washed rind, a slice of brie and, if you like cheeses with character: a blue cheese. Looking at our product range, we would suggest a slice of Casse-Croûte de Val-Dieu as a hard cheese, accompanied by a smooth “Fleur de Fagne” with a bloomy rind, and also a Pékèt-ripened Herve, or a mature Herve l’Exquis for lovers of traditional cheeses, a slice of Belgian brie to please young and old alike, and finally, a Bleu des Moines. But there’s more to come! Think about the look you want to create and place your cheeses on a slate or a piece of wood, for example. You can put little name tags on your cheeses so that everyone can discover interesting new tastes; or you could collect some wild flowers which are a perfect decoration for your cheese plate. And of course, you can add some edible decoration in the shape of little bread rolls made with nuts or apricots, or by placing dried fruits here and there, and fresh fruit such as grapes, figs, pineapple. Other fruits in jam or syrup are perfect partners for Herve cheese PDO. You can also arrange your cheeses on your platter by strength of taste, and let your guests know that it’s best to eat them in this order, so as to get the full effect of the subtle taste of a mild cheese before trying a strong blue cheese or a fully matured washed rind cheese.
The first thing to do to avoid a strong-smelling cheese invading your fridge is to wrap it up well in its original wrapping once you’ve finished eating it. Put your cheese away from other foodstuffs – in the salad drawer for example – where it won’t be in contact with other food in the fridge. Incidentally, if you line the drawer with newspaper, you will soon realise that this technique stops smells getting out and spreading. If, in spite of everything, there is still a strong smell, we have found some simple, cheap tips which might help you. The first tip is to place a cup of coffee grinds on one of your fridge shelves, replacing it once it dries out. It hoovers up smells as if by magic! A second way of eradicating unpleasant smells is to mix together some water, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda, and then spray this mixture throughout your fridge. A bowl full of corks can also work as a “smell remover”, if it is renewed approximately every two weeks. And, last but not least, soak a clean tea-towel in vinegar and tuck it into a corner of your fridge… this will have an immediate effect.
Products with the PDO label, or “Protected Designation of Origin”, are products which are linked to a specific place of origin. They are thus produced within a defined area where there is an acknowledged, specific know-how. When you go shopping, watch out for this label because it certifies the authenticity of regional products and by buying one of these products, you are sure of a traditional product with a rich history. In Belgium there is only one cheese with this label. So, guess which cheese it is! Herve cheese! Since 1996, Herve cheese has been part of the family of PDO cheeses. But that’s no reason for our local producers to rest on their laurels, far from it! To produce an authentic Herve cheese, certain conditions have to be respected. It must be produced with a specific know-how, using milk from the zone defined in the PDO where it must have been produced: the enchanting Pays de Herve.
First of all, one thing is for sure, there is always a cheese which will appeal to each type of person. Children go more for mild, hard cheeses while adults will try all kinds of cheese from the strongest and most mature to the creamiest tasting cheese which lingers in the mouth. Bear in mind obviously that some people eat more than others: the quantities that we are suggesting to you here are just averages, given that people won’t be that hungry at the end of a meal. If you are considering a meal exclusively of cheese, expect about 200g per person. If, on the other hand, you are providing a cold buffet, where cheeses are accompanied by cold meats, you can divide that quantity by half. If it’s a raclette supper, then a quantity of 150g to 200g per person should be sufficient, but keep in mind the number of accompanying dishes you are planning and adjust the quantity of cheese in relation to them. If it is just a cheese platter served at the end of a meal with several courses, then 50g per person should be ample.
Maybe you were too optimistic about the quantities of cheese anticipated for your meal? No problem, there are many ways of using up the cheese so that not a crumb is wasted. You can make the most of what’s left by making some original croque-monsieur, homemade tartiflette, or a cheese sauce for a big bowl of pasta or for grated cheese. Have you ever tried a tartiflette using Herve PDO instead of the usual Reblochon? It’s delicious.
It’s important to know that there are two types of dates on packaging. You will see “use by:” on some of them and “best before:” on others. Be careful, they do not mean the same thing! The first indicates the real date after which you should no longer eat the product because it could be harmful to your health, while the second can be interpreted differently. You will often find the second type – “best before:” – on cheeses. This fixes the date beyond which the organoleptic qualities (taste, colour, texture and so on) may be impaired. What this in fact means is that the product is perfectly OK to eat! For that matter, lots of people prefer their cheeses rather “more mature” and ripened because they develop flavours which were not present when the product was bought. It all depends on your taste.
A cheese labelled “Our local cheese” is produced and ripened in Belgium with milk of Belgian origin, obviously. Belgium benefits from a diverse cheese-making tradition. For many years, monks in their Abbeys contributed to safeguarding the Belgian cheese-making heritage (as they also did with beers) and enabled us to develop many different shapes, aromas and textures which today mean that we have a such a rich heritage. So-called “Abbey” cheeses signify a category of semi-hard cheeses with a natural rind: the know-how of their manufacture came from these abbeys. In spite of this, only 20% of cheeses consumed by the Belgian population were actually produced locally! Next time you go shopping, take time to look for this logo, so you can be sure of eating a 100% Belgian cheese – and don’t hesitate to ask for advice from your cheese supplier.
There are numerous cheeses with different rinds. Some of them should not be eaten, while others are perfectly edible, and their taste forms an essential part of enjoying cheese. So, here is some advice to help you enjoy the best possible cheese-tasting experience. Let’s start with cheeses with a bloomy rind. A bloomy rind consists of a white downy covering, such as you can find on the Bouquet des Moines, on Brie or the Fleur de Fagne, and it is perfectly edible.
Washed rinds are also edible and are a speciality of the Val-Dieu Grand Cru for example, and other kinds of Herve cheese PDO as well.
You may be surprised to learn that the rind of cheese used in raclette is also edible; but it is entirely naturel and adds an interesting depth of taste.
Cheeses of the Gouda type, on the other hand, are not the same, as the cheese is ripened in plasticised rinds which are obviously not edible. Finally, while hard cheeses such as Comté or Belgian Abbey cheeses have natural rinds, it is preferable not to eat them because these cheeses already have plenty enough taste, which the natural rind has caused to develop during the ripening process in cellars.
The main difference between these two cheeses lies in the duration of the ripening period and the washing procedures. A mild Herve takes 3 to 4 weeks to ripen whereas a strong Herve takes 7 to 8 weeks. The texture of a mild Herve will be chalkier, with not such a strong taste, while the so-called strong (piquant) Herve will be riper and will deliver more mature and complex aromas. A little tip: Herve cheese always goes well with traditional Liege syrup (Sirop de Liège), or a similar product, so always have some to hand. It is the best way to get to know this cheese, because the association of the sweet flavours of the fruit in the syrup compensates the strong aroma of the cheese. Get the kids to try it, you might be surprised to see them devour your Herve cheese PDO!
The origin of Remoudou goes back to the 19th century when the farmers of the Herve region used to make this cheese from creamy milk. This milk didn’t in fact come from the first milking, but one done 15 minutes later. This milk therefore stayed longer in the cow’s udder and had the characteristic of being rich and creamy. This procedure had come about at that time as a way of avoiding tax on milk volumes.
The person who handled the ‘later’ milking was called the “rimoude” in the Walloon dialect, from which comes the name “Remoudou”. This technique is known elsewhere, such as for Reblochon, whose name comes from the term “reblocher” (to re-milk). Today, Herve Remoudou cheese is no longer produced with milk from a second milking, but with the richest and creamiest milk, such as that used to produce Herve cheese. It is the use of this specific milk, and also the time taken to ripen it, that gives the creamy Remoudou its gutsy, authentic taste and specific roundness. Herve Remoudou cheese is available in 200 or 400 grams and takes 3 to 8 weeks to ripen.
It’s perfectly possible to freeze cheese! However, you need to be careful about certain specific aspects. Firstly, make sure the cheese has not already been frozen previously, since this could have harmful effects on your health. You can freeze hard and hard pressed cheeses like Gouda, Emmental, Parmesan, cheese for raclette or Abbey cheeses: these cheeses freeze particularly well. Cheeses with a high fat content also freeze very easily. Brie is a good example. Finally, for other types of cheese, such as fresh cheeses with a higher water content, it becomes more complicated and freezing is not therefore advised.