Here are two things that we really enjoyed while our friends were here last weekend and that we rarely have. Oh, we have cheese and wine all right, but not these particular ones.
I wrote about the Cheverny wine appellation a few weeks ago, and Walt has been posting some pictures of the château de Cheverny this week, here and here. The red wines of Cheverny (20 miles north of Saint-Aignan) are made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes, whereas the reds around Saint-Aignan are either Gamay, Cabernet Franc, or Côt (Malbec), with some blends of those varietals.
Cheverny wines went through a long phase when quality was poor, as did Touraine wines in general, after the phylloxera epidemic wiped out the vines in the 19th century. In the 20th century, all these vineyards starting making a comeback, with university-trained winemakers improving the methods used and the grape varietals grown here.
Our local cheeses are made with goat's milk and are very good. But they are very different from the cow's milk cheese called Époisses, made in Burgundy in a village of the same name. The village of Époisses is near the town called Semur-en-Auxois, and I've been told that it is very pretty and worth the trip if you like the cheese, but I've never been there.
During its affinage or ripening, each round of Époisses cheese is rubbed daily with brandy made from the grape skins left after the juice is pressed out for making wine. The brandy is called marc de Bourgogne. The crust on Époisses cheese has an orangey color that is natural, and the cheese has a strong smell and taste that you either like or you don't. I do, and it's pretty much my friends' favorite French cheese.
According to Wikipedia, Époisses cheese was first made in the 16th century by Cistercian monks. It was granted an A.O.C. (appellation d'origine contrôlée) in 1991, so if it's called Époisses you know it's the real thing. Production is about 1100 tons a year, using 16 million gallons of locally produced cow's milk.