Rodolphe Le Meunier, as we have mentioned, may be the Jimmy Page of the cheese world, a third-generation affineur who won the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France, which is kind of like the Olympic gold medal for French cheesemongers and other craftspeople, at an age where most of his peers were still learning the difference between a Langres and a Saint-Marcellin.
His buerre de barrate with sea salt, Normandy cream churned with wooden paddles, is one of the miracles of the age. David Bouley operates what is essentially a living Le Meunier museum within his restaurant in New York. When Le Meunier ages a cheese, it knows it’s been aged.
So when a friend mentioned that Le Meunier would be swinging by DTLA Cheese, the stand in the Grand Central Market where I first discovered his butter and his delicious Camembert, I was there when the great man arrived. From what I remember, we spent almost half an hour talking about the difficulty of cultivating flavor-promoting bacterial monocultures in sterilized cream – before I was elbowed aside by my colleague Russ Parsons, who had appeared to conduct the real interview. I was left alone with my tasting spoon, a sliver of Cantal, and a dream.
I did manage to buy a disc of Galet de Tours, a soft-ripened goat cheese that is one of Le Meunier’s specialties. The cheese was his version of a classic Selles-sur-Cher, a famous wood-ash dusted cheese from the Loire.
He was not allowed to make a "real" Selles-sur-Cher, I learned, because French regulations require the cheese to be made from raw milk, which would make it unsuitable for export according to the USDA. Galet de Tours is made from pasteurized goat’s milk. Le Meunier himself would prefer to eat a raw-milk Selles-sur-Cher.
But when you extract a Galet de Tours from its package, authenticity is not quite the first thing that comes to mind. Its gray, rippled surface looks a little like a human brain if you squint a little, and the deep musk of the cheese recalls the forest floor, old books and jungle cats at the zoo.
When you cut it open, the insides flow out like thick cream. The taste is salty and slightly mushroomy, with perhaps a hint of toasted hazelnuts, and while the classic pairing for it is probably a local white like a Touraine or Vouvray, the cheese was kind of great with a cold Sierra Nevada pale ale and a handful of walnuts.
Some people say that Le Meunier’s Couronne de Touraine, basically the same thing but shaped like a miniature bundt cake, is even better. If so, I can hardly wait.
The cheese is available at DTLA Cheese at Grand Central Market and Nicole's in South Pasadena.