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Friday, February 26, 2016

Beaufort AOP, One of France's Finest Cheeses. Beaufort Cheese on French Menus. Beaufort in Fondue Savoyarde and Other Classic Dishes.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Photograph courtesy of
Beaufort AOP –  Beaufort AOP is a fabulous 48% fat, semi-dry cow’s cheese made from non-pasteurized milk; it is produced in the two departments of the Savoie in the region of the Rhône-Alpes in south-eastern France. The cheese varies in color from ivory to pale yellow and when ripe has a smooth and firm, creamy texture; it is matured for at least five months before it is sold. Beaufort AOP has a clean taste with an aroma that reminds you of the herbs and grasses in the high pastures.     

The Rhone Alps.
Photograph courtesy of
Beaufort AOP, despite some arguments, is a Gruyere-type cheese, and it is the most important cheese in a Fondue Savoyard; the region’s famous cheese fondue.  Beaufort is also the cheese of choice in many other traditional Savoie recipes.  Locally, the producers claim that the cheese dates back to the Roman occupation of France beginning in 121 BCE.  Whether or not the recipe for this cheese is really over 2,000 years-old we do not know, but the Romans who came to the Savoie certainly planted grape vines whose descendants still produce some of the Savoie’s wines. The Romans also left parts of roads, bridges, and other buildings as well as bringing fruit trees including the apricot, cherry and many others. 

Beaufort  AOP
Beaufort is a special French cheese that has three distinct grades:
Beaufort AOP – This is the most popular grade and the cheese that will be in fromageries, cheese shops, all over France. The cheese will be produced in dairies, but the milk may only come either from free grazing cows or in the winter from cows that are fed the same local grasses or hay from the area where they graze in summer. The cows cannot be fed silage.

A Beaufort AOP dairy.
Photograph courtesy of elPadawan
Licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Beaufort d'Été, AOP -  For this grade the milk used may only come from cows grazing in the Alpage, the hills leading to the Alps, and then only during the months of June through October. 

The suppliers of the Beaufort AOP’s basic ingredients.
Beaufort Chalet d'Alpage AOC - The rarest of the three Beauforte AOP grades. The Beaufort Chalet d'Alpage cheese must be made in the farmer’s Alpine mountain chalets and the milk used must come from free grazing cows in pastures over 1,500 meters high. The cheese can only come from a single herd and each farmer must make his or her own cheese. The cheese from each farmer’s herd is tested and tasted separately.
The production formula of Beaufort Chalet d'Alpage makes it a very noteworthy cheese; only two other French AOP cheeses have such stringent requirements. The other cheeses are the farm-made Reblochon also from the Savoie and the Fourme de Salers AOP, from the Auvergne.
Cave de Beaufort, Maturing Beaufort cheeses
Tasting the different grades of Beaufort AOP
In a restaurant it is very rare if two of the three grades of Beaufort are on the cheese trolley. Serving ten or fifteen perfectly ripe cheeses is very expensive and space will rarely be kept for two closely related cheeses.   Go to a local fromagerie, a cheese shop, and buy 100 grams of two of the grades; that’s enough for a tasting for four persons, and add another 100 grams each of two other Savoie cheeses.  Then buy a bottle of one the Savoy’s excellent white wines and have the hotel put it in their refrigerator overnight.  The next day buy a fresh baguette and have a mid-day picnic.  Together with the wine, the Beaufort cheeses become a memorable and tasty experience; later, after the first bottle of wine they taste even better.  All French supermarkets sell corkscrews, plastic cup, plates, etc.
N.B. If you are buying cheese to take home, do not ask to buy a whole cheese.  Individual cheeses weigh between 20 and 70 kilos each and all the airlines would love you to check-in overweight with even the smallest whole cheese.
Mondeuse Blanche, a white wine from the Haute-Savoie
To take Beaufort cheese home order a one-kilo wedge of cheese, or more if you have space, and have the cheese vacuum packed. It will keep well even for a two day trip home. Then at home keep it in plastic wrap in the refrigerator, not the freezer, there it will keep well for one month plus. Every time you remove the cheese leave it for one hour before serving, Beaufort should be served at room temperature.  For more about buying cheese in France and taking it home click here.

 N.B. A word of warning, do not discuss loudly the differences in the grades of the cheese in a restaurant when there are locals at nearby tables. If they speak some English they may begin long monologues on the different types of Gruyere and Beaufort cheeses. The tastes of the local cheeses are very much a matter of personal preference and arguments among the local cognoscenti can get very personal. The monologues can go on for as long as cheese remains, and the wine flows and you are paying, I know.

Altesse white wine from the Savoie
Beaufort cheese on Savoie menus:
Fondue Savoyarde – Recipe for dishes similar to today’s cheese fondues date back two or three-hundred years, but the Savoie Cheese Fondue became famous with the growth of winter sports in the 1950’s. Today’s Fondue Savoyarde will include at least two Savoie cheeses with Beaufort AOP always being one. The other local cheese or cheeses that may be included are Abondance, Emmental de Savoie and sometimes a local Gruyère. The cheese will be melted in a white wine, usually from the Haut Savoie. Since the taste of the fondue changes with the percentages of the different cheeses used every restaurant’s fondue has its own unique taste. There are also cheese fondues made with additions of the Savoie’s much-appreciated kirsch cherry liquor.

An old advertisement for a Fondue Savoyarde
with three cheeses.
Risotto de Crozets au Beaufort – Crozets, the Savoie’s own pasta made into a risotto with Beaufort AOP.  The name Crozet may be used in this menu listing, but for a risotto, the chef may use potato flour or buckwheat flour, and a very different shape to the usual small pasta squares. For local specialties like this much will depend on the chef’s grandmother’s recipe.
Cheese fondue
Gratiné de Noix de St Jacques aux Noix et Beaufort – The meat from the King scallop prepared with walnuts and then covered in Beaufort cheese and browned under the grill.
Gratin Savoyard au Beaufort - Boiled potatoes baked in butter and beef stock and covered with Beaufort AOP cheese and browned.  This, with a salad, may be a lunchtime main course when part of a fixed price menu or served as a garnish for the main course for dinner.
Maturing the Beaufort cheese
All Beaufort AOP cheeses are matured for at least 5 months with some being aged for up to 12 months.  During the aging the temperature will be less than 10°C (50°F), with a high humidity. To ensure the cheese matures evenly and develops its aroma the cheese must be washed with brine and turned every two days.
The Beaufort AOP is made in four Savoie valleys:

Beaufortain Valley - Here the small town of Beaufort (also called Beaufort-sur-Doron), with a population of close to 2,000, gave its name to the valley and the cheese. For the Beaufortain English language website, click here.
Tarentaise Valley - An area beloved for its winter sports and located in the department of Savoie. For its English language website click here.
Maurienne Valley - One of the great transverse valleys of the Alps, it is also in the department of Savoie. For its English language website, click here.
Val d’Arly - The Val d’Arly valley is in the heart of the French Alps between the Mont Blanc, Beaufortain and Aravis in the department of Haute Savoie. Here is a uniquely varied terrain with the Mont Blanc as a stunning backdrop. For the Val d’Arly, English language website, click here.

The Mont Blanc photographed from the Val d’Arly
The most famous Savoie cheeses that in addition to the Beaufort AOP are available all over France:

Abondance AOP (cow’s milk).
Persillé des Aravis (goat's milk).
Chevrotin AOP (goat’s  milk).
Emmental de Savoie IGP (cow’s milk).
Persillé de Haute-Tarentaise (goat’s milk).
Reblochon AOP  (cow’s milk).
Tomme de Savoie IGP (cow’s milk).
Persillé des Aravis (goat’s milk).
Persillé de Haute-Tarentaise (goat’s milk).
Persillé de Tignes (goat’s milk).
Tome des Bauges AOP (Cow’s milk).

The Savoie departments have many other excellent cheeses; however, with their limited production you will only be able to taste most of them locally.
Connected posts:

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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