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L’Edel de Cléron: Second to None

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Being a native to Chicago, I’ve grown a little tired of hearing the nickname “Second City” being thrown around all my life. We even have a baseball team affectionately dubbed “the lovable losers.” I get a bit scrappy and protective over the people, the institutions, culture and soul of this figurative family. I think that fighting-for the-underdog spirit occasionally leaks out into other areas of life, and I find myself rallying the troops to prepare for a battle when I sense an injustice.

Well, my cheesy friends, my battle cry is ringing out for your support of l’Edel de Cléron. Often times, you will hear it called “fake” or “faux Vacherin”, referring to the famed, but now banned, Vacherin Mont d’Or. Well, I’m here to decree that l’Edel de Cléron is perfectly capable of standing on its own, comfortable in the skin it’s in, thank you very much!

L’Edel de Cléron is a fairly new cheese to the cheese scene, and there were a couple of factors that contributed to its development. First was the issue of milk transportation in the Franche-Comté region of France. During the spring and summer, resident dairy farmers provide huge supplies of milk to producers making Comté and Abondance. However, when winter rolls around, these same farmers are left with the challenge of transporting the milk during inclement weather. Likewise, the AOC/PDO rules in France for the aforementioned cheeses restrict the use of silage as feed, and cows can’t eat fresh grass in the winter months.

Enter: Fromagerie Jean Perrin. The Jean Perrin company began as a dairy in 1965 by Jean Perrin and his wife. Even after Mr. Perrin passed away, the company continued with his wife and sons at the helm. It was his son, Jean Luc, who invented l’Edel de Cléron to 1) make use of the mother lode of local milk and 2) capitalize on the fact that they used pasteurized milk, and world government agencies (ahem…FDA) like that. The chosen name compares the woolly-white Edelweiss mountain flower to the fluffy mold on the exterior of the cheese. Cléron is the village in which the cheese originates.

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(Founder, Jean Perrin)

Okay, so the fact that the cheese is made with milk that is stuck at home feeling sorry for itself is strike one. Strike two would be the constant comparison to Vacherin Mont d’Or. What’s up with that? Well, over the past couple of decades, and at full steam in the wake of 9/11, the FDA has been examining imported cheeses more closely. Because of its raw milk and limited aging time, Vacherin Mont d’Or was one to be made an example of this scrutiny; it was banned from the U.S. This allowed l’Edel de Cléron, with its pasteurized milk, to step into the spotlight. It was deemed “the next best thing to Vacherin” being that it was from the same region, made with the same Montbéliarde and Simmental cow’s milk and was bathed in saltwater brine over a couple weeks span. It even wore the same stylish spruce belt that Vacherin was seen wearing on those glossy magazine covers.

Having had both versions, I can tell you that these cheeses have very different personalities. Appearances first, Vacherin, when very ripe, has a sunken orange crust, sticky exterior and is very gooey. I have never seen a cut from a wheel of Vacherin. I’m guessing that once you take off that fancy belt, it’s similar to someone taking off a pair of Spanx. L’Edel holds itself together a bit better. The paste may be quite soft, even spoon-able, but never pools on the plate or oozes from its rind.

As far as flavor goes, yes, Vacherin has more lingering, meaty, layered notes because of its raw milk. However, that’s not to say that l’Edel isn’t delicious, too. L’Edel has an earthy, mushroom flavor and more woodsy, resinous flavors closer to the bark. It reminds me of spending a day in a peaceful, quiet forest.

L’Edel de Cléron would be perfect for the customer who has grown tired of the run-of-the-mill Brie varieties in the U.S. market, but doesn’t really embrace the full throttle intensity of many washed-rind cheeses. To sweeten the deal, choose a red Burgundy or New World Pinot Noir to pair with younger wheels. If your selection is especially ripe, look to a funkier, dry Riesling that displays more notes of petrol or rubber (those not into wine, take heed; these are desirable characteristics.)

So, let’s take a moment to unite in celebrating a cheese that can be proud of what it is, on its own terms. Let l’Edel de Cléron break from the shadows of its predecessors. This is a cheese that deserves to be fêted, shared with loved ones and showered with compliments. It’s up to you, great cheesemongers of the world! Don’t let me down.

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