Pont l’Évêque

Pont l’Évêque is,
unfortunately, one of those cheeses that I take for granted too often. Yes, I
realize that it is a staple in France, especially in Normandy, from which the
cheese hails. Yes, I know that it has been produced since the 12th century
near the town of the same name. Somehow, though, Pont l’Évêque gets lost in the
sea of Brie and Camembert, or other soft washed rind selections in a cheese

However, this cheese
deserves much more appreciation and attention than what it currently receives.
What makes it so special and deserving of your affection? Well, first, let’s
look at the milk used to make the cheese. The milk comes from a breed of cow called
Normande, brought to Normandy by the Vikings. Normande milk is especially
prized for its sweet flavor and high butterfat content.

Normande cattle became
particularly important in the late 1800’s when the phylloxera insect devastated
European vineyards. Up to that point, Normandy was struggling to produce wine, and
phylloxera was the nail in the coffin. The area decided to scrap the idea of
winemaking and foster the growth of pastures for raising cows and planting
orchards for apples – their second most prized produce, next to dairy.

The Normande cow benefits
greatly from its pasture-grazing grass-fed diet. If you look at where Normandy
is situated, more specifically in the department of Calvados, you see a region
situated along the rocky shores of the English Channel. The salt water and damp
climate produce lush saline grasses and a terroir
favorably suited for cheese production. You may even notice Normandy-produced
dairy products have a deeper golden color, thanks to the rich nutrients of the
land:  beta carotene, iodine and trace

The milk used for Pont
l’Évêque is usually unpasteurized. However, for import into the United States,
we must settle for a pasteurized version. Production includes kneading and
draining the curd into square-shaped molds. It was determined that the square
shape would differentiate the cheese from its cousin Livarot. According to AOC affinage rules, the cheese must be aged
for a minimum of two weeks. However, most Pont l’Évêque is aged for six weeks
or more. During that time, the cheese is washed in saltwater brine, brushed and
turned frequently.

The end result is a soft
rich cheese that is a bit like the lovechild of Camembert and Livarot. The
appearance displays a bit of bloom with its rosy-orange washed crust peeking
through. As the cheese ages more, the Brevibacterium
(the bacteria responsible for that orange hue) becomes more

Lately, the staff at
Zuercher and Co. is tasting more vegetal characteristics (asparagus, broccoli)
in our Pont l’Évêque. This totally blew my mind, and what inspired me to take
another look at this classic. Still, this should not be compared to any other
Camembert-style cheese. The brine washing contributes a beefy quality and
lingering yeastiness. It doesn’t go over the edge, though. Don’t get me wrong;
I adore an intensely stinky washed rind cheese like Livarot or Époisses. It’s
just that not every customer is in the same boat. Pont l’Évêque strikes the
perfect balance between the two styles and brings “the bourgeoisie and the
rebel” together (c’mon…wasn’t Madonna really
singing about Pont l’Évêque?)

When trying to decide what
to drink with your rediscovered love, look no further than the region of
Calvados. Apple-based beverages, such as dry French ciders, provide a crisp,
refreshing, but equally funky, yeasty backdrop to the cheese. If beer is more your
thing, try a French Bière de Garde (similar to Belgian Saison) for another
tasty match.