Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Cheese from the ‘Pays de Herve’

One of the cheeses on the cheese platter in the restaurant in Phalsbourg was the local Munster. In Belgium we have a cheese that's quite similar in taste ... and just as smelly!

The region in the east of Belgium, close to the border with Germany, is called the ‘Pays de Herve’. It stretches out over an area of 450 km² and covers six municipalities: Aubel, Herve, Olne, Plombières, Thimister-Clermont and Welkenraedt. The hilly landscape mainly consists of farmland, orchards, fields, rivers and brooks.

The green pastures provide excellent and ample grazing space for cattle. No wonder that this area produces one of the best known Belgian cheeses ‘Le Herve’. It was fellow blogger Loulou who inspired me to write a post about this cheese. Loulou’s blog hosts a monthly 'Fête du Fromage'. On September 15th she will be posting her 9th ‘Fête du Fromage International Cheese Tasting Event’. Through her ‘Cheese festival’ I hope to give our Herve some international ‘exposure’.

In Belgium there are some 400 different cheeses, which – after France – makes it ‘l’autre pays du fromage’ (the other cheese country), as the national cheese promotion campaign puts it.

I chose to write about the Herve because it goes way back in time. It is famous, or should I say notorious, for its strong smell, not unlike a ripe Munster from the Alsace or a Maroilles from northern France. It is quite ‘harmless’ as long as you keep it refrigerated. The smell starts to manifest itself when the cheese is kept at room temperature for too long. In the past, the cheese was simply wrapped in greaseproof paper. Today, to protect our delicate nostrils from the strong smell, the wrapped Herve is sold in sealed plastic containers.

The delicate orange crust of the cubic shaped cheese (approx. 7x7x7 cm) is slightly sticky. The creamy inside has a rather firm structure which nevertheless easily melts in your mouth. In spite of the typical strong smell, the taste is unusually soft. This is probably due to the high fat content, up to 50%. Nevertheless, you could call it 'piquant' of 'spicey', as it has a distinctive flavour.

To enhance the authentic flavour of the Herve, you serve it with a dark and sweet apple of pear syrup from the same region called: ‘Sirop de Liège’ or ‘Sirop d’Aubel’. If you want to add a ‘veggie’ and crunchy touch, cut some raw cauliflower in bite size bits. A thick slice of multi-cereal bread and a glass of ruby or tawny port will supply the final touch.

I'm curious to know whether you can get Herve or Munster where you live? And did you ever buy it?

P.S. Please ignore the spring onions and red peppers in the photo. They’re only there to add a touch of colour …



chm said...

My father was the only one in the family to like Maroilles. We couldn't go past the very strong smell!

Your blog makes that Le Herve cheese very appetizing. Is the crust edible or should it be removed before tasting that fromage?

Next time I am in France, I'll try and find it.

ladybird said...

chm, The crust is edible, but it depends on your personal taste whether you eat it or not. It'll add more 'pit' to the cheese.

I'm not sure whether you can get Herve in France. But if so, do try it next time you're in Europe! Martine

Jean said...

We can certainly get Munster but I don't think I have ever seen Herve for sale in our neck of the woods. Maybe it's because I'm not looking for it so I will keep you posted.
It sounds scrummy. I love "smelly" cheeses but Nick prefers ones with a more delicate flavour - what a wimp !!

ladybird said...

Jean, In view of its smell, I'm not sure the Herve is even allowed to leave the country :). The packaging varies from cream coloured, green to red, and it doesn't always come in sealed containers. Look luck and enjoy - if or when you manage to find it. Martine

Loulou said...

This looks really interesting. I love Maroilles and my husband loves Munster. I've never been to Belgium, but might have to make a trip to taste some of the cheese!

Thanks for the entry to la Fête du Fromage. :) Hope to see you again next month.

spacedlaw said...

It is a lovely cheese indeed. Pays d'Herve also produces cider, which has made its way to Rome. I can only hope that one day, the cheese will follow...

croquecamille said...

I love both Munster and Maroilles... and Belgium, for that matter. I'll be on the lookout for some Herve on my next trip up!

ladybird said...

Loulou, Thanks for putting our little Herve in the spotlight. There are more Belgian cheeses worth writing about. I'm sure I'll find one to enter in next month's Festival!

Spacedlaw, I'm surprised you know about the cider from the pays de Herve. Have you been to Belgium or can you find it in Rome? I'm not sure the Herve will make it down there, though ... because it really can't stand the heat!

Croquecamille, It's nice to meet someone one the internet who actually has been to Belgium. I'm glad you like it too. As far as the Herve is concerned, it comes in different wrappings, varying from plain cream coloured to red and green. The best ones are those packed in sealed containers ... but you won't find those in supermarkets. If you have the time, try Rob Gourmet Market in Woluwe (near Brussels).

Anonymous said...

A good story

GK Chesterton: “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

Voila: This book is a poetic view of 30 of the best loved French cheeses with an additional two odes to cheese. Recipes, wine pairing, three short stories and an educational section complete the book.

From a hectic life in New York City to the peace and glories of the French countryside lead me to be the co-founder of Ten years later with the words of Pierre Androuet hammering on my brain:

“Cheese is the soul of the soil. It is the purest and most romantic link between humans and the earth.”

I took pen and paper; many reams later with the midnight oil burning Tasting to Eternity was born and self published.

I believe cheese and wine lovers should be told about this publication.