Ever heard of Wasabique? Or the “forgotten cheeses”?
The French Ministry of Agriculture is hoping to introduce the Hong Kong public to cheeses beyond cheddar and Camembert. (Wasabique, for the record, is wasabi-flavored fromage, while the “forgotten cheeses” are cheeses whose recipes have nearly disappeared.)
Over the past few weeks, the ministry, in collaboration with the Hullet House hotel, has been slowly shipping in a selection of rare cheeses from France in preparation for Hong Kong’s first Cheese Festival. The five-day event, which starts June 1, will showcase more than 200 unusual cheeses for tasting and purchasing. Also on deck: Philippe Marchand and Dominique Bouchait, two of France’s top raffineurs, or “cheese refiners,” who ensure the proper maturation and aging of cheeses.
Why bring a bit of France to the Far East? These days in Hong Kong, the cheese plate is becoming just as popular, if not more, than the dessert platter, says Philippe Orrico, chef at the Hullett House. At his restaurants, he sources close to 30 different cheeses. And unlike the U.S., which has restrictions forbidding unpasteurized cheeses, Hong Kong has import laws that are more relaxed, he adds.
“Above all, this is a chance for people of Hong Kong to sample some truly special cheeses from small farms in France that they’ve never heard of before,” says Loïc Serot, one of the event organizers.
Mr. Marchand offers his top picks at the festival.
Josephine: Named after Napoleon’s wife, the firm cheese is made from the milk of sheep from the Pyrenees mountains. It is refined for a minimum of one year in natural caves, which gives it earthy notes. “The main taste of the cheese is fruit,” says Mr. Marchand. “And that light fruitiness is more suitable for the Asian palate [than smelly cheeses].” (656 Hong Kong dollars, or US$84, per kilogram)
Napoleon: The Josephine was modeled after the Napoleon, which hails from sheep from Mont Saint Rigaud, a mountain along Napoleon’s passage through the Alps. “The Napoleon is lighter and less fruity than the Josephine. And there’s no nuttiness,” says Mr. Marchand. “It is overall a milder cheese.” (HK$698 per kilogram)
Wasabique: Inspired by trips to Japan, Mr. Marchand, who created Wasabique, adds a small amount of fresh wasabi during the curdling stage of cheese-making. The goat’s-milk cheese is eaten fresh—within three weeks—and has a soft feel with the lightest zing of spice from the wasabi. (HK$390 per kilogram)
Le Gros Lorrain: An ancestor of Munster cheese—not to be confused with the American Muenster cheese, which has a bright orange rind and tastes similar to sharp cheddar or jack cheese—this is a soft but strong-tasting cheese made in Vosges, in Alsace-Lorraine. Le Gros Lorrain is the larger version of Munster, and is about 50 centimeters in diameter and nine centimeters thick. Made from the milk of a special breed of cows in Montpellier, of which fewer than 100 remain, the cheese is aged for three to five months. The rind of the cheese is also washed regularly with Mirabelle, a type of plum liquor, which gives it a distinctive sweetness. “This is a ‘forgotten cheese,’” says Mr. Marchand. “The recipe disappeared in the ’30s, and I recovered it from my grandmother.” (HK$232 per unit)
Reblochon Fermier d’Alpage: “This is not like ordinary Reblochon you’d find in your supermarket,” says Mr. Marchand. “It comes from the Alps, and is best during the spring season when farmers go high into the mountains, and the cows graze on the grass.” The spring milk used in the cheese has a floral aroma because of all the flowers in bloom eaten at the time. The cheese is firm, with an almost molten core and mildly nutty taste, and is aged for a minimum of two months. (HK$488 per kilogram)