Milk: Cow, Pasteurized
Country: France, Champagne Ardenne
Accompaniment: Sparkling or medium dry white and beer
Most cheeses are turned frequently during the first few days of their life so they drain evenly and yield a wheel with fat and moisture evenly dispersed. That's not true of Langres, a cow's milk cheese from a town with the same name in the Haute Marne region in Champagne Ardenne. Because it isn't turned as it ages – usually for 5 to 6 weeks - it develops a sunken, bowl-like surface, which the French call a fontaine, or fountain. I've never done this, but I'm told it's traditional to put a little spoonful of Champagne or Marc de Bourgogne in the hollow. That would certainly dress up the cheese tray.
Like Epoisses, which it resembles, Langres is a washed-rind cheese. During its two- to three-week maturation, it is rubbed several times with brine to encourage the growth of surface bacteria. These bacteria eventually produce a buff- or golden-colored rind, but in the case of Langres, they get a color assist. Producers can add annatto (rocou in French), a harmless plant dye, to the brine to deepen the hue. The Langres exterior is the color of caramel and deeply rippled or wrinkled, a rind style that we usually describe as "brainy."
The surface bacteria help break down the cheese from the outside in, so a ripe Langres will be creamy just under the rind and firmer at the heart. The paste is pale ivory and the aroma intense, suggestive of garlic, mushrooms, compost and decaying apples. And that's a compliment.