Madame Fromage TM_MF_TRIPLE_FI_001

If there’s a cheese pairing associated with Valentine’s, it’s a glass of bubbly and a wedge of triple crème. Lovers who fall for this luxe combo tend to think of it as a supremely naughty indulgence – the apex of dairy gluttony. After all, “triple crème” suggests three times the fat of regular cheese.

Like Cupid, that’s a myth. Let me spread some beautiful truth: a hunk of hard cheese, like Pecorino or Parm, actually contains more fat by the pound than a wedge of runny Brie. That’s because there’s more moisture in soft cheese, meaning: more water. Hard cheese, on the other hand, is low in moisture and high in fat, making it far more decadent.

Ready for you butterfat primer? Keep in mind that fat in cheese is measured in dry weight (labels sometimes refer to this as IDM: In Dry Matter), and while triple crèmes must contain around 75% butterfat, that does not mean you are actually eating 75% fat. Look to The Cheese Lover’s Companion, and you’ll discover that most triple crèmes range between 20 and 35% fat.

Double-crèmes contain less. Many Bries are double crèmes (60% butterfat), and so are a vast cohort of gooey washed-rind cheeses, like Anton’s Red Love. The mouthfeel is supple, and the pretty orange-tinged rind smells and tastes like a yeast doughnut.

If you really want to cut down on fat, skip the rind altogether. “By cutting away the soft bloomy rind you are effectively cutting the fat content of the cheese in half,” explains Patricia Michelson in her excellent book The Cheese Room. While some of us relish rinds (I wouldn’t dream of wasting a crumb), it’s worth knowing a few cheese hacks.

Taste and Texture
So what are triple and double crèmes? They’re cheeses that have been knocked up with fresh cream. When cheesemongers describe them, they often draw on words like “luxurious” and “velvety” – which can make you feel as if you are shopping for a couch.

Many in this fleet of luxury morsels are made with milk from Jerseys, a breed known for its delicate stature and rich butterfat. If fat is your friend and triple crèmes transport you to other planes, follow the World Jersey Cheese Awards for your next cosmic experience. Hudson Red, a gooey round from New York, recently won gold.

In terms of taste, triple crèmes are generally thought to be mild-mannered. If we had a cheese plate and a day before us, I could wax on about this misconception, too. But I won’t. Just be aware of this: if you dream of tasting a great runny Brie, you better fly to France, or at least take the train to Canada. Most triple crèmes are young (around 30 days old), which means they must be pasteurized in the United States. The process deadens milk flavor and accounts for the gumminess that affects most store-bought Brie.

When I want a silky triple crème with more punch, I leapfrog over Brie-style cheeses (also called “bloomy rinds,” on account of their downy surfaces) and pick up a washed-rind cheese. They’re the orange guys. Their texture is supple, but a special kind of bacteria (b-linens) adds funk. Washed-rind cheeses are literally bathed in beer or wine or brine to encourage b-linens to grow, creating a deliciously creamy cheese with mushroomy, oniony flavors.

If you want a pungent bunny on your Valentine’s cheese plate this year, try Red Hawk, a washed-rind triple from Cowgirl Creamery in California. The same company also produces Mount Tam, a sultry triple that looks more like a Brie. Both cheeses are fudgy and pudgy. They’re almost identical, in fact — same milk, different bacterial cultures.

Developed by two enterprising cheese dames, Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, Hawk and Tam are a heavenly match. One is robust, the other demure. One likes stout, the other Champagne. They’re the Yin and Yang of triple crèmes.

Six Sexy Cheeses

Mascarpone

A spreadable triple creme (sans rind) that loves to be slathered on toast or eaten like frosting

Delice de Bourgogne

The quintessential French triple crème, thick and mousse-like. Great with bubbly and cherry jam.

Lillé Coulommiers

From Vermont: thick as quiche, with a sumptuous center and a pillow-top-like rind

Seal Bay

Freakishly unctuous, like Brie and pâté sharing a body – from Australia

Kunik

A domestic triple made with cow’s milk and goat’s milk, for bolder flavor

La Tur

An Italian tuffet of cow, goat, and sheep’s milk for maximum hysteria. Read: Piedmontese fudge.

Serving Suggestion: Let your cheese come to room temperature for an hour before you serve it. Then set out plenty of bubbly or highly carbonated beer to cleanse your palate. Since these cheeses vary greatly depending on their ripeness, visit a reputable cheese shop for a fresh-cut wedge. Don’t buy these guys shrink-wrapped; they die inside.

Cheese heart photo by simonk via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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