Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Say Cheese: Valencay

I have come to love my evening commute for one main reason--I get to walk through Grand Central Market every night. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Grand Central Market is a European style food hall oddly situated in one of the city's most trafficked commuter hub, Grand Central Terminal. Despite the fact that it is crowded during rush hour, it's a great place to pick up quality fish, meat, produce, bakery goods, and my ultimate weakness: cheese. Grand Central Market is home to Murray's Cheese, which has their main store in the West Village but operates an outpost in this unlikely placed, mini gourmet paradise.

Murray's must have at least a hundred cheeses at any given time, with a selection that varies from week to week. If I had my way, I'd take home two or three pieces every time I passed through, but alas...must...show...some...self...restraint. I try to limit myself to one chunk a week because I have absolutely no sense of moderation: If I were to buy three chunks i would eat all three chunks in one sitting. So one it is. Must save room for other delicious foods, after all.

This week's fromage was a lovely ash-covered French number called Valencay.

I was craving a goat cheese that had developed a bit of bite from being aged and this cheese hit the spot. Valencay has a paste that is moist but firm, and though it has a slight bite, the taste is soft and delicate and the flavor nutty. According to the little descriptor tag at Murray's, the cheese was invented to appease Napoleon after he had returned from his failed Egyptian expedition and stopped in the French town Valencay. Apparently, the original shape was perfectly pyramidal, but when he saw the cheese, he took a sword to it and chopped the top off in anger. Temper, Temper.

Despite Napoleon's unruly reaction, this cheese is a nice alternative to fresh goat cheeses, which can get boring after a while since many end up tasting only like dry ricotta with a tang. In contrast, Valencay's nutty and more developed flavor helps it stand up to good crusty bread (which is what I ate it with) and it would probably even pair well with something starchier, like cooked potatoes. Though I would have liked for the cheese to have even more complexity and wished it had some earthiness, as far as I'm concerned, Napoleon should have lost wars more often if it would have inspired cheeses like this.

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