As a cheese retailer, you’re not always able to get all of the cheeses you want at all times. Sometimes it’s because the cheese is only available certain times of the year because it’s made seasonally, or because a small-batch cheese sells out.
Other times, cheeses are more difficult to get—and harder to sell to customers year-round because of their price—and distributors focus on bringing them in for the holidays. Those cheeses are often part of an “air ship” program, which means the cheeses arrive by airplane, rather than by boat, which is how most imported cheeses get around the world. (It’s vastly cheaper to send cheese on a ship than on an airplane.)
The cheeses that are part of these “air ship” programs tend to be smaller format soft-ripened and washed-rind cheeses, such as Langres, Grès des Voges, l’Affiné au Chablis, Trou du Cru, l’Aviateur, and so forth. Époisses is sometimes on that list, even though you can generally get Époisses year-round nowadays.
Every time I’ve participated in ordering from a French holiday air ship program, I’ve ordered a whole bunch of types of cheeses and only received a few of them. One cheese I’ve ordered before and never received is Soumaintrain. But that all changed last week, when a case of six wheels showed up.
And that’s how I discovered the second 2018 Holiday Cheese, Soumaintrain.
At first glance, the name of this washed-rind cheese is a bit daunting for English speakers; there are so many vowels! But you can easily ask for this cheese if you break down the name into three syllables: sue-man-tran.
Named for a Burgundian village of the same name, Soumaintrain is a member of the Époisses family of cheeses.
Like Époisses, Soumaintrain is a name-protected cheese made in Burgundy with either raw or pasteurized cow’s milk, and is a washed-rind cheese.[i] While Soumaintrain looks a lot like Époisses, it is generally eaten at a much younger age than the family’s namesake—at about six weeks, when the rind is still forming and thin.
Unlike Époisses, Soumaintrain is washed only in a brine solution, rather than with Marc de Bourgogne or another type of liqueur. Soumaintrain is slightly larger in size than Époisses, and is made with spring or summer milk.[ii]
For the less-adventurous cheese nosher, Soumaintrain is the perfect gateway washed-rind cheese. Because it is so young and fresh, its texture and flavor profile are more similar to a triple-cream brie-style cheese than to most other washed-rind stinkers–although it is only a double-cream cheese.[iii]
There are a few brands of Soumaintrain that are widely available in the U.S., including Berthaut, Gaugry, and Lincet. The version I received is from Berthaut.
At first sight, the cheese has a pinky-orange rind and a fudgy, whitish interior. When I opened our first wheel, it had a slight, oozy creamline around the edges.
The cheese’s aroma was not very strong, smelling lactic like cold milk, with hints of grass and leather. When I bit into a fat bite of Soumaintrain, I immediately noticed the rich mouthfeel. It was tongue-coating and supple, almost chalky but too soft to be crumbly.
Like the aroma, the flavor of the Soumaintrain was relatively mild as washed-rind cheeses go. I tasted sweet cream, salt, and hay. The most prominent feeling of eating a bite of this cheese is how fatty it is in your mouth; it is a delight.
Experts generally recommend pairing Soumaintrain with a white Burgundian wine. I can also see pairing it with an Abbey-style ale. But honestly, the best pairing for this cheese would probably be very good bread.
Since my fiancé was cooking bacon when I was tasting the cheese at home, I went out on a limb and paired it with that—a wedge of Soumaintrain on a whole, sizzling slice of bacon—and it was an excellent choice. I then took the madness a step further and paired the Soumaintrain with bacon on a ladyfinger. Fan-fucking-tastic.
(Sometimes it really pays to experiment, folks.)
If you are serving a group this holiday season and aren’t sure if they will be able to handle the Willoughbys and Époisses of the world, you can stick a slab of Soumaintrain (or a whole wheel, heck, it’s not that big) on your cheese board and know that you’ve done right by the washed-rind cheese gods.
Everyone I’ve sampled this Soumaintrain to has been crazy about it, and I have no doubt that you and your guests will be, too.
[i] Masui, Kazuko, and Tomoko Yamada. “Soumaintrain,” French Cheeses. Dorling Kindersley: New York, 2004. 187.
[ii] “France.” World Cheese Book. Ed. Juliet Harbutt. DK: New York, 2009. 88.
[iii] Jenkins, Steven. “Burgundy.” Cheese Primer. Workman Publishing Company: New York, 1996. 108.