Le Cendrillon, a Quebec goat cheese from La Fromagerie Alexis de Portneuf was declared the "best cheese in the world" at the 2009 World Cheese Awards. When I tried it at the Royal Winter Fair shortly after the announcement, the piece I had was fairly young and mild. While it was pleasant enough, it wasn't particularly memorable. I wondered what all the fuss was about. Lately, after seeking out the older, riper versions of Le Cendrillon, I find myself searching for crumbs on the cheeseboard long after it's been devoured. I finally felt it was time to make a little fuss of my own.
If ever you were looking for a cheese to create a "wow" at the table, you'd be hard-pressed to find one that provides a more elegant and dramatic presentation. Shaped like a long, narrow pyramid, Le Cendrillon's dark ash rind develops a mottled bloom. It's even more eye-catching when sliced: Its snowy white core is surrounded by pale, almond coloured paste, which is framed by the crisp, black exterior.
This visual balance translates to well-rounded yet complex flavours on the palate. I prefer Le Cendrillon closer to the end of its "best before" date. The paste is dense and explodes with taste: full, creamy, salty. You get a sense of the goat milk but there's acidity, more depth and earthiness. Even the aroma carries less of a tangy timbre and more of a sweet baritone. At this age there is a bit of bite - a peppery spiciness to the rind, but it's a welcome interloper, rounded out by the smoothness of the cheese overall.
The cheese was created in 2005 when some of the younger cheese makers at the plant wanted to try something new, explains Louis Aird who is the fine cheese director at Alexis de Portneuf "I said, maybe we can make a cheese in the shape of a pyramid," says Mr. Aird, "but the problem with the pyramid is that as it ages the centre gets very hard. So we adjusted the shape to make a long pyramid. I have travelled around the world and have never seen this same shape."
Due to its unique form, the first moulds for the cheese were made by hand. The cheese makers discovered that this longer, leaner pyramid would ripen faster and more evenly maintaining a softer centre. The ash on the rind gives the cheese balance - helping tame acidity and draw out the salt. The velvety rind develops in the ripening room where Le Cendrillon is aged with other bloomy rind cheeses and is infiltrated by the ambient fuzzy, white mould.
When Le Cendrillon was entered into the World Cheese Awards two years ago it was being handmade for a tiny boutique market. Since then demand has pushed production up from 60 cheeses a batch to the thousands, yet the cheese continues to be made by hand. "it is just too delicate, too rigorous a process to do any other way," explains Mr. Aird.
One of the many reasons that when it comes to le Cendrillon, it's okay to believe the hype.
The cheese: Le Cendrillon
Producer: La Fromagerie Alexis de Portneuf
Origin: Saint Raymond de Portneuf, QC
Milk: pasteurized goat
Type: soft, surface ripened, mixed rind (ash and bloomy)
Shape: 125g triangular prism
Toronto: Loblaws, Longos, Whole Foods, Thin Blue Line, A Taste of Quebec, Fiesta Farms, Cheese Boutique
Province wide: Loblaws
Province Wide: Loblaws, IGA, Metro
Vancouver: Les Amis de Fromage, Urban Fair
Province Wide: Save-On, Quality Fair, Thrifty Foods