Despite its rich, buttery flavour and luxurious texture, in the many, many times I have enjoyed La Sauvagine, I never clued in that it was a triple cream. I must have been in denial. Its long, savoury finish and "just right" hit of salt make it as addictive as peanuts in the cocktail lounge. In my mind I was simply enjoying a washed-rind cheese – why think about fat content when there's no way you start a wedge believing, "I'll finish the rest tomorrow."
La Sauvagine, a multiple award-winner (in Canada and internationally), was created in Quebec by the cheesemakers at La Fromagerie Alexis de Portneuf. The brainstorming session took place in 2004 with the cheesemakers looking at all the cheeses they currently made. "We put them on a plate and realized, oh, they're all white," says Eric Gagnon, vice-president of operations for the company, referring to the bloomy-rind cow and goat cheeses that had been their focus. Wanting to expand their roster of cheese styles and delve further into affinage (cheese ripening), the coppery-pink Sauvagine was born after a few months of trial and error.
The cheese facility began as a milk company 55 years ago and 20 years later was making cheese under the name Fromagerie Cayer (named after Alexis Cayer, the first mayor and co-founder of Portneuf). The business was purchased in 2000 by Saputo (the largest dairy processor in Canada) and the name was changed to Alexis de Portneuf in 2006. Many of the original cheese-makers still work there and Alexis de Portneuf still maintains the methods and recipes used by Fromagerie Cayer.
Produced on a large scale but carefully crafted, La Sauvagine could present a hot debate topic if you're putting it on a cheeseboard with other fine cheeses. Along with milk and cream, it uses MMIs (modified milk ingredients) in its production. Gagnon explains that the MMIs on the ingredient list refer to the dried whey that is added to balance the protein in the milk throughout the production year (kind of like adding whey powder to boost protein in your morning shake). The components of milk change over the year; for instance when cows cannot graze outside in the winter, you can see and taste this seasonality in classic cheeses like France's Comté. In the case of La Sauvagine, the consistency for the consumer is ensured through the addition of the dried whey.
Widely available and vegetarian-friendly (no animal-derived rennet is used), La Sauvagine is best enjoyed at peak ripeness, a little fuller in flavour and softly bulging from the rind when you slice it. Look for it at 50 to 60 days beyond its production date (stamped on the label). I don't know if there are many people left to convert, maybe this is just a reminder to go back for seconds … and thirds.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.