Cheese University (XXII): Pont l’Evêque


Pont l'Evêque

This cheese has come a long, long way, it is fair to assume that it was already made and sold back in the Middle Ages, in the backward villages of lovely Normandy. It is in fact mentioned in documents published in 1560 and 1588, a square thing, strong and spicy, it used to have a washed rind, a croûte lavée, displaying flashy orange colours. Nowadays, producers have modified their procedures, there’s an argument about it, but there’s still only one cheese in the world called

Pont l’Evêque

It obtained the AOC label in 1972, 5 farm-house producers are left and 7 more or less industrial production sites, they have a combined output of 3000 tons per year and share a website. The standard square piece measures around 11 cm, there’s a smaller, “petit” Pont l’Evêque with an edge length of around 9 cm, a “demi” and a “grand” but size doesn’t matter too much in the end. They’re all made with cow’s milk, mostly pasteurized nowadays, I imagine there’s a black market going for the real raw milk fare.

The pieces  ripen for at least 2 weeks and I agree with cheese master Pierre Androuet who deplores the fact that the producers don’t wash the rind any longer but treat their cheese almost like a Camembert or something, bringing on monilium bacteries to get sort of a bloomy crust. Androuet says, by doing so the producers have created a cheese too bitter to be really pleasant. I’m not sure whether I share this observation but I have to admit that the Pont l’Evêque is one of the rare great French dairy products that I only respect but do not love – at all.

In fact, I hardly ever buy it but I encourage you to still consider trying it. Who knows, maybe your palate reacts different to this cheese and you find a new culinary friend. And you can play around with him: it’s a product I could imagine being accompanied by a glass of Calvados. I wouldn’t know any wine that fits, Cidre could be nice or even beer.

For the video, I haven’t really found something telling about this ancient cheese. Here’s one coming from the tourism office. The pictures of Normandy landscapes are pretty – and true.

7 comments

  1. Vincent

    It used to be my aunt’s favourite cheese. When she was younger and still living with her parents and sisters, Colette was (kindly but firmly) asked to put her Pont L’Eveque on the windowsill outside, so its powerful odour would not hang too heavily in the flat. There was no fridge in France at that time…

  2. olivier

    Pont l’Evêque is an all time classic on Simone’s cheese tray as far as I can remember. She still has a weak spot for strong characters… What you say of its bitterness makes me think it’s one of these cheeses that we’ve always eaten with green salad… and Simone’s vinaigrette.
    Just to say that green salad and a vinaigrette on the side may prove as important as a good wine to enjoy a cheese

  3. The rind washing point is very interesting. I think this is one more cheese I have never tasted. It’s such a pity this pasteurising lazy, industrial habit gets more and more frequent… In the meantime I am still looking for Ossau Iraty made with raw milk. I don’t know why but the only ones I find are made with pasteurised milk and I want the real thing! Thanks again for the very interesting post!

  4. Love to hear about Colette and Simone and their love for the Pont l’Evêque. You see? It obviously is (or was) a cheese with so much character that you either love it or dislike it.
    For you, Sissi, I have comforting news: in my view the situation of all kinds of cheese made with raw milk has in fact improved a lot over the last decade or so. The European Union is no longer harrassing it, on the contrary. The classic French (and Italian, Spanish) cheeses are now better protected than ever before. I would even say that the somehow philosophical controversy: pasteurized vs raw milk is over. Back in the 1980s that was a different story.
    You’re right though, of course, that industry doesn’t like raw milk at all. It needs too much attention, skills and investment. But who eats industrial cheese anyway? Why would you?

  5. Thank you for the answer! I didn’t know the situation changed. These are very good news! Let’s hope the French winophobia will end one day too, otherwise the excellent famous producers will stop bothering to try selling their wines on the French market (I know it’s already the case of some excellent producers) and the small, unknown ones will disappear. The other day I read a very interesting article about the dramatic decline of wine drinkers’ number and the growing intake of tranquillizers. The link is too obvious. (It’s funny: when I think ‘ French cheese’, I think ‘wine’, even though I rarely have cheese and wine at the same time.)

  6. French wine is a very sad story these days, outlook is bleak. In fact, there’s ever more wine for less and less (domestic) costumers. I’m afraid it’s fair to say that winemakers in a region like Languedoc-Roussilon are dying at a horrifying, fast pace. But what can you do? In the 1960s, the French drank (on average) 120 liters of wine per year, 3 glasses per day. Today, you have to divide that figure by 3. The French drink hardly 40 liters per head and year nowadays, meaning that most people don’t drink wine at all – so consumer demand is simply not robust enough to sustain such a big wine industry. Like the movie title says: “There will be blood”, unfortunately.

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