Now my mindset has changed to a definite as I am enamoured with the variety of artisan cheeses available in Belgian shops and markets. Actually, there are approximately 300 different distinct varieties of artisan cheeses produced in Belgium with each town or village having at least one speciality store selling their local products. Cow's milk is by far the most common cheese base with brine washes, including those made local beers and ales, making the cheeses unique. Most of Belgium's cheeses are consumed domestically which may account for the reason that so much of the world is unaware of the country's great cheeses. But it makes me a bit sad to think about what those who don't visit Belgium are missing.
So where does one even begin when searching out great Belgian cheeses? The local markets held weekly in most towns is a great place to start. Smaller markets are guaranteed to have at least one cheese vendor while larger ones like the one in Mons have several to choose from. Most will let you sample their goods before making a selection which I always find to be helpful since the options are simply overwhelming. But then again, I have yet to find a cheese that I don't like. Some I might not love but every one I have tasted to date has been more than palatable with most making me want to go back for more. But my favorite cheeses to date have been those from Les Fromages de Thoricourt. This small farm is a favorite with SHAPE families and after visiting I now can understand why. Operated by the Oostendorp family, the farm's raw milk cheeses are made with organic milk from their own cows. The tiny shop is located right on the family's farm but their cheese is also sold at local bazaars and festivals. But visiting the cheese shop itself is a part of the cheese experience. Visitors are invited to sample all of the cheeses before buying them. (Additionally the shop sells fresh eggs, a small selection of salami--made with cheese- which are excellent, local beers and wines, chocolates, jams, and other local delicacies). With the exception of the soft, spreadable cheeses the cheese are Gouda based. On my first visit the proprietress quickly informed me that because it is made with raw milk, this Gouda is not like the kind you buy in the store, and she was right. The texture was firmer than what I was familiar with and the taste was more complex. I could have eaten wedges of these cheese but why stop there? The herb infused cheeses-both Greek and Italian inspired- were delicious as was the cumin scented cheese. I haven't tried the nettle one but the Gouda whose rind was brushed with Belgian Ale was pretty darn tasty. There are so many varieties to try that I'll be going back again for more. Who knew that a simple Gouda could be so good? And this is just from one farm. With an entire country of cheese to try I know the next few years will be wonderful.
For someone who spent the past three years in the cheese abyss that is called Albania, I'm loving my Belgian cheese adventures. Cheese and French bread have become one of my favorite on the go lunches and the options really are endless. In fact, I'm thinking it is time to eat some more now.