What’s spicy, pyramidal, and red all over? Boulette D’Avesnes, of course! This cheese is a European curiosity that no one other than the French could have dreamed up, but don’t let its unusual appearance keep you from experiencing the wholly unique flavor.
A Fully French Favorite
Famous for its love of cheese, it’s no surprise that French cuisine is responsible for the creation of Boulette D’Avesnes. It hails from a small village on the French-Belgian border called Avesnes, where this cheese was originally created as a means through which to cut down on waste from dairy farms. Boulette means cones in English, so the name of this cheese is quite literal in its translation: cones of Avesnes. One look at this cheese, and it’s clear how its creators dreamt up that name. Boulette D’Avesnes was originally made as a buttermilk by-product on farms; basically, it was at one point a creation of leftover scraps. Now, it is made of Maroilles paste formed together by hand.
This soft, creamy cow’s milk cheese is generally spiced with parsley, pepper, cloves, and tarragon, giving the cheese itself a strong, distinct flavor that is easily recognizable as a French cheese. The flavor is further compounded through aging and an unusually spicy rind.
While boulettes were originally meant to be eaten within a month of creation (back when they were the product of scraps), these cheeses now age well in cellars, gaining their distinctive coloring in the aging process from paprika or annatto, both of which serve as a natural sort of food coloring. The rind on this cheese is what gives it the distinct spiciness for which it is so well known. Boulette D’Avesnes has an unmistakable funky odor, which is only further compounded when aged and allowed to mature.
Boulette D’Avesnes may be the spiciest cheese produced in France, and is certainly one of the most fragrant. This cheese is easily recognizable, as its odd color and irregular (because it is molded by hand) shape are unlike that of any other cheese. Once inside the spicy rind, the texture of the cheese is doughy and pungent, further adding to the uniqueness of this cheese. The softness makes it easily spreadable, so it’s a great addition to any cheese course, and the sharp flavor can be dulled by being spread on bread.
In Demand, But in Short Supply
Because this cheese only comes from one village in France, the authentic version is not available in great abundance. While the process of creating Boulette D’Avesnes is more streamlined than it was years ago due to its increased popularity, it is still a small operation, and therefore it’s difficult to acquire this cheese even in Europe. It’s virtually impossible to get your hands on this cheese in the United States, due in part to the fact that some Boulette D’Avesnes is made with raw milk. In fact, even the internet comes up dry if you search for an online marketplace willing to ship Boulette D’Avesnes stateside.
Naturally, the easiest place to acquire Boulette D’Avesnes is in France. You can sample this unusual treat at a number of French restaurants, and even buy it in shops. Nearby UK also has access to Boulette D’Avesnes, both in stores and through online shopping.
Two Versions of One Cheese
The two variations of Boulette D’Avesnes are raw milk and pasteurized; while you probably know that pasteurized cheese is permitted in the U.S. by the FDA and raw milk cheese is not, you may not know exactly what these terms mean.
Essentially, pasteurized cheese is made with milk that has first been heated to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, and raw milk cheese has no such stipulation. The logic behind the practice of pasteurization is that it will kill any harmful bacteria that may be lurking in the dairy; on the other hand, it is argued that raw milk cheese has a more diverse and replicable flavor profile. Proponents for raw cheese believe that pasteurization threatens the integrity of a cheese’s natural flavor.
Raw milk cheese, like Boulette D’Avesnes, is commonplace in France, but less so in other parts of the world. The pasteurized version of this cheese is typically only procured for commercial use due to the hefty price tag, and how difficult it is to locate. Beyond the pasteurized vs. raw divide, the only real variation in different specimen of Boulette D’Avesnes is in their physical appearance. Since each wedge is molded by hand, there is bound to be some discrepancy in size and shape.
Imitation Is The Highest Form of Flattery
Due to the fact that there is little specification or regulation, cheese imitating Boulette D’Avesnes has popped up from various other points of production. Unfortunately, these imitations vary widely in terms of flavor and quality, and can sometimes make it difficult to differentiate an authentic Boulette D’Avesnes.
The best way to ensure that you’re sampling the real version of this cheese is to purchase it from a reputable shop or a quality restaurant, ideally while in France. These imitations may be interesting and flavorful, but you’ll be cheated out of the authentic experience by settling for them.
Complementing The Boulettes
If you can get past the unusual, brick-colored appearance and especially strong aroma of Boulette D’Avesnes, you can consider some of these potential pairings to more thoroughly enjoy this unusual French cheese:
- Traditional Gin
- A Good Beer (whatever that may mean to you)
- Honey Drizzle
Boulette D’Avesnes is considered by some to be an explosion of French cheese flavor, so you’ll need a similarly distinct flavor to accompany it properly. If you’re the particularly adventurous sort, you could even give each of these pairings a shot to decide which one you think suits the boulettes best.
Though Boulette D’Avesnes may not be the most widely available cheese, this French delicacy is an unmissable treat for lovers of all things unique and delicious. If given the opportunity to try it out, don’t let this fiery delight pass you by.