The word LUXURY is one that instantly conjures up such a wide range of different images and reactions specific to each one of us.
To my children, it seems to resonate more along the lines of the ‘unaffordable’, ‘super exclusive’ and mostly ‘unnecessary’ indulgences.
To me, with full time work, four children, and family in both hemispheres of the globe, luxury is, amongst other things, TIME.
Time that I am of course very poor of. Time that I would like to put aside to do what matters to me the most! Rings a bell?
Time to slow down. Time to enjoy simple things. Time to allow all five senses to engage fully in simple daily sensory experiences. Probably one of the main reasons I enjoy teaching the art of tasting cheese so much. You cannot do that in a rush!
Luxury, is making a conscious decision to surround myself with worthwhile and well-crafted items, whatever they might be.
Take cheese, for example. Is it a luxurious item in itself?
Since I could not live without it, I certainly don’t think so!
Because it can be offered sometimes at a very steep price, it could be seen that way?
In any case, I truly believe that with cheese, there is so much more to it than meet the eyes and hit your pocket…!
Next time you are picking up a piece of cheese, I would like you to start scratching the surface of appearances and be surprised at the discovery of how rich the cheese is. And I am not talking calories here. I am talking culture and geography, history and terroir, connections to our various inheritances.
But be warned, when you start scratching with enough curiosity, chances are you won’t stop anytime soon. I am still scratching, still learning, still discovering fascinating stories. And that is how and why I call myself a Storyteller!
Brad Kessler, American novelist born in the 60s said, “Every raw milk cheese is an artefact of the land. It carries the imprint of the earth from which it came. It’s a living piece of geography. A sense of place.”
And that is exactly what I am talking about and the reason I chose to embark on this fascinating journey through textures and endless layers, through culture with extra dimensions and complexity. Cheese just takes you places!
Take a cheese like the French Beaufort Alpage for instance.
This very special cheese is one of the few noble Alpine cheeses.
The origin of Beaufort-like cheeses goes back thousands of years with Pliny the Younger (61–112 AD) mentioning its existence at the court of Emperor Trajan (13th Emperor of the Roman Empire). The official Beaufort would see its origin in the 1200s.
It is produced exclusively from unpasteurised cow's milk in the French Alps from the milk of cows that are lucky enough to graze on sustainable mountain pastures.
In that part of the world, the mountainsides are covered with snow for at least 6 months of the year, but as the snow melts around June, the “alpage” (or high-altitude grazing pastures) comes to life, with hundreds of rare and indigenous grasses and flowers growing and blooming.
Every year, a young man or woman will leave the village with around 40 cows on tow and will start climbing up the mountains. By mid-august, they will be contemplating the valley from the top – around 3000m high. Every day, they will milk their cows and make cheese with simple tools in special huts (or chalets) readily available for them along the Alpage trail. Some Beaufort cheesemakers will stay from June to September in their summer chalet to produce this very sought-after Beaufort d’Alpage.
Beaufort has a very characteristic shape—a large, thick wheel with concave sides. It is said that it would allow farmers to easily transport the cheese down the mountains on donkeys’ back.
The result is a cheese with meaty, salted caramel, honey and milky flavours with amazing floral and herbal notes from the grazing grounds they have been part of. It has a firm yet buttery taste, and it melts oh so elegantly in your mouth… It oozes luxury if you ask me!
Now the good news is, you don’t need an awful lot of this exquisite cheese to fall under its spell. Its idiosyncratic qualities will guaranty an immediate and long-lasting sense of satisfaction and its unique background should remind you how lucky you are to be able to share such a deep connection with our ancestors.
It only requires a little bit of time to seize and appreciate the greater value and complexity of the cheese you want to put in your mouth.
So next time you are at the shop, take time to choose your next piece of cheese wisely. Ask the cheese monger to share with you as much information or stories he or she has about the product. You suddenly allow luxury to become part of your daily life. A little bit of good quality artisanal cheese will always take you a much longer way than its industrial counterpart. It will always have something to tell you and will leave you in a state of deep satisfaction!
What more luxury do you want?