My love affair with really good cheese began when I was an exchange student in Belgium, where I took it as my grave duty to sample every variety the country had to offer. My host family made it easy, as they enjoyed delicious cheeses nearly every day, for either breakfast, lunch, quatre-heure (4 pm snack), or dinner if "un repas complet" (a hot meal) had been served at midday. I only wish my 17-year-old self had had the foresight to keep a tasting journal rather than just blindly (if blissfully) gobbling it all up.
Fast-forward 15 years, and while I appreciate the vast number of beautiful cheeses we have to choose from, deciding which ones to bring home can still be intimidating. In fact, when I go to a fine cheese shop in Vancouver with a long lineup of (obviously much savvier, much classier, more knowledgeable) cheese-choosers waiting behind me, my palms sweat a bit as I hurriedly point out my selections and hope that I sounded confident and bought things I'll like.
As I mentioned on Facebook, I've been having a delicious time honing my cheese knowledge over the past week. I partnered with Alexis de Portneuf, award-winning cheesemakers out of a rural village in Quebec, and at some point during our conversations I humbly (I hope?) requested that they send me a large sampling so that I could try them all side by side and give myself a proper comparative education. (Insert massive smiley-face emoji.)
And Alexis de Portneuf has just rolled out new tasting tags on their packaging. Intensity, texture, and aroma are all front and centre. You'll know at a glance if a cheese is strong, medium or mild, whether it's firm, rich or creamy, and whether it's subtle, robust or zesty. With 46 varieties and a taste guide on each, that's a lot of confident decision making for inexperienced cheese lovers and connoisseurs alike. It would probably make it easier to adopt the European good-cheese-every-day tendency.
(FYI I actually learned a lot about choosing cheeses just from the descriptions of each profile via that link above - check it out.)
I'm sharing this delicious camembert and roasted grape appetizer with you today, using creamy, buttery Camembert de Portneuf. You start by roasting a bunch of grapes until they deflate into juicy orbs that burst in your mouth. Then you toast baguette slices, add a generous slab of camembert, and broil until golden at the edges and starting to melt. Top with a few jammy grapes and a drizzle of their juices, and sprinkle with a bit of fresh thyme.
Before I leave you with the recipe, I'm sharing is the giveaway they've just launched because I really want a Foodess reader (or multiple) to win. Let's make that happen. There are 5 x $1,000 in travel agency vouchers up for grabs that can be used for any destination you like. Entry involves just a quick quiz to find out your cheese taste profile. (I took the quiz and my taste profile is Mild - not surprising since I adore creamy, soft cheeses the most.) So please win and start planning a fabulous vacation that you invite me on.
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- Prep Time
- 1 1/2 lbs seedless red grapes
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for brushing
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme (plus more for garnish)
- 1 baguette, cut diagonally crosswise into 1/2" thick slices
- 1 wheel Camembert de Portneuf
Preheat oven to 450ºF. Toss grapes with 2 tbsp of olive oil and thyme sprigs then spread in an even layer on a baking sheet, leaving some stems attached if you like (it makes a pretty presentation). Roast for about 25 minutes, flipping grapes once, until caramelized and juicy. Let cool.
Brush baguette slices with more olive oil and arrange on a second baking sheet. Bake about 6 minutes, flipping once half-way through, until toasted on both sides.
Switch the oven to broil. Top each toast with a thick wedge of camembert and broil about 5 minutes, watching very, very closely, until cheese is golden at edges and just softened. Top each crostini with a small bunch of grapes and sprinkle with a few thyme leaves, if desired.