A Cheese of Romance and Transition


Photo by Daphne Zepos

Rubbed with rosemary, juniper berries, fennel seeds, and tiny red chili peppers, Fleur du Maquis is a fresh, moist sheep's milk cheese made on the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean.

The cheese has a lovely romantic name. In French, fleur means flower and maquis means "underbrush," for the typical dry scrub bushes that thrive in Mediterranean climates. "Flower of the underbrush" would be the literal translation, but maquis has a patriotic connotation too, since the Maquisards were the rural guerrilla bands of the French Resistance during World War II.

Fleur du Maquis epitomizes the transition from winter to early spring, when lambing season is nearly over and cheesemakers prepare for the seasonal "milk flush" (the high milk production that happens all over the Mediterranean around Easter). It marries the new milking season with fragrant herbs collected and dried last summer.

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Photo by Daphne Zepos

The rind on the cheese is dry to the touch and wrinkled, and the bone-white paste (or interior) has turned a little gooey around the edges. The heart of the cheese is soft and moist, mildly acidic. The creamy edges taste rich and fatty, deliciously infused with the herbs. This is a mild, accessible cheese, and quite a looker on the cheese plate.

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I recently found out that while the cheese is made in Corsica, the herbing process mostly happens in a workshop near Paris. And since the herbs were not rubbed on the cheese by the loving hands of the Corsican cheesemaker, I allowed myself the creative license to brush off the wilted herbs and re-apply West Coast ones. I bought the cheese at Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco and packed it in dried Mexican oregano, Pequin chiles, and rosemary that was picked on Mount Tamalpais and dried in Berkeley.

Did my herbs revitalize and enhance the flavors? Truthfully, very little. The cheese was delicious to start with. But my cheesemonger hands could not resist creating a little extra romance -- just so that it could live up to its name.