Chabichou du Poitou.
Poitou, the ancient province of western France synonymous with the Plantagenêt kings of old, is a fitting place for such a noble cheese to have been created.
The province long since spent, has been replaced by the newer region of Poitou-Charente. Situated in western France, it is comprised of the departments: Charente, Charente-Maritime, Deux-Sèvres and Vienne and is the home of Chabichou du Poitou.
“Chabichou du Poitou AOC,” not to be confused with Chabichou, which is also made in the area but not under the same strict guidelines, set out by the French state, is the final cheese in this section on goat’s cheese from the Loire Valley region…although it is not really a Loire cheese at all.
Poitou-Charente’s départements of Deux-Sèvres and Vienne abuts the Pays de la Loire to the north and to the west towards the Vendee and the ocean. Chabichou du Poitou is made in both Deux-Sèvres and Vienne, which is why this cheese is often grouped together with the other great goats cheese of the Loire Valley, although that link is rather tenuous as the cheese is only made in the southern part of Vienne, and these southerly départements have nothing to do with the Loire at all.
As with all the goat cheese of the Loire valley region, Chabichou du Poitou was introduced into France during the Umayyad expansionism of the 6th and 7th Centuries. The Moors who had conquered Iberia by 718 then invaded France by way of the Pyrenees and gradually moved north over the next 14 years eventually reaching the southern banks of the Loire river.
South of the Loire in the region of Poitou-Charente, Chabichou du Poitou is thought of as one of the oldest cheeses in France; but this is a misconception. The Romans introduced cheese into France in the first century AD and the goat and goat cheese did not appear until the 7th Century during the Islamic invasion. As the Moors moved north through France they left behind their knowledge of goat husbandry and goat cheese. Goat cheese is to be found south of Poitou-Charente, which would suggest that these more southerly cheeses are older than Chabichou du Poitou.
The word Chabi an abbreviation of Chabichou is said to been derived from an Arabic word for goat. The spread of goat cheese along the river Loire coincided with the Islamic invasion of the area, which came to an end in 732 when Charles Martel defeated the Moors in the Battle of Tours thus saving Europe from Muslim conquest. The Battle of Tours, commonly called the Battle of Poitiers is also known in the Islamic world as the Court of Martyrs(1.)
In 1782, Chabichou du Poitou was mentioned in a local publication ‘the travellers guide to Poitiers and the surrounding area,’2 suggesting it was a fine cheese even then. As with other goat cheese producing regions of France, the increase in production coincided with the availability of cheap land following the European phylloxera crisis in the late 1800’s. Vines grow best on stony poor quality soils, land not suitable for agriculture but eminently suitable for the rearing of goats and with the death of the vines came the renaissance of goat cheese in France.
In 1990 following the intervention of French politician Ségolène Royal, Chabichou du Poitou, acquired its AOC. In order to promote the local Chabichou cheese, she arrived at a garden party at the Palais de l'Elysée on Bastille Day dressed in the traditional Poitevin costume.
CHABICHOU DU POITOU
Décret du 29 juin 1990
Art. 1er. – The designation Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée “Chabichou du Poitou covers the production of milk, the making of the goats cheese its ageing and must take place in one of the following départements
The zone of production is limited to Haut-Poitou:
The southern part of Vienne,
The north of Charente.
Art. 2. – For the cheese to benefit from an appellation d'origine “ Chabichou du Poitou,” it must be made from whole goats milk. It has a soft uncooked pâte, which is obtained by lactic coagulation with the addition of a small amount of rennet. Lightly salty with a fine crust covered in a light mould, white yellow or blue and made in the shape of a small cylinder called a ‘bonde’. The cheese must have as a minimum 45% fat content.
The cheese when fresh cuts cleanly with a soft fine white pâte but as the cheese matures so the texture becomes crumbly and the flavour is accentuated.
a) The goats milk used must conform to government regulations and the herd must be certificated free of Brucellosis.
b) The curds are ladled into perforated cylindrical moulds, whose interior dimensions are as follows, diameter of the base 60mm-height between 65mm and 160mm.
c) The cheese are salted either by sprinkling with dry salt or by immersion in brine.
d) The cheeses are ripened for a minimum of ten days counted from the date the milk is coagulated at a temperature between 10 and12°C and at 80-90% humidity
e) The milk must not be frozen or stored by any other means for future use.
Art. 4. – To control the quality and the place of origin for the cheese the producers and establishments where the cheese is ripened must keep up to date records of all cheese made and sold.
Art. 6. – In order to benefit from the name “Chabichou du Poitou” the words Appellation d'origine and Chabichou du Poitou must appear on the labelling and must be at least 2/3rds the size of the largest text on the packaging. This also applies to any additional packaging the cheese may be sold in.
Art. 7. – The names Farm Made or Farm cheese are reserved for those cheese made from the milk from one farm; and made on the same farm.
It also applies to Farm cheese collected and ripened elsewhere within the geographical region.
Chabichou du Poitou is made by the lactic fermentation of whole goats milk accelerated by the addition of small quantity of rennet. The milk is left to coagulate in vats for 24 hours at a temperature of 20 and 22 °C.
The coagulated curds are manually ladled into perforated cylindrical moulds where they are allowed to drain for between 18 and 24 hours. During this draining process, the cheese are turned two or three times to facilitate drainage. The cheese are then removed from their moulds, salted with either dry salt or placed in a salt bath full of brine. The newly formed “Chabichou du Poitou” are then transferred to a drying room where further spontaneous draining takes place following salting. The cheese are then kept at a temperature of between 10 and 12 °C for between 24 to 48 hours. When fully drained they are then transferred to a ripening store where they are left to mature for a minimum of ten days in a controlled atmosphere with a 80-90% humidity.
The cheese are aged for a minimum of ten days but generally two or three weeks and some are retained and aged for several months for a stronger more pronounced flavour.
Chabichou’s paste or pâte is white, smooth and creamy producing a delicate sensation on the palate. Its fine caprine odour hints at the subtlety of the cheese, which with ten days of aging is soft, mild with a tantalizing flavour. The cheese when fresh is one of the milder goats cheese in France and certainly the mildest of the six cheeses from the Loire Valley. *
It has a fine exterior, white when first made becoming progressively grey or blue as the cheese ages. When fully ripened the exterior develops small red, yellow and blue spots of mould, which are not apparent in the younger cheese. With maturity the soft and supple pâte becomes more friable and the subtle flavour becomes stronger.
Wines to go with:
The region of Poitou-Charente is not known for its fine wines. As with other goats cheese a white wine such as a Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé or a Muscadet would do very nicely. As the cheese matures consider a red Sancerre, Chinon or a
To be true to the region try with a chilled glass of sweet Pineau des Charentes a local aperitif.
1 Henry Coppée writes, "The same name (see ante) was given to the battle of Toulouse and is applied to many other fields on which the Moslemah were defeated: they were always martyrs for the faith" (Coppée, 1881/2002, p. 13.)
2 “Guide du voyageur à Poitiers et aux environs"