In Belgium, a country bordering France and Holland, there is a cheese-making tradition that originated centuries ago in the Trappist monastic tradition. There was a time when one of the monks’ daily tasks included making cheese. See other interesting cheese varieties from England, France, Italy and Spain.
The country produces today more than 80 varieties of delicate and tasty cheeses. Poteaupré, Val Dieu and Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval are three of their most original creations designed to satisfy the most refined palates.
The Trappist community of Scormount, in the Belgian province of Hainaut, Wallonia produces this delightful cheese. Made with cow’s milk, it is soft and creamy with a moldy coating and owes its virtues to the ancient knowledge of the farmers from this region. Poteaupré cheese, which is distinguished by an earthy and flowered taste, is packaged in wooden boxes. It has a dark tan crust beneath which is an ivory colored paste with a smooth, creamy texture and a delicious nutty flavor that leans toward the spicy side in a very subtle way. Its smell is earthy with hints of mushrooms. Before eating, you should warm it slightly and then discard the top crust to eat the melted center either with bread or a spoon.
One of the most beautiful areas of Belgium is the Herve, a municipality in the east of the country, in the province of Liège. The place is full of charm, magnificent landscapes and lush green meadows among which you find the 13th century Cistercian abbey of Val-Dieu. This area is the home of the Val-Dieu, a soft cheese made from cow’s milk, with a light yellow color and a natural moldy rind, thin and flexible. Val-Dieu is a delicious cheese, creamy, soft, subtle and gentle. It can be consumed in a first-course salad of during a meal. And because it melts perfectly, is ideal for a fondue or raclette.
Located in the Belgian Ardennes and founded in 1132, the Notre-Dame d’Orval Abbey is one of the most-important Cistercian monasteries in the country. The new abbey was built in 1926 on the foundations of the monastery, which was destroyed during the French Revolution. Nestled in a deep valley, the Orval Abbey is currently home to a thriving community of monks responsible for the production of Orval, one of the finest Belgian cheeses, made with the milk of Gaumais cows. Orval is a pressed cheese, uncooked, and with natural crust. It is characterized by its creaminess and delicious flavor. Also known in Belgium as Plateau, Orval cheese is shaped like a loaf of bread, its paste is yellowish, and its natural washed crust has an orange color. The texture is semi-hard but elastic under the touch of a finger. Its characteristic sweetness and light flavor with notes of butter makes it an excellent choice for all kinds of appetizers and casseroles. Belgians love to serve it on a large crepe. ■