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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Visit Costa Rica for the Cheese? A Cheese Lovers Alert

Almost every year now (Covid aside) we try to get to France, to see friends and family, revisit museums, walk the lovely streets of Paris and, best of all, eat cheese!

Even before unpacking we head out to the nearest cheese shop and buy much, much too much cheese. Not to worry. We can always freeze it and bring it home.

These last few years, Covid stops us in our tracks, so no Paris and no lovely cheese. However, what do we discover purely by accident? Delicious cheeses made right here in Costa Rica.

We find two kinds of camembert in the Auto Mercado. We see they are made in Costa Rica. Intrigued, we think they might be “interesting.”

They turn out to be more than interesting. They are delicious and a far cry from the bland cheeses usually available.

We learn that a small cheese factory in Santa Cruz de Turrialba makes 20 different, beautifully packaged, and delicious cheeses. This we have to see!

After an hour’s drive northeast of Cartago along an old road with spectacular views we arrive at Quesos Le Chaudron.

We are met by owner and trained professional cheese-maker Maritza Solano, who gives us a tour of the facilities and a look into the immaculate cheese prep rooms. Later we have a cheese tasting and Maritza also serves us raclette. We are in seventh heaven.

Maritza says that the company was founded ten years ago and at first sold its products in “ferias” (open-air markets). During the pandemic they offered door-to-door deliveries and last year began offering their cheeses in the Automercado.

A devotee of raw milk, Maritza explains that Le Chaudron cheeses are all made from unpasteurized milk that comes from carefully tended cows in three nearby farms. These farmers have been trained to milk cows under the strictest, most hygienic conditions.

Maritza explains that the people who raise the cows along with the eight employees in the factory all know that they are doing something very special and for which they take rightful pride.

The interior of the factory is spotless and workers are covered head to toe.

The company web page proclaims that raw milk is a magical ingredient indispensable for the creation of aroma, texture and appearance in cheeses.

The page explains that raw milk is freshly milked milk, i.e., not pasteurized. Milk is 100% sterile in the udder of the cow and it’s ONLY when it comes out, that it can become contaminated.

It notes that raw milk is antibacterial, is an antioxidant and can often help to prevent and cure allergies and asthma.

Most of the company’s 20 cheeses, (sold under two brands: Le Chaudron and Del Guayabal) are milder than some of the very strong cheeses found in France.

Maritza’s goal is however not to copy French cheeses but to make particularly “Costa Rican” cheeses and more specifically, Turrialba cheeses. These are regional cheeses and their flavors come not only from the Jersey cows‘ milk, chosen because Jersey milk production offers the most butterfat and protein content of all the dairy cow breeds, but also from what these cows eat as they free range in that gorgeous mountainous area.

Maritza reminds us that cheeses throughout Europe come from different regions and that even if she copied every step in the production of a specific cheese, it would not taste the same. 

Names for the cheeses are based on recipes inspired by French and Swiss cheeses. However, with regionalism in mind, she has also called many of the cheeses after their location and specific people involved in the cheese-making process, such as Pierre for Pedro and Antoine for Antonio. One name comes from the manufacturer’s trademark on the first giant cauldron they imported from Switzerland: Pasche.

The many choices are described on their web pages and include Tomme Guayabo, Tomme Turrialba, (“the first appealing to more intense flavors and aromas and the second to the soft palate of a creamy short-ripened cheese.”). Then there’s the Tomme Volcán, a creamy pyramid covered in black pepper and paprika. Others are the Saint Antoine and Reblochon.

The lactose-free range of “Petit Blancs” include Petit Blanc Higo, Saanen (“the fusion of its thin crust of dehydrated herbs with its creamy paste brings great freshness to the palate with a slight caprine note”), Petit Blanc Cebollino, Caprice, Petit Blanc Albahaca  (cream mixed with the freshness of natural basil, leaving a pleasant acid note on the palate), and Petit Blanc Mango Jenjibre.

White rind cheeses include two bries and the two camemberts and the St Pierre (“a creamy goat cheese with traditional ash cover that preserves the milk curds and neutralizes acidity while ripening”).

We have not tried them all, but we have liked the Petit Blanc Higo: with figs and nuts. The Cebollino (green onion) is exceptionally tasty and the Caprice with garlic and a touch of black pepper is just plain terrific. We found the camembert from goat’s cheese to be the yummier of the two camemberts offered.

Most of Le Chaudron cheeses can be found at the Automercado, and all of them are available at the El Mercadito Azul in Cartago and at the Feria Verde in Aranjuez (Calle 19, Av. 15, San Jose). Both are open 7 am-noon, on Saturday mornings. Especially tempting is the aged-for-nine-months Suprema (one-percent lactose), very reminiscent of French gruyere and the Pasche, a full-flavored, seven-month goat’s cheese.

We plan to buy the Raclette cheese (“with the taste of fresh mushrooms highlighting notes of wood and cypress”) so we can bring it home, melt it and pour it on small, hot potatoes accompanied by pearl onions, little pickles and perhaps a thin slice of ham. (Welcome to Switzerland!).

Yes, we will get back to France as soon as we can. In the meantime, we are busy enjoying tasting and cooking Le Chadron cheeses.

The website is currently being updated but should be open soon. In the meantime, visit their Facebook page for more information about these wonderful cheeses. https://www.facebook.com/QuesosLeChaudron/

The Covid pandemic caused them to cancel their cheese tours, but they are being re-introduced. Groups of ten ($40 person) can experience a unique gastronomic adventure. Compete tour includes breakfast and lunch. Reserve by calling 8340-5545.

Mark your calendars! Le Chaudron will also have a stand at the Chocolate Fair in the Antigua Aduana building on Calle 23, Av.3/9, San Jose, on July 4

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