Lockdown surprise! How a grey, spotty, forgotten cheese became an overnight sensation

Abandoned in a cellar for a month, le confiné is an unexpected hit - but how does it taste?

Name: Le confiné.

Age: Old, unintentionally.

What do you mean? No one ages intentionally. Well, this isn’t someone, this is something. Cheese, for starters …

Cheese for starters! Are you mad? At the end of a meal, surely … But you don’t mean that, do you? You mean cheese is your main example of something that has aged unintentionally? Exactly, specifically a cheese that has been named le confiné, French for confined, because of the way it came about.

Which was? Well, the story begins, as many of the best ones do, in a dairy farm in the Vosges mountains in eastern France, as the country went into lockdown. Laura and Lionel Vaxelaire, so preoccupied with the global pandemic, completely forgot about a batch of cheese they left in the cellar for a month.

Eurrgh. And how was it? Well, it looked horrid, grey and spotted, as you would if you had been left in a cellar for a month. Usually it is a healthy orange colour.

How did it taste, though? This is the good bit: the mature, more pungent le confiné was excellent. Madame and Monsieur Vaxelaire tried it out on their children, aged 12 and 14, first obviously, in case it turned out to be poisonous.

And it wasn’t? “When they said they wanted more, we knew we were on to something,” Madame Vaxelaire said. The cheese flew from the shelves of their farm shop, word spread and the media got a whiff of the story. “We’ve had people who say they have come on holiday in the Vosges just in order to eat our cheese,” she said.

Nice to have a positive lockdown story. Go on then, what other examples do you have of things that have got better, unexpectedly, over time? Well, there was the bottle of perfume that was discovered on the wreck of the Mary Celestia which sank off Bermuda in 1864.

Still worth it? Yes, to the extent that a couple of well-known perfumers analysed what had gone into it, then recreated and relaunched it, calling it Mary Celestia.

Smell like a Victorian again, nice. And a couple of years ago a 73-old bottle of French Burgundy sold at auction for $558,000.

Yes, but was it worth it? There is no record of it being drunk, it was probably just collected, a trophy wine. Beyond a certain age, fine wine doesn’t improve, contrary to a well-known expression.

What age? Very few wines improve after 20 years. Very few people, too, some might say.

Do say: “Homage to the fromage.”

Don’t say: “Like a fine cheese, you get greyer, spottier and more pungent as you age.”

The GuardianTramp

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