When I have been lucky enough to go to France in the past, one of the first things I look for in cheese stores is Saint-Marcellin.
This is a delicate, rather fragile cheese and we only receive it periodically in Canada, so buying it at the source is a pleasure. The cheese often comes in a little clay dish, and you could mistake it for a generic sort of soft cheese just by looking at it. The truth is that the texture is lush and silky, and the flavor is earthy with a slightly acidic, tangy sharpness to the finish.
Saint-Marcellin was traditionally made with goat’s milk, although that is now rare. The cheese is very small, only 80 grams, and can look totally different from one time to the next. Sometimes it is so runny that is really clear why it comes in its distinctive little clay pot. Other times it can be quite firm and fully creamy white, or it may have a slight fuzz of blue mold covering it. That’s the joy of cheese, you never know what to expect!
Although the original cheese was made from goats milk, the current version is almost always made from cow’s milk. It can be raw or pasteurized, and it can be industrial or farm made. In Canada, we have less choice on all those fronts, but in France you might see eight or ten versions in one store. The traditional area of production is in the Dauphiné Province which is now part of the Rhône-Alpes region.
There is also a larger version of this cheese called St Felicien. The St Felicien comes in a slightly larger clay pot and weighs 150 grams. The cheeses are very similar in taste, and the only noticeable difference, other than size, is that often St Felicien has the addition of extra cream added during production. Added cream… that can’t be bad.
Most cheese books suggest pairing either of these cheeses with a light Rhone red. Although I have had some luck with that, I also find it a great cheese for after dinner with a slightly off dry, or fully sweet dessert wine.