The origins of Chaource cheese are slightly unknown but legend says it was originally made by some monks near the abbaye of Pontigny. As far as I understand the first written evidence of that cheese says that it was the favourite cheese of Marguerite of Burgundy (1290-1315), who was the wife of Louis X le Hutin, the French king from 1314 to 1316. And apart from being a cheese lover she got involved in a French medieval sex scandal.

The story goes like this: Philippe le Bel had three sons and one daughter, he marries his daughter Isabelle to the king of England. He then marries his three sons Louis, Philippe, and Charles, respectively to Marguerite, Jeanne and Blanche. Marguerite is the daughter of Robert Duke of Burgundy, Jeanne and Blanche are the daughters of Othon IV of Burgundy (who is happy to give his daughters to the sons of the king and most of his land in exchange for money as he is bankrupt). The three women are pretty, young and full of life and good friends, they are also suspected of entertaining young men but there is no proof.

On a feast while Edward II King of England and Isabelle the daughter of Philippe le Bel are visiting the King of France, Isabelle notices that two young knights (the brothers Gautier and Philippe d’Aunay) are wearing each a purse on their belts which look suspiciously similar to some she offered some months ago to her sisters-in-law Marguerite and Blanche. Isabelle quickly tells her father who investigates on it, and after torturing the two knights a bit (as was common practice), they admit being the lovers of the two princesses!!! Well that does not make the king happy, so they get emasculated, tortured a bit more and then publicly executed. The princesses get shaven and sent to jail. Blanche after some time in jail ends up divorced and sent to a nunnery. Marguerite ends up on the top of a dungeon, and soon after her husband becomes the king she dies of a cold, though there is a rumour that her husband Louis had her strangled. If only she had stuck to loving cheese and not some young knights…

‘Cheese: a much less dangerous pastime than adulterous sex’ could be the moral of the story. To put the story in a wider context, none of the sons of Philippe le Bel had any male descendant (no surprise there, having not really managed successful marriages), which created some succesion problems, that led to the Hundred Years War.

Now that is a good historical background for this famous cheese.

So to go back to Chaource, it has an AOC so has to be made in some delimited place between the Champagne and Burgundy. This cheese is normally made from unpasteurized cows milk, but I understand you can also get a pasteurized version, the latter being probably aimed at some foreign markets or pregnant women (Cheese: probably one of the few products in which you can put foreign market and pregnant women in the same sentence without it sounding weird).

It’s a soft cheese with a bloomy rind, from the same family of products as Brie de Meaux, or Camembert de Normandie, but it is usually matured a bit less (only 2-4 weeks usually). Very soft (close to being liquid) near the rind but chalky in its center. It has a good milky/creamy flavour with a slight mushroom touch. I tried a couple of Chaource which also had a distinctive hay flavour, and sometimes the rind can be a bit acidic.

As I love mushrooms, cream, and a bit of historical drama, I won’t say no to that cheese.

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