The Pont L'Evêque cheese: Introduction
The name of the Pont L’Evêque cheese comes from the town situated between Lisieux and Deauville. The rind of the Pont L’Evêque cheese is quite glossy, varying from yellow gold to orange in colour. Its colour, its rounded flavour and its soft texture make this a hearty cheese. When the pâte of the Pont L’Evêque is pale yellow the cheese should be tender, not too dry or too runny. Unctuous and slightly salty, this cheese is full of subtil and refined flavours. It has creamy, fruity and nutty aromas. It is in the shape of a square with 10cm sides, a thickness of between 3 and 3.5cm and a weight of 300 to 350grams. It is matured for 5 to 6 weeks in a humid cave and is washed periodically.
Exterior aspect of the Pont L’Evêque cheese: golden yellow, glossy rind
Odour of the Pont L’Evêque cheese: rather developed with a good bouquet
Texture of the Pont L’Evêque cheese: soft, smooth
Taste of the Pont L’Evêque cheese: Pronounced flavour of the land from which it is made.
The Pont L’Evêque cheese: AOC since 1976
The History of the Pont L'Evêque cheese
The Pont L’Evêque is without a doubt one of the oldest cheeses to come from Normandy. The production of the cheese was attested in Normandy from the 10th Century; the cheese was used as a tithe. At this time, the rearing of cows, ewes and goats was extensive contained in the vast forests of Normandy. A century later, in the 11th Century, Normandy was a land of marshes and forests. The weak surface of the pasture and a large population explain the difficulty having enough provisions for the monks of the abbeys and the seigniors. For this reason, large, hard cheeses were imported from England between Southampton and Barfleur.
In the 12th Century, the mould for the cheese was made of ceramic and represented the English money ‘Angelot.’ This cheese had a soft pâte and had been created by the Cistercian monks who had settled to the west of Caen. The cheese was known under the name ‘Angelot.’ In 1225, Guillaume de Lorris wrote, in the ‘Romande la rose’ “Any good table was always garnished for desert with Angelots cheeses.” This term ‘angelots’ (which was later used to describe other Norman cheeses) comes from the name of a coin. This cheese served as a currency to exchange for things or to pay for things and especially to pay taxes.
From the 13th to the 14th Century, agriculture developed and the link between the rearing of the animals and the forest became weaker. In the 15th Century, the ‘angelots’ were the most reputed cheese of the kingdom. In 1560, Bruyerin de Champier mentions the cheeses of the region of Pont l’Evêque in ‘Re Citeria.’ In 1588, in a work of Charles de Bourgueville, ‘Research and Antiquities of the province of Neustrie’ the ‘angelots’ cheeses are mentioned. The name was drawn from the Pays d’Auge, the area where the Point L’Evêque comes from. It was known under this name in Paris. In 1622, Hélie le Cordier, a Norman writer, published a poem comprised of 16 verses, honouring the Pont L’Evêque cheese, with the famous verse:
“It does not have a bad smell
Nor an unpleasant skin
It is not waxy like others
It is loved in the same way by everybody
Because it is made with an art
Whether young or aged, it is the holy chrism”
The Pont L’Evêque can be formed into varies shapes due to the ceramic vaisselle (mould) which is used. Originally the Pont L’Evêque cheese was known by the name ‘angelot’ and then it was ‘augelot’ after the name of the Pays d’Auge, the area where the cheese originated from. In the 17th Century, the Pont L’Evêque cheese took its name from the little town between Deauville and Lisieu which held one of the major markets of the region. In the 18th Century, the notoriety of the Pont L’Evêque cheese expanded outside of France. From 1722, the historian and priest De Masseville underlined the fact that the cheeses came from the the Pont L’Evêque region; “are valued highly and transported to various places.” After the confiscation of the fortunes of the Church, the revolution got rid of all references to religion. The town of Pont L’Evêque (évêque is the French word for bishop) did not escape this and became, in 1793 and was for several decades, known as Pont Chalier (Chalier being the name of a revolutionary).Joseph Chalier, a revolutionary from the very beginning, was the first to put up an army against the Ancien Régime in Lyon. A great defender of freedom, he was arrested and executed the 17th July 1793.
In the 19th Century, Normandy saw its grazier surface develop and so the rearing of its dairy cattle. The Pont L’Evêque was a farm produced cheese made every two days. At this time, there were different qualities of Pont L’Evêque according to the amount of fat they contained. The highest quality was made with whole milk, sometimes enriched with whipping cream. The second highest quality was made with a mix of skimmed milk, the milk from the day before and from whole milk fresh from that days milking. The third quality, made from skimmed milk and the milk from the day before is less rich and more acidic. The Pont L’Evêque was sold at the markets of Pont L’Evêque and Beaumont en Auge. On average, 600 dozens of the cheese were sold in the 6 spring/summer months and 200 dozens in the winter months.
The development of the railways helped with the commercialisation of the cheese. The cheese-makers benefited from the rapidity, the security and the moderate cost of this new mode of transport. The Pont L’Evêque cheese departed from Lisieux at 6pm and at arrived at the station at Batignolles for 2am. From there, they were supplied to the Halles de Paris (the central food market) or departed again by train and distributed to other towns of the province. Only the highest quality Pont L’Evêque was commercialised. This explains why the Pont L’Evêque had such excellent reputation, because in this period fat was rare and expensive.
The Pont L’Evêque cheese is a noble cheese, sought after by restaurateurs, one of which, Brillat Savarin said; “a dessert without cheese is like a beautiful person who is missing an eye.” Less well-known, the ‘pavés d’auge’ and the ‘Moyaux’ represent respectively two or three Pont L’Evêque cheeses. These cheeses acted as the ‘piggy bank’ to pay for the tenancies of the farmland or to pay for the conservation of the milk for the season where production is weak. In the 20th Century, the collection of the milk was modernised and the way it was transformed was perfected still respecting the traditions. This developed large groups of cheese-makers. The Pont L’Evêque keeps its place as one of the most popular cheeses.