Herve cheese: An introduction
Herve cheese is a Belgian, soft washed rind, cow’s milk cheese. It takes its name from its region of origin: the Pays d’Herve, situated in the province of Liège, where Herve is a medium sized town. Etymologically, Herve comes from the ancient Germanic ‘herf,’ meaning fertile land, in other words pasture. The region of production of Herve cheese goes from the north, by the border with Holland, the west, by Meuse, the east by the German border to the south by Vesdre and Ourthe.
History of Herve cheese
Herve cheese is particularly old, and is the oldest Belgian cheese, with traces being discovered which prove that it comes from the 13th Century. The cheese features in the novel ‘Le Roman de la Rose’ of 1228. The production of the cheese seems to have intensified from the middle of the 15th Century. It was at this time that the production was indirectly favoured, when Charles Quint banned the exportation of wheat to the Netherlands.
The farmers therefore transformed their fields into prairies to avoid over producing cereals; this lead to a rise in the production of cheeses and of butter, which were produced largely by women. Following the example of Reblochon, this Walloon cheese is the product of a fraud. Forced to pay their landlords in the milk they produced, the farmers avoided producing too much milk, by only partially milking the cows. It was then the richest part of the milk which was left , which they used to make cheese. Herve cheese has had various names; Remoudous, Quatre saisons, Biseux, which all gained a good reputation throughout Europe. For example, under the name Remoudous, the cheese was sold in Lorraine, Alsace and Burgundy in the 18th Century.
Characteristics of Herve cheese
Herve cheese is in the shape of a small cube, with sides measuring 6 to 7cm, and with a weight of 200g. The texture is homogenous; elastic but firm, and is covered with a pink rind. Herve cheese has a strong odour, which is released as soon as you open the packaging, which represents the character of this cheese.
Exterior of Herve cheese: a shiny, clean, ochre-pink rind
Odour of Herve cheese: powerfull odour
Texture of Herve cheese: supple and soft
Taste of Herve cheese: very pronounced flavour
This cheese is excellent at the end of a meal, and is perfect for any cheese platter, especially with English Stilton or Swiss Vacherin.
Herve cheese has been protected by a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) since 1996, which guarantees the origin and therefore the quality of the cheese.
Fabrication of Herve cheese
The singularity of this cheese, its particular flavour, does not come from the fabrication process or the addition of a secret ingredient, but can be simply explained by the area in which it is made. The area of production contains a unique strain of bacteria, without which, Herve cheese would not be the same. The fabrication of the Herve cheese begins with the collection of milk from the cows, the milk is immediately poured into large tinplate vats. There is no cooking nor pasteurisation involved. The rennet is added to the milk to start the curdling process. The milk is stirred well and then the milk is left to rest for an hour and a half. The next process in the most delicate and needs the attention of an experienced, expert cheese maker, who, using the finger, feels the curds to check their texture.
If the curds present the correct texture, in that they are firm, the curds are ready to be cut, first roughly, and then ore finely, into small nut sized nuggets. The whey begins to drain out. The draining of the cheeses takes place on a wooden draining table, which is inclined and pierced with multiple holes through which the whey drains away. Once the curds are firm, they are cut into small cubes of with sides of 6 to 7 cm, and are then turned several times. The next day, the cheeses are salted, turned a last time, and are then ready to be matured. They are left for 2 to 3 months in the humid, cool cheese cellar to mature. The cheeses are regularly washed with salty water each week, to create the rind, which is developed thanks to the specific bacteria, “bacteria linens.’ When young Herve cheese is mild, and develops a piquant, fuller character with age.