Mothais-sur-Feuille: The wonder of Fromage – unveiling one French cheese at a time

France is currently home to 46 AOP cheeses, but soon it may count 47. Producers of Mothais-sur-Feuille, a goat cheese hailing from Poitou-Charentes, aka the French cradle of chèvre, have applied for their very own appellation. If all goes well, France will welcome its newest AOP cheese in early March, just in time for goat cheese season to commence.

What is Mothais-sur-Feuille?

Mothais sur Feuille - new

Mothais sur Feuille – new

Mothais-sur-Feuille is a goat cheese produced in the Deux-Sèvres and the Vienne, not far from La Rochelle.

Named after the Deux-Sèvres village of La Mothe-Saint-Héray, Mothais-sur-Feuille stands out from its fellow chèvres in a number of ways. It boasts a wrinkled white rind often covered in flavorful blue and white molds. Its 200-gram weight makes this disc of cheese far larger than most: Selles-sur-Cher, similar in shape, weighs just 150 grams. But perhaps its biggest distinguishing characteristic is the leaf upon which it is placed at just 48 hours of age –and this for up to twelve days. This leaf, which can hail from the sycamore or plane tree but is most often local chestnut, certainly makes Mothais-sur-Feuille recognizable.

But for Delphine Georgelet, a third-generation cheesemaker in Villemain, it’s far more than that. A nod to history as well as an essential contributor to the cheese’s quality, the feuille evoked in the cheese’s title is non-negotiable.

We’ve noticed that this leaf when it’s added after two days, helps retain some of the moisture of the cheese,” she says. “And at the same time, the cheese’s moisture soaks up a bit of flavor from the leaf, which will give the cheese its character.”

Mothais-sur-Feuille is indeed moister than most, a sought-after characteristic that begins with an unusually slow curd formation. Rennet-fermented goat cheeses may form curds in just two hours; lactic-fermented goat cheeses are typically left curdle for 24. But Georgelet, for example, waits a whopping 48 hours, which ages the curd to lend even more flavor and moisture.

Fromagerie des Gors

Fromagerie des Gors

Once unmolded, Mothais-sur-Feuille is traditionally aged in cellars with unusually high humidity, which means it slowly but surely develops a meltingly soft texture: light and marshmallowy when it’s young and creamy and soft as it ages. This tenderness is only highlighted by the presence of the leaf, according to Stéphane Dos Santos of the Fromagerie des Gors in Melle, who notes that the cheese remains “a bit runnier on the leaf side.”

It’s going to preserve the cheese,” he says. “This leaf is going to be a bit of a hydrometric regulator.” The leaf doesn’t just contribute to the texture of Mothais-sur-Feuille; it’s also essential in cultivating its unique flavor, allowing certain bacteria to flourish on the rind, which in turn help the cheese develop more complexity.

Indeed, a good Mothais-sur-Feuille has delicate earthy, almost ‘woodsy’ aromas that only intensify with time.

You need to wait til it’s aged a bit,” he says, “but beginning at three weeks, a month, Mothais really takes on a very characteristic flavor thanks to that leaf.” Georgelet agrees.

There’s a personality to it that I think… no, I don’t think. It’s the leaf that gives it that character,” she says.

What Makes a Good Mothais Great?

Mothais-sur-Feuille’s bid for AOP protection has only recently become newsworthy, but in reality, the news is 25 years in the making.

There are so many products in France that have characteristics that make them stand out,” says Dos Santos. “But at a certain point, you say to yourself… well, let’s do this.”

The first step, he says, is to rally the troops, as it were: Producers of the product in question must agree that it’s worth establishing the historic precedent and technical norms that will if all goes well, comprise the cahier des charges, the official set of rules and standards to which all producers who hope to maintain the AOP must hew. This multi-page document encompasses everything from what the animals eat to where they can graze to methods of cheese production. Once the rules have been established, it all must be run past several commissions before the AOP is finally established.

In the case of Mothais-sur-Feuille, a few distinctive characteristics may end up in the final charter.

The Poitevine goat is a robust, endemic breed that has nevertheless been supplanted on many farms by more productive Alpines and Saanens. The cahier des charges for Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine produced not far from Tours, allows producers to choose to raise any of these three breeds or a combination; such norms might be stricter or looser in the case of Mothais-sur-Feuille.

There may also be regulations regarding seasonality, as there are for the Auvergne’s Salers, which can only be produced from mid-April to mid-November. In the case of goat cheese, this is particularly apt, as goats are notoriously difficult to milk out of season unless one opts for tricks like hormone supplementation or artificial lighting to help get a doe to come into heat in winter. Georgelet eschews these methods, opting to produce Mothais only in spring and summer, relying in winter on other long-aged cheeses like tome de chèvre, which remains delicious at up to six months of age.

There may also be rules linked to the diet of the goats whose milk will be made into Mothais. The goats’ diet, after all, contributes an enormous amount to the flavor of the cheese, according to Dos Santos, who notes that at Fromagerie des Gors, all the milk comes from two local producers who grass-feed their goats.

It really lends much more subtle flavors,” he says, “because in springtime they eat flowers, things like that, and you find it immediately in the milk.”

And then, of course, there are the leaves. The Mothais charter may take a page out of the cahier des charges for Banon, a Provençal goat cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves that must, by law, be gathered in autumn, when they naturally fall from chestnut trees. At Georgelet’s dairy, they are collected by a local woman who once worked in the fromagerie.

She knows our cheeses well,” Georgelet says. “And she gathers our chestnut leaves for us every year.”

How to Enjoy Mothais-sur-Feuille

Mothais-sur-Feuille can be consumed anywhere from eight days to six weeks of age, though it will change greatly in flavor depending on the affinage you choose, according to Dos Santos.

If you like, it can be a bit fresh, with nice ‘goaty’ notes,” he says, noting that as time goes on, “it will become much stronger, with a more pronounced flavor. So you can have two products that are really quite different from one another.” His personal preference is to enjoy it “fairly aged” – at about four to six weeks. “That’s when it develops all of its character,” he says.

Georgelet too prefers a six-week-old Mothais, noting that at this point, it takes on its ideal, slightly creamy texture and develops its fullest, richest flavor. Her ideal Mothais is perfectly paired with local wine, in particular the natural Cheverny from Hervé Villemade.

It’s a pairing that’s really quite cool,” she says.

Have you tried Mothais-sur-Feuille? What is your opinion, how would you compare it with other chèvre?


About the Contributor

Emily Monaco

“Born and raised in New York, I fell in love with France young and have been based in Paris for over 15 years. I am a professional freelance writer, tour guide, and cheese connoisseuse, as well as the host of Navigating the French and co-host of The Terroir Podcast. Follow me on Instagram and sign up for my newsletter for my favorite bites and more from Paris.”

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