It doesn’t take a turophile (a cheeselover- a term I discovered while researching for this article!) to tell you how much cheese is revered in France. If you are as fond of cheese as the French, then this article wont cheese you off (pun intended!). You’ll nourish your knowledge with good to know information on French cheese, droolworthy cheese that you must try and also for avid turophiles and foodies alike, a few pointers on creating your own cheeseboard à la maison.
But first some trivia:
Did you know that a whopping 96% French people eat cheese and 47% of them eat cheese daily?
An average French person polishes off an approximate of 24.4 kg cheese every year.
There are more than 400 varieties of cheese in France – enough and more to make you stay in France for over a year tasting a new cheese daily!
The French take their cheese seriously. This is why the French protect their cheese with the AOP label which stands for Appelation d’origine Protégé that not only guarantee the quality of the cheese but also its connection to the region it originates from.
Cheese has no expiration date so you are most probably safe eating that cheese made in 2015, of course if you’ve stored it well! What did they say about old is gold?
Knowing Your Cheese
Broadly speaking, French cheese can be divided into 7 different categories:
1: Soft cheeses: Made from cow’s milk, these cheeses are aged for about a month and have doughy surfaces. You can buy then with natural rind or with the rind washed away to prevent mold. Brie a household name is one of the more popular French cheeses in this variety. Choose from Brie de Melun or Brie de Meaux named after the towns where it comes from, northeast of Paris. Pair your Brie with champagne for spirited results.
There’s also the iconic Camembert from Normandy with its soft and creamy body covered with a white moldy rind. Your Camembert will vibe well with apples, baguettes or even apple cider, beer or whiskey.
2: Semi-soft cheese: This type is usually made from raw or pasteurized milk and is a great option for snacking or even desserts. Normandy’s famous Pont d’Eveque with its orangish yellow rind could be your best bet in this category or even the Morbier from Eastern France with its citrusy flavour.
3: Hard cheeses: As they age, cheeses become firmer and more pungent and that’s why you’ll find your hard cheese packed with oodles of flavour. You have the well-known Comté coming from the Jura mountains with its fruity, smoky and salty flavours in this category. Goes best in a fondue or the yummy raclette and is also an ideal mate for red wine and sherry. If you are a cheddar fan, you’ll like the Cantal that comes from the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region. Its fresh and pleasing flavours of milk, vanilla and hazelnut make it a hit with a strong red wine.
4: Semi Hard cheeses: Semi hard cheeses are best for sandwiches and can be cooked without being oily. As with hard cheeses, semi hard cheeses also become firmer and pungent with age. You’ve got Salers that originates from the Alps in this category with its dual fruity and spicy flavours. There is also the Tomme de Savoie that comes from the mountains. While this cheese may be quite ordinary looking, its beige interiors contain oodles of flavours and promise many second helpings!
5: Blue cheese: Known for its distinctive taste that appeals to many (or maybe not so many), blue cheese was originally stored in caves with favourable conditions for mold to grow. Contemporary blue cheeses have a blue veined appearance and greet you with their strong smell. There’s no bigger star than the Roquefort in this category. Originating from the Occitanie region in south west France, this cheese is soft and crumbly and leaves your palate with a sharp, creamy and tangy flavour. Roquefort goes great in salads.
There is also the Livarot from Normandy in this category with its strong flavour and its light to pale yellow interior paste. It makes an excellent partner with apple cider from Normandy or red wine.
6: Goat Cheese: Known as the chevre in local parlance, goat’s cheese is generally soft and has an earthy flavour. Opt for the famous Crottin de Chavignol, a native of the Loire Valley. Its full and nutty flavour makes it a hit in salads and a fine partner with a Sancerre (sweet wine) or the Sauvignon Blanc. From the same region, comes the Bucheron which has a tangy flavour close to the rind and gets rich and creamy as you get closer to the center of the cheese. Goes well on a baguette and with a good bottle of Bordeaux!
7: Fresh cheeses: Also known as unripened cheese, fresh cheese is made by curdling cow, goat or sheep’s milk and then draining off the whey. The remaining curd is then used to make cheese. Fromage frais is the most well-known in this category. Creamy, white and made with whole or skimmed milk, it is ideal as a savoury appetizer or dessert.
Making Your Own Cheeseboard: If you’re looking at creating your own cheeseboard, then here’s what you should keep in mind:
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1: The selection of the cheeseboard is as important as that of the cheese. Keep it casual with a wooden cheeseboard or add a touch of elegance with a marble one.
2: Go for an assortment of different types of cheese available in different shapes and sizes. Avoid industrial cheese. Be sure that the cheeses are out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving.
3: Ideally serve baguette with your cheese, but if baguettes are not easily available, then sourdough and any other variety should do just fine. Go with a minimum of 2 bread varieties with your cheeseboard
4: You can add something sweet in the form of fruits, nuts, crackers or jam and some honey.
5: Cheeseboard etiquette demands that the cheese be arranged from the mildest to the strongest. The really overpowering cheeses can be also placed on a separate plate.
6: Separate knives for each cheese are a must especially soft cheese.
7: All you now need is good wine or two that finds a match with your cheeseboard and voila, you are all set for a perfect evening à la française!