France is famous for its Eiffel tower and visiting and capturing its beauty is one of many peoples goal when they visit the place. Aside from its majestic sceneries that can be seen in France, this country is also famous for their delicious wines and foods and one of those famous foods is cheese. In fact, the French each more cheese per person per year than any other country in the world.
French cheese is a perfect pair with wine, but it also goes well with their famous breads and pastries, especially baguettes. Bread, wines, and cheese are part of the French diet, culture and tradition
The Early History of French Cheese
During the Neolithic age, there was an abundant supply of milk from farm animals and people were not able to consume all of it before it would sour (there was no refrigeration). Milk does not have a long shelf life even if its kept in a cool place and it will spoil. It is most likely that cheesemaking started as an experiment or accident from the spoiled milk. This likely led to the craft of cheesemaking being developed in France in an early time period.
During the middle ages in France, cheese making was being practiced and developed in French monasteries. It is said that it was the monks who taught farmers on how to take care of animals, and how to keep milk clean. Monks also discovered that rubbing a small amount of salt onto cheese would make it more flavorful. As farmers began to learn how to ripen and age milk, French cheesemaking began to flourish. Around this time, farmers began to form a dairy association at the alpine regions of France.
Two Type of Origins for French Cheese
Today you will find that cheese in France comes from two primary origins – fermiers and industriel. Fermiers are cheeses that are directly produced on the farm where milk is also produced, while Industriel are cheeses made industrially in a factory.
Cheeses produced regionally are given an “The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” (AOC) status which certifies that the cheese is produced in that region of France. Many of these are very famous. Here is an overview of the major regions and the cheese produced.
According to a local legend, Marie Harel (a French cheesemaker) together with abbot Charles-Jean Bonvoust were French cheese makers at the manor of Beumoncel and invented the camembert cheese that originated in the region of Normandie.
Camembert is very famous in France, and Camembert de Normandie is a cheese known from that region, with an AOC status in which certifies its authenticity and quality. It is primarily made from unpasteurized cow’s milk although there are also camembert cheese found in Normandie that are made from pasteurized milk. Camemberts are soft cheese that have a chalky and soft texture with a pale-yellow color. It has an earthy aroma but has a creamy, milky and sweet flavor. The rind of the cheese is bloomy and is meant to be eaten with the cheese.
This type of cheese is best served with a light red wine or a glass of Normandy cider. It can also be served with their famous Baguette bread, fruits and nuts and can be eaten at a room temperature.
A region in France considered to be have some of the most fertile agricultural land. Ossau-iraty is a famous cheese in the region for people who love strong flavors. It is made from unpasteurized sheeps milk from the Pyrenees mountains, a fertile grazing land for ewes. The cheese is matured for at least 90 to 180 days to develop its flavor.
Ossau-iraty is a semi hard cheese with a natural rind with gray molds. It can have a nutty, fruity, and herbaceous flavor. It can be served before or after dinner.
Comte is an ancient cheese produced during the time of Charlemagne from the eastern region of France. Making comte cheese requires a lot of milk and has a long maturing period. Comte cheese has a nutty and caramelized flavor. It can be cut into cubes to serve as an appetizer. They can be grated and melted to be used for cooking as well.
Blue d’ Auvergne is a blue cheese named after its region, that was created by a producer of Fourme de Roquefort.. It can be made from pasteurized or unpasteurized cow’s milk. A soft blue cheese that has a creamy and smooth texture. Blue d’Auvergne has a strong smell but has a buttery,creamy, spicy, salty, tangy taste that is great in salad dressings and pasta.
Bourgogne is famous for their Epoisses cheese; a soft cheese which is washed salty water, kept in a humid place, then washed again two to three times a week with a mix of rainwater after a month. Napoleon once said that he likes epoisses cheese very much. Epoisses cheese has a salty and creamy flavor with a pungent smell. It is best served with raisin bread and white wine from Bourgogne.
Coulommier cheese is made from the seine-et-marne department of France in the region of Ile-de-France. Coulommier is similar to brie but not as popular as brie. It is made from raw cow’s milk that matures for at least 4 to 8 weeks. Coulommier comes from the brie family with a creamy texture, nutty flavor and thick crust. This cheese is good to pair with French bread or with fruits after a meal.
Families of French Cheese
There are about 1000 different cheeses produced in France and about 400 types of cheese that are classified into three main families’ cheese.
- Blue cheese
Blue cheeses are easily recognized by the channels of blue that run throughout the whole cheese. They are ripened along over time in a temperature controlled place. They can be eaten alone, or be spread, or melted over foods. This type of cheese has a salty taste and has a not so good smell. Blue cheeses are great for salads, as a steak sauce, or with some fruits in a cheese platter. Example of blue cheese is Roquefort; which is the favorite cheese of Charlemagne that comes from the ewe’s milk. It has a creamy, soft and complex taste that goes well with nuts and figs.
- Soft cheese
You can recognize a soft cheese by its white and floury texture. It is aged for about a month; except with cream cheese that is not matured. This type of cheese is easily spreadable on bread and often found on a French cheese platter. Example of these types of cheese are brie which is sometimes served slightly melted or baked and topped with nuts and fruits; and Neufchâtel that looks similar to camembert that has the aroma and taste of a mushroom.
- Pressed cheese
French cheese submitted to pressure during the process which drains some of the cheese moisture. After which, cheese are then placed in a controlled condition room and let it aged for several months. During the process of ageing, cheese are washed, brushed, and turned to make sure that the rind will form equally all over the cheese. Example of hard cheese are Cantal cheese which is also known as one of the oldest cheese in France dated during the time of the Gauls; it can be used in salads, soups and cheese fondue; another example of hard cheese is the comte cheese that is hard and flexible in texture that tastes mild and slightly sweet are example of hard cheese.
Where to Buy French Cheese
Its common in France to have stores dedicated to just cheese – cheese shops. They are a haven for cheese connoisseurs. These stores offer a wide variety of cheese and they also have expert Fromager who can assist you with picking your cheese for the right dish or occasion. The cheese in these stores will be extremely fresh and they will have a wide variety available. Of course, café’s, pubs and restaurants typically offer a wonderful variety of cheese and cheese plates.
Much like anywhere, you can buy cheese in a grocery shop if you are looking for less expensive high-quality cheese. Many grocery shops that have their own cheese delis, where you can see it cut and be given to you fresh. You can find grocery shops anywhere in very region, city, and town around France.
Not making your way to France anytime soon? Check out these options online:
Where to Buy
French Cheeses for the Connoisseur Assortment
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French Cheese Sampler, Connaisseur – 2 lbs + Fig Jam Mathambre
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A Little Bit of France
Chevre, Gruyere de Comte, Mousse Truffee, Mini Toasts, Saucisson Sec, French Madelines, Bornier French Mustard and Trouvillais by Biscuiterie de l’Abbaye are featured
French Cheese Assortment by Gourmet-Food
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Cheese in France is beloved, a delicacy and has a long rich history. With its strong regional varieties, cheese stores, and Fromager’s the rich tradition of cheese the world has much to thank France for our love of cheese.