Toolkit: La fromagerie
How to choose a good French cheese
One infamous French proverb states that “A meal without cheese is like a day without sunshine”. We can all agree however that the sun will shine all the brighter if you know which cheese to choose! Here are some tips to help you choose a good cheese so that you can head down to la fromagerie or the cheese seller at the market and impress with your newfound knowledge!
The first thing to master is cheese families. Yes that is right: cheeses have families too! Cheese families depend on the type of milk used to make the cheese. There are three main types, cow’s milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk. They will often be arranged like this, by type, in the cheese seller’s (fromager’s) counter. To make life a little more complicated however, these different types of milk each produce hundreds of varieties of cheese! Some easy to find examples are Brie and Camembert, which are made with cow’s milk, chevre frais is made with goats milk and cheeses such as fromage de brebis or Roquefort are classic sheep’s milk cheeses.
Like all produce in France, seasonality is particularly important in the cheese world. Start by asking the fromager which cheeses are in season at the moment and they will no doubt be very impressed! If you are wondering what cheese is in season right now we could recommend a Mont d’Or this is a popular winter cheese and can be enjoyed melted with potatoes to warm you up from the cold!
Just as the seasons play a big part in choosing cheese, so too does the region it comes from. Cheese is protected by its AOC meaning Designation of Controlled Origin or Appellation d’Origine Controlée, this ensures that the cheese meets a certain set of standards. Paris and the Ile-de-France region are known for traditional Brie. Normandy is Camembert, of course! Franche-Comte region is filled with Comté, Mont d’Or and Morbier all delicious cheeses. In the Burgundy region you will find Epoisses, a smooth stinky cheese with a strong flavour. The Rhone Alps is particularly noted for its creamy Reblochon or Saint-Marcellin cheeses. Nearby in the French Alps, Raclette and Tomme de Savoie are produced. In Auvergne, Bleu d’Auvergne, a salty blue cheese similar to that of Roquefort starts life in the Midi-Pyrenees. The list of cheeses is vast and there are many variations of cheeses in each region so do not worry too much about trying to learn them all! But do ask for a taste, lost cheese merchants will let you try a sample before you buy. Charles de Gaulle famously said “How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?”. Nobody was quite sure what he meant by that but it does just show the vast range of cheese in France!
Create the perfect cheese platter this February by picking a selection of cheeses from different cheese families and perhaps from different regions so that you have a bit of everything! Serve your cheese after the main course but before the pudding, with a bottle of red or a luscious desert wine and a fresh baguette.
- Affinage = the art of aging cheese