(I was going to write a story (with pics) about the different breeds of cows we have seen here, but Brian suggested that maybe a cheese story would be more interesting) so hope you enjoy this.
It’s hard to find stats for exactly how much cheese is produced in France each year, but some estimates put the figure as high as 1.8 million tonnes a year.
France is a nation of cheeses, and one of the things on my bucket list is to try them all!
Probably one of the most mentioned quips of General Charles de Gaulle is, “how can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?
I’m not sure whether he was commenting on France or French cheese. What I think he meant was that France as a country is as diverse as it’s cheeses – or vice -versa. And just as France is physically one of the most varied countries in Europe, so its cheeses reflect this wide and rich cultural diversity.
Every region in France has its own particular cheeses, and now there are a lot more than 400 varieties, many have the AOP label or ‘appellation d’origine protégée’, traditional regional designation. 400!
You can probably divide French cheese into three main families: Pressed or hard cheeses, like a Comte or Cantal.
Soft cheese’s such as Brie or Camembert
Then there is the milk they are made from: Cow’s milk
The first one is easy, pressed cheeses are all made from cow’s milk. Two favourite hard kinds of cheese of ours are Cantal, a tasty uncooked cheese from the Auvergne region, and Comté, a cooked cheese made from the cows grazing at at least 400 metres altitude in eastern France close to the Swiss border. Comté is the traditional cheese used in fondue, and the way of making this cheese has changed little in hundreds of years.
Now with soft cheese there are literally hundreds of different varieties from different regions. We visited the tiny village of Saint Nectaire specifically to taste their cheese. Thankyou Georges for this suggestion, I love this cheese!
Again, the cows are grazed at altitude and this cheese is still hand pressed into molds similar to the way Monks made it hundreds of years ago. It’s then taken from the molds washed, salted, wrapped in cloth for a few days, after which it’s pressed again. Finally, it’s moved to the cellars where it ages for a minimum of three weeks, and now I have to say I’m definitely adding it to my list of favourites. We all know about the mild Brie and Normandy’s stronger tasting Camembert so no more advice to give except serve it soft, but not runny.
Roquefort is a well-known Blue cheese made from sheep’s milk, but did you know that it is only made from one particular breed of sheep? Made from the milk of the grass-fed Lacaune ewes, Roquefort cheese is matured for at least 90 days in cellars that run deep into the steep hillside, the ripening aided by the special natural ventilation from the fleurines which are tiny gaps in the cave wall to let fresh air in.
We visited the caves of one of the oldest producers, Société in Roquefort to see where their cheese is aged for a minimum of four months. Good Roquefort is creamy and soft and goes well with figs.
Fourme d’Ambert is another blue cheese, but made with cow’s milk, and comes from the village of Ambert (also a special side trip to taste it). I really like this blue, it’s creamy and delicate, and to me has a slightly fruity flavour. Not sure if it’s available in Australia, but if you see it give it a try!
In Ambert there was also an interesting Gallo Roman pottery museum, so all was not wasted for my ‘ non-blue cheese-loving’ wonderful, patient, kind, etc., etc., etc., partner Brian.
Goats cheese or fromage de chèvre in French, self-explanatory about where it comes from, but did you know that it’s available in many forms, including cheddar, brie and of course the one we all know the logs or soft rounds we find mostly here in France? It’s also a good alternative to eat if you’re allergic to cows’ milk. The longer it ages the ‘stinkier’ it gets, and it’s delicious warm on a fresh baguette.
There are loads more French cheeses to write about but all of the above are from the regions we have been in over the past month, (except Normandy).
So next time you’re looking at all the different cheeses at the deli, try a new one, hopefully, you will be delighted by its taste.
And the Pyrenees are of course a mountain range in South West Europe, that forms a natural border between France and Spain, but I’m sure you all knew that I just couldn’t think of another word that rhymed with Bries’.
CUTTING YOUR CHEESE, THE FRENCH WAY.
For round cheeses make pie slices, log-shaped cheese cut parallel slices and square cheeses, triangles are the way to go.
For wedges of Brie or Roquefort, cut along the side (and don’t chop the “nose” off).
And don’t pre-slice your cheese before your guests arrive.