When reflecting on challenges in governing French people, Charles de Gaulle was reported to have said, “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” Well, turns out he was wrong – at least about the cheese.
That’s because there are about 1,200 French cheeses with 96% French consuming about 55 lbs. per capita. That’s a lot of cheese, but when a nation is known for making some of the world’s best cheeses, why not? It was hard to narrow down, but here are five French cheeseswe love.
There is no doubt that the French take cheese very seriously. Their system ofAppellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) serves to protect the authenticity of cheese by controlling distinguishing features and ingredients particular to a given region.
In the north around Normandy, cow milk is used in making cheese. Venture south, however, and you’ll find cheese is mostly made from the milk of goats and sheep. Camembert, Comte, Brie, and Roquefort are the most famous of the French cheeses.
The French serve cheese generally after the main dish. Sometimes, it is served as a dessert, especially those specialties with higher fat contents that result in a creamy, buttery, smooth texture.
According to Susann Otto, an extremely popular and in-demand program director who educates Viking cruise passengers about cheese, “French cheeses are very special due to the fact that the AOC ones are made of unpasteurized milk that prevents them from drying out too fast, giving a creamy texture and adding that unique flavor that every one of them obtains during the ripening process.” Otto adds that “the best way to spend an evening with friends or family is to have an assiette des fromages with well-selected wines.” Good food, good wine, good cheese and good friends – it doesn’t get much better than that.
So, go ahead and throw a party for family and friends. And be sure to serve five of the best cheeses from France. After all, Otto said that friends become family around great cheese.
1. Brie – known as the “King of Cheese”
Region of Origin: Paris
Type of milk: cow
Aged: about six weeks; soft-ripened
Flavor: mild, buttery with notes of mushrooms, garlic, and almonds
Aroma: grassy, musty
Rind: edible soft white crust
Brieand Camembert are the two most commonly exported French cheeses. You can buy many variants in local supermarkets around the world. A classic soft cheese, the edible rind is thickly patterned and has milky and savory flavors. If heated, Brie retains its structure. The recipe for this luscious cheese supposedly dates to the 8th century and has long been a favorite of the French. The story goes that during the French Revolution, King Louis XVI’s final wish was for a taste of the creamy soft cheese that he so loved. He asked for Brie. Serve with dried fruits, mixed nuts, and a crusty bread along with a Pinot Gris, white Burgundy, or even champagne.
2. Camembert – most famous French Cheese
Region of Origin: Normandy
Type of milk: cow
Aged: less time than brie; soft-ripened
Type: soft, artisan
Texture: soft, creamy
Flavor: buttery, creamy, milky, sweet
Rind: edible bloomy rind
Camemberthas been around for hundreds of years though it didn’t become well known until the late 1800s. Camembert de Normandie became AOC certified in 1983. Though a close cousin to Brie, there are still noticeable differences. With a slightly stronger taste, Camembert comes from cows grazing verdant pastures near the Normandy coastline while Brie originates from cow milk feeding in rocky river beds near Paris. Camembert is also aged with less time over the traditional six weeks for Brie. Considered a soft cheese, Camembert is most often marketed in round wooden boxes to protect the fragile product. Serve at room temperature so the soft inside becomes runny. Pair with a Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, or a terroir-based match such as cider or Calvados (apple brandy).
3. Comté – one of the world’s greatest cheeses
Region of Origin: Franche- Comté (Jura Mountains by Swiss border)
Type of milk: cow
Aged: 12-18 months in mountain caves
Type: semi-hard, hard; cooked artisan
Texture: smooth with no holes
Flavor: sweet, nutty, peppery, complex – varies per time of year made
Aroma: strong aromatic
Comté is a serious heavyweight in the world of cheese as it is the most produced cheese with an AOC. With longevity behind it, the popular cheese has been produced since the time of Charlemagne. Made from whole milk for a smoother texture, the cheese-lovers delight is also a close French cousin to Swiss “Gruyère” cheese. (French Gruyère is made from Comté that uses raw milk from other than the cows specified by the appellation rules.) Extremely versatile, Comté is often used in fondues and quiches, but can also be served as an excellent tasting cheese beside a crusty baguette or crackers. Pair with dry whites like a Sauvignon Blanc or light reds such as a Beaujolais.
4. Petit Basque (Istara – P’tit Basque – Pur Brebris) – almost half produced is marketed in the United States
Region of Origin: Northern Basque (Pyrenees Mountains)
Type of milk: sheep
Aged: minimum of 70 days
Type: hard, artisan
Texture: smooth, creamy, dry, firm
Flavor: mild, nutty, earthy, subtle, sweet with some saltiness
Aroma: fresh, lactic, slightly nutty with some caramel notes
Rind: thin, covered with plastic to prevent mold
Petit Basque is traditionally made with curds from uncooked, pasteurized ewe’s milk. The raw cheese is then pressed into molds, dried and brined, and then cold aged before covered in thin plastic to prevent mold. In the process, the rind develops a basket-weave pattern much like Spain’s famous Manchego cheese. The difference is that Petit Basque is milder with a delicate flavor that makes it an easy starter for those new to sheep milk cheese. The nutty and somewhat fruity flavor pairs well with stone fruits, charcuterie, olives and French bread. Serve with big, bold reds such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Beaujolais.
5. Roquefort – first cheese to receive AOC status
Region of Origin: Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, Southern France
Blue cheeses have been around for thousands of years and historical figures like Pliny the Elder, Charlemagne and Casanova were reputedly lovers of this moldy delicacy with blue-green veins. Many rank the blues as some of the best cheeses in the world due to their complexity and unique terroir.
Though there are many varieties of blue cheese, the most famous is Roquefort. An ancient French blue, it is made from raw sheep’s milk, injected with mold, and then ripened in limestone caves. Roquefort, also known as “The King of Blues,” is France’s second most popular cheese, just behind Camembert.
Roquefort presents with a strong, intense flavor – one with balance and yet a spicy-sweet complexity. As a moist and crumbly blue cheese, it has no rind. The cheese goes well with sweet wines like Sauternes and Ports. Crumble it over crisp salad green or serve on a cheese board with pears, apples, and grapes.
Cheese is a way of life in France and part of its French food culture. What is your favorite French Cheese?
As far as I can remember, I've only had brie. Four more to try!
Tuesday 4th of July 2017
What?? The french cheese on Amazon isn't actually sent from France is it? Any recommendations? The ROQUEFORT here looks the most delicious to me, I haven't ever tried it before
Friday 7th of July 2017
Actually, some of the cheeses are sent from France. The Roquefort looks amazing, but is very pungent. If Blue cheese is your thing, you'll probably like it!
Monday 3rd of July 2017
I'm obsessed with cheese and these photos look amazing. French cheeses really are among some of the best in world. Who knew there were over 1,200 kinds?!
Monday 3rd of July 2017
I've had all of these! French cheeses are definitely among my favourites, Brie and Camembert in particular. Not such a fan of Roquefort though...bit pungent for my tastes!
Monday 3rd of July 2017
This is so informative & interesting! My husband and I were in Paris, and stopped in at a little cafe specifically known for its cheeses. We had a small main dish, but then a sampler tray of 10 different cheeses to go with it. It was really amazing how different different cheeses tasted, and that they were so often different than what we expected. It was a really fun & different kind of tasting. They really do take their cheeses seriously, but the pay off is totally yummy!