Charles de Gaulle once famously said, “How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?”. Cheese is very much a way of life in France.
They love it and export tonnes of the stuff every year. Although it’s almost impossible to rank any cheese in order of anything other than your personal taste, here are the big boys in the world of French cheeses that you could ask for in your hampers.
The Normans aren’t just famous for 1066, they have this little runny beauty under their noses too. First made in the 18th Century, it’s a soft, creamy and it gets it flavour from the natural chemicals in the formation process from such as ammonia, succinic acid and of sodium chloride aka salt. It’s a fairly quick cheese to make and usually takes about 2 months from cow to board. The rind has been a number of colours over the years but in the last 100 has remained white. Camembert is famous for its little wooden boxes and this has helped keep its flavour fresh and distinctive over the years.
Made from the milk of a Ewe, Roquefort is a strong and powerful cheese that might daunt those not acquainted with mouldy cheese. It’s one of the most famous and popular blue cheeses in the world and to give you an idea of its production, in 2005, over three million cheese were made and sold. It’s white but with thick and dense greenish mould veins running through. There is no rind so you can wolf the whole wheel if you like, which is usually about 10cm thick. The taste is a complex one. When you first taste it, you might notice very little as it’s quite mild, but then things turn sweet, then they have a smoky feeling and then finally you’ll be left with a salty taste, a bit like feta.
The biggest selling and mass-produced French cheese but perhaps not as much of a household name as some of the others is Comté. 40,000 tonnes might be made each year but it seems the French probably keep most of it for themselves. The ageing time is pretty lengthy and a very low-end wheel won’t have been kept in the cellar for anything less than a year. It looks pale yellow (like a Cheddar if you will) but the taste it quite something. Made from cow’s milk, it’s soft, mild, creamy and above all nutty. It’s the perfect cheese to pop on a cracker. Not too strong and not too bland. One for all the family.
It wouldn’t be complete without one of the most famous cheeses of all. Brie is like the older brother of Camembert. It’s been around since the 8th Century and began its life in the north central province of the same name in the Seine-et-Marne region. It’s a very soft and creamy taste and is best eaten when literally running off the cheese board and so ripe it’s almost a liquid. It takes about 4 months to produce the perfect wheel and after that the French like to wolf it down for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Photo of French cheeses originally posted by manuel MC