France is a fabulous country for many reasons but its artisan cheese is definitely a highlight. For sheer variety alone, France is an exceptional cheese producer. You could try a new French cheese every day for a year and still have more than 100 cheeses still to experience.
So why is France so famous for its cheese? Like fashion and wine, France’s attachment to cheese is an issue of culture.
The French are known to be fiercely loyal to their regional cuisine. Theirs is a way of life shaped by food - spend time travelling around the country and you’ll soon find that each Pays or region has its own specialities, including cheese. As Patrick Rance wrote of French cheese: ‘A slice of good cheese is never just a thing to eat. It is usually a slice of history’. It’s a telling fact that some French cheeses, like Osau Iraty, can be traced back nearly 2,000 years. This certainly makes for some interesting tasting experiences.
While you certainly don’t need an excuse to treat yourself to a tasty wedge of fine French fromage, the start of the Tour de France on July 2nd and Bastille Day on July 14th both present the perfect opportunity to try something new. In this article, we look at some of France’s finest cheese producing regions to tell you more about traditional favourites and to introduce you to some lesser-known but equally deserving dèlices de France.
The Normandy region is famous for its delicious, gooey Camembert. Hunt out the Cambembert de Normandie for a taste of the real thing - it takes 15 days to make and carries the Appellation Controlee status which protects on the artisan, unpasteurised cheeses. It’s an unctuous, rich cheese which is evocative of the farm on which it was produced. Perfect to enjoy with a glass of cool dry cider.
The Midi Pyrenees is heaven for Roquefort, perhaps the most famous of the sheep’s milk cheeses and one which is so precious to the region’s culture that its geography and methods of production are protected by French law.
Roquefort is made using Lacaune sheep which thrive in the region’s hot, dry summers and cold winters. The amazing flavour and texture of our Roquefort is partly the result of an extensive 5-month maturation in the famously damp natural limestone caves of Roquefort sur Soulzon. We source our Roquefort from truly artisan producers – each Paxton & Whitfield Roquefort is hand-made on farms which employ no more than 10 people.
Best enjoyed with a glass of Monbazillac.
Franche - Comte
The most popular cheese in France, the Comte is certainly a sight to behold. A single wheel weighs around 35kg and it smells divine. A genuine Comte must be made using milk from the Montbelliard cows and aged for a minimum of 4 months. The Paxton & Whitfield Comte, however, is aged for a minimum of 12 months, giving it a truly distinct nutty flavour and the distinctive crunch which is the result of the formation of calcium lactate crystals.
The Vacherin Mont d’Or
The Vacherin Mont d’Or is made only during the winter months and the long wait for its arrival makes it all the more enjoyable. There’s usually much excitement when our first stocks arrive, usually by late October - many customers sign up to our newsletter so we can let them know in advance that the Mont d’Or season has actually begun.
Mont d’Or is particularly popular as a Christmas cheese but it also makes an easy supper - 15 minutes in the oven and this pungent little cheese is transformed into a fabulous fondue.
Burgundy - Epoisses
Many cheeses are set apart by their smell, and none more so than the famously fragrant Epoisses. Its rich golden hue is created by gentle washing in Marc de Bourgogne, a spirit made from the leftovers of the wine-making process. Once you cut into an Epoisses, you’ll find a melting, creamy interior which is utterly irresistible. Just avoid unwrapping it on a train, unless you want your fellow passengers to vacate the carriage!
Poitou Charentes – the Mothais sur Feuille
When you want to sample the fine fare of the Poitou and Loire regions, you have to look for goat’s cheese. The Mothais sur Feuilleis particularly memorable. It’s wrapped in a single chestnut leaf and is as light as light can be – usually very mousse-like in texture. The best Mothais has a well-balanced flavour but a distinct goat’s milk tone. Try it with a delightful Sancerre wine.
Savoie – the Raclette
If you’ve ever been skiing in the Haute Savoie region, chances are you’ve see this delicious cheese served as part of a dish in which melted Raclette is poured over a plate of potatoes, pickles and meats. It’s also sometimes used in tartiflette, another warming dish favoured by skiiers.
A Raclette is usually enjoyed during the winter months, though its production begins in late Spring – it cannot be sold until it has ripened by at least eight weeks, though the optimum maturation period is around 5 months.
The Paxton & Whitfield Raclette has been specially developed in collaboration with the renowned Paccard brothers – and be warned, it’s particularly moreish.
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