As you may know, France is well known for its variety of delicious cheeses. Cheese here is hardly just a food – it is a very specific piece of French culture that, though sometimes smelly, is a true way to experience the country and its many flavors (ha!). I was first intrigued by the variety of French cheeses while staying at my aunt’s house one weekend, where a ready-to-eat cheese plate is kept in the fridge at all times with a selection of five or six different cheeses. As I have been trying to explore France culturally, academically, and gastronomically, I’ve decided to review my favorite cheeses thus far, for those of you who may be interested in expanding your cheese palette.
Fromage de Chevre
Goat cheese. Doesn’t it sound so much lovelier in French? Chevre is a true multi-tasking cheese: it can be eaten alone, in small nibbles that melt in your mouth, or spread on a sandwich or crackers, and used in many other culinarily pleasing ways. It can also be purchased in a tub, and presented more like a spread, or in small cylinders that you can let harden until the cheese is a bit flaky, and then eat it in small bites that melt once they hit your tongue. Goat cheese is a stronger taste, but when paired with vegetables and spices it blends quite deliciously. Most of my friends here love goat cheese, not only for its versatility but for its intriguing flavor. Chevre, like brie, is cheap: I recently bought 2 cylinders of it in a little plastic pack for about 3 Euro (remember, cheese lasts a long time, so two cylinders goes quite far).
Camembert is THE French cheese. Much like Brie, Camembert is a soft cheese that comes in a round with a whitish skin that must be cut or picked off in order to enjoy the delicious treasure inside. Camembert has a stronger, cheesier taste than brie, and is better to eat alone or on bread than to pair with other foods. My favorite thing about camembert is that it can be bought at Monoprix (think French Target) in a little re-usable plastic tray that you can keep in the fridge so it doesn’t go bad. Though more expensive (about 4 Euro), it is a handy little device and keeps my yummy camembert cheesy and fresh. Mmm!
Tomme de Savoie
A less popularized but even more delicious cheese, tomme de savoie is my favorite of all French cheeses. Its texture is perfect: it is soft and easy to cut like brie or camembert, but it maintains its shape and can be cut and sliced like gruyere or swiss. It is soft, but can still be bitten, unlike camembert, which simply oozes. Tomme de savoie was recommended by Courtney and Mike, who also suggested pairing it with fig spread. Delicious! Give me some crackers, some fig spread, and some tomme de savoie and I am all set for the night. Its rhind is a little messy: it is a dark brownish grey color, and it flakes onto the cheese if you cut it poorly. If I were rich, I would buy a fancy cheese slicer just so I could eat untainted tomme de savoie. This delectable dairy product is a bit harder to find, even in Paris, and a good one is on the more expensive side at about 5 Euro. Totally worth it!
I have long heard this cheese mentioned in recipes, at dinner parties, and on the Food Network (my parents are addicted), but had never tried it until recently, when I went on a literal cheese binge at our local Monoprix. What a great cheese! It is mild in flavor but so easy to nibble on, and I could so easily spend an afternoon cutting off little blocks of gruyere and eating them with some cheap wine to accompany. My favorite way to eat it, however, is on a sandwich. Though harder to finagle with a knife, the effort is justified. In order to get a slice of gruyere off the block without an expensive cheese-slicing device, one must risk fingers by skipping the flat part of the block with a knife and hoping not to stab oneself in doing so. I used it last week on my sandwich with slices of buffalo chicken, and it was delicious! Its mild flavor added the perfect taste, and if a little piece fell out I was just as content nibbling it off the plate on its own. Mmm…a good hard cheese is hard to find, but I’ve found it!
If you have a taste for strong cheeses, you will like roquefort. Comparable to bleu cheese, roquefort has a very strong flavor that is hard to ignore. It makes a statement. I haven’t yet had it by itself, but I have had it in paninis and pasta and have been constantly unable to ignore its pungent smell and flavor. It is often used in French four-cheese combinations that are put in pasta, and included with other mild cheese in paninis. I’m not sure I like its overbearing presence in these concoctions, since it is so strong and so different the others. Imagine drinking smooth, red wine and then immediately taking a shot of cheap vodka – that’s the experience I’ve had so far with roquefort. I’m willing to give it a chance, but I am not sure I agree with it spoiling the smooth, palatable flavors of my other favorite cheeses.
Well, there you have it, my favorite cheeses. Please note that the best French wine is always accompanied by wine and, of course, good friends and good conversation. Most cheeses I’ve listed are found in supermarkets in France for under 5 Euro – some for under 1 Euro – and no matter the price are always delicious. I hope this helped for those of you who may be cheese-challenged, and that I have perhaps helped enhance future wine-and-cheese parties.
Now, off to the Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature with Shaun. Time to see some dead animals!
**Correction: According to several readers, and the package of the gruyere cheese I bought at Monoprix, it is actually Swiss. I didn’t mean to imply that all of these cheeses are French, they are just the wonderful cheeses that I have had the pleasure of tasting since I’ve been here. Also, considering that Switzerland shares many gastronomic and linguistic characteristics, it’s often hard to differentiate. Thanks for the correction though!