Cheesy Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

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.

Brie

 

Brie is my go-to French cheese. Popular in the United States as well, it is a mild, soft cheese that is enhanced with almost any jam or flavor and is frequently found in sandwiches and paninis. Some of my favorite brie concoctions include brown sugar and/or maple syrup baked brie (in the states, obviously, since no one here eats maple syrup), baked brie with apricot jam, and of course brie on a baguette with nothing else. This staple item can be bought at supermarkets here in France for as cheap as about 1,60 Euro. President, the brand most commonly found in the States for upwards of $6.00, is easily purchased at local supermarkets for about 1 or 2 Euro, making it a constant guest in my fridge. Unfortunately, no baked brie, since we don’t have an oven.
 

Brie, a staple item for any broke Parisian

 

Fromage de Chevre

Fromage de Chevre can be bought in cylinders, tubs, or even in pre-cut circles for easy-to-make hors d'oeuvres

 

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

Camembert is at its yummiest when it is oozing and melting like this.

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!

My personal favorite, and the hardest name to pronounce. Sound it out: "tome deh sahvuah"

Gruyere

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!

 

Gruyere: a cheese for the ages

Roquefort

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.

 

Doesn't it even look disturbing? It reminds me of a run-down house that needs some work.

 

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!


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94 thoughts on “Cheesy Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

  1. Salut Marina,
    Aujourd’hui j’ai crée un blog sur wordpress. En regardant d’autres blogs, j’ai découvert le tien et j’ai été très surprise: j’ai été étudiante à SciencesPo, j’habite au-dessus de la place de clichy avec deux collocs et j’adore le fromage…!!
    I’d be happy to meet you and share chesse tasting experiences!
    Louise

  2. I like cheese, but some are downright nasty. I do not like swiss, and thus there are a host of other cheeses which I find have a similar flavor I cannot stomache; Brie is one of them, as is Camembert. Goat cheese I’m on the fence. But Roquefort is a go, and Gruyere I’m okay with.

    As a funny aside, years ago I spent a summer in western China. Our group took a bus (public – like Greyhound) trip and we sat next to many of the indigenous peoples. The Han don’t have cheese as I recall, but the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims do. One of my companions sat next to a little old Uyghur lady who offered her a chunk of what we/she realized was “cheese”. Sitting across from her I had to stifle laughing because she took her slow time nibbling the thing so as to not offend. It was brown and I could smell it from across the aisle. She never did eat the whole thing, managing to palm it away while thankful to the lady.

    I wasn’t so lucky. I had a student who bought me an ice cream (soft serve) which was “new” to them. I had to eat it, whereas my compatriots were able to leave the scene and dump theirs. I paid for it gastronomically the next day. Ugh.

  3. Thank you for this. My family loves cheese and are always wanting to try a new one out. But we don’t want to waste the money (some cheese is not inexpensive) on something we’ll take one bite of and not like. This gives us a little more knowledge about some of the different cheeses than what we eat. Think I’ll be buying a new variety next time I’m at the market!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed this – I was afraid it would be too cheesy, literally. You should also try reblochon (roblechon? I always forget). It’s a soft cheese like brie and camembert and has a nice flavor. I’m not sure how expensive it is in the States, but here in France it’s about 2 or 3 Euro. Thanks for reading!

  4. “Not always a bad thing?” No, no, I’m a huge cheese lover. I like to think of myself as the number one fan of cheese.

    Cheesy is NEVER, NEVER, NEVER a bad thing. The saying, “Never say never,” doesn’t even apply.

    Thank you for educating me on France and its cheese. I have always have been obsessed with going to France for several reasons, but cheese is the primary reason! Bread and cheese… Isn’t there anything better? I doubt it.

  5. Wow, it looks like you are a chesse fan! I saw that you’re in Paris for the year…I hope you have fun! I also studied at Sciences Po! I graduated two years ago. What a coincidence! In any case, I live in Germany now and this post reminded how much I enjoyed those stinky unpasterized cheeses while I was there too.

    1. That’s so funny! It’s good to hear from a Sciences Po alum! Thanks for reading. Have you heard about the new library? It is absolutely amazing – like an Apple store only better. If you’re ever in Paris you should definitely check it out.

  6. I lived in Southern France (near Toulon) for a little while, and a large portion of my husband’s family still lives there (in various parts of France). I completely relate to the “cheese plate”, too! Even though we visit the country regularly, I miss it! My personal favourites are different Bries and Camembert (President), but I also enjoy Gouda a lot. I prefer the stronger cheeses mixed into whatever dish… MMmmmmm!

  7. OMG, i don’t even like cheese and you have my mouth watering!!! I can’t wait to get to the market and try some of your new cheeses.I can’t wait to give you MY reviews.
    Your blog absolutley makes my day!! No if ands or buts about it… I cannot wait to hear about your next adventure, you have a way of sucking me right in it with you. I’m having an absolute blast in Paris, thanks,

    keep it coming!!! ilesa

    1. Thanks so much! I really appreciate the good thoughts. A tip on the cheeses: start with the more mild ones (brie is a good one), and eat with a baguette, then slowly work your way up to the really strong ones, and try eating them in little pieces by themselves. I wish you luck, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

  8. De Gaulle is said to have been quoted as saying, “how can you govern a country that has 300 kinds of cheese?”

    I had the good fortune to have had a job for three years on the French Riviera. Besides the beaches where 98% of the women are topless (the other 2% are American tourists) I miss the food, and cheese rates high on the list, just after a warm baguette fresh from the boulangerie. I especially like the chevres, and we used to drive to Rouqefort and buy the cheese direct from the caves.

    One of my fondest memories was the weekly visit to the wine and cheese shop on the Rue des Pecheurs in Golfe Juan. All of the wine was locally grown and only available in casks. You brought your own bottles. An elderly Corsican couple owned the store. You’d go in and ask if they had any new wines available that week. If they did they’d give you little thimbles-full to sample. Some of the stuff was excellent. Some of it really sucked. And they’d tell you so.

    When finished filling the bottles for the week I’d ask what cheese they’d recommend to go with the wine and they’d then give me a few crumbs of cheese with a tiny piece of baguette and a thimble-full of the appropriate wine.

    A visit to the wine shop always lasted at least an hour. I miss that.

    1. Wow, thanks for the video! I don’t understand Italian at all, but listening to it is such a pleasure! This cheese looks absolutely delicious – I’m convinced. Perhaps I’ll try my hand at fondue for our next soiree…

  9. umm yum, I loved this post. I am an acquaintance of French cheeses but never closer then that. I would love to know them better though and reading about them was perfect. My favorite is Blue cheese, the stinkier the better for me.

  10. Bienvenue a Paris! I am also an american expat/cheese lover living in Paris (have been living here for close to 10 years now)! Though I didn’t come over here in college (I went to Trinity College in Hartford), I came over right after I finished school. If you want to expand your cheese love, I recommend La Fromagerie Cler (31 rue Cler). Check out the mimolette (almost like a sharp cheddar) and st marcellin (very deliciously gooey). Btw, gruyère is technically Swiss 😉

    Have fun and à bientôt!

    Feel free to check out my music blog on gigs and other random musical happenings going on Paris: http://sonicpompadour.wordpress.com/

    1. Merci! Thanks for the tip – I will add it to my bucket list. I am always looking for good things to do to procrastinate. I actually realized gruyere was Swiss right after I posted…oops! It’s got a deceivingly French name!

      1. No worries! Also check out tête de moine, another sneaky Swiss cheese passing for a Frenchie (also super fun to eat as you “shave” it off in circles with a special cheese cutter). Ok, I’m hungry for cheese now! 🙂

  11. I love cheese and completely encourage people to try new cheeses. Just as an FYI, many cheeses are completely edible-rind and all. The strong flavors in the rinds of many cheeses make for a more complex and delicious esperience. Especially the bloomy rind cheeses like Brie and Camembert. Please try the cheese with the rind,and if you really don’t like it, then go ahead and try the paste alone.

    I would suggest going into a fromagerie where they will let you taste the cheese before you buy. Cheese is much fresher at a cheese shop than at a “French Target”. It’s also usually a better quality of cheese.

    I look forward to hearing more about your cheesy adventures!

    1. Thanks for the tip! I am about to have some cheese and I’m going to try eating it with the rind. I figured it was edible, but wasn’t sure if it would be enjoyable to eat. I am actually planning on heading to the fromagerie in Montmartre sometime soon, but I’m waiting for a special occasion to splurge on good cheese – college student’s budget, what can I say? Thanks for reading!!

  12. Can I recommend another cheese: the Saint Nectaire (fermier). To me it is the king of cheeses. It tastes exactly like old stone cellars.
    And maybe it’s just because I was brought up in the fench countryside and not in fancy Paris, but I can’t help bu disagree with you on a couple of points: especially as regards the crust of the tomme de savoie. You mention how difficult to remove it completely and cleanly, and how you would want to try “untainted” Tomme, but I think you’ve missed the point slightly. The crust is part of the cheese, and although you should take most of it away, a few crumbs of it every here and there add to the flavour and texture. Same thing does for the camambert, which you should eat complete with crust. As for St Nectaire, should you want to try it, you’re only supposed to scrape most of the crust off, leaving most. The place where the cheese turns into crust is where all the best flavours are.
    I’m loving that americans like our cheeses though.

    1. I have been meaning to try that! I’ll pick it up the next time I go shopping. I see huge advertisements for it in the Subway, which I find great because we don’t really advertise cheese in the U.S…
      And yes, you are right. Shortly after this was posted, I received a lot of comments saying I should try eating it with the rind (I think I’m just kind of ignorant when it comes to the etiquette of cheese, however much I enjoy eating it, so I’m learning). I proceeded to help myself to all the different kinds of cheese in our fridge, and ate all of them with the crust. Completely different! You’re right, the flavors are so much stronger, and it tasted much better. Unfortunately we didn’t have any tomme de savoir, but I plan on eating it with the crust next time. Americans do enjoy French cheese, it is something so foreign to us and a luxury that we don’t have at home. All of my friends are eating up (literally) the cheese here, and the wine as well. Contrary to popular belief, Americans love France, especially the food!
      Thanks for the tip – I am glad to be learning so much!!

    1. Try a Vacherin in the winter, Vignotte anytime and the Bleu d’Auvergne isn’t bad. There are French cheeses very close to gruyere and the French use both in a similar way in cooking so I shouldn’t get too worried by the Swiss/French divide,after all you could drive across the border without even noticing in places.

      Can you still buy speciallity apples in Paris? Reinettes etc?
      http://www.lemonaday.com

      1. Haha, very good point about Switzerland and France. I feel a little better about my mixup. I am not sure about the apples, I usually buy whatever they have at the grocery store, which aren’t very good compared to those that I am used to in New England. I will check though – I shall go on an apple-hunting expedition! It is the time of the year for it, after all! Thanks for the suggestions, I love having all these new cheeses to try. I’ll have to do another post about them!

  13. Oh how I love cheese…really good cheese that you are writing about. Thanks for sharing, even if I am now drooling and my cheese options are limited at the moment until I get to town, and even then they are limited too. Bon fromage!

  14. This is my least favorite thing about living in Japan as a sort-of foodie: the lack of cheese. You can buy passable cheese, but you costs double what it does in the US and costs twice as much. (And isn’t really that great!) Your post makes me miss cheese even more…

    I just tried Gruyere when I went back to the US for a bit this month–LOVE.

  15. So do you usually always discard the rind off your brie and camembert? I have always eaten the rind, and I’m curious if that’s considered a serious faux pas in France.

    1. Not at all, actually – I was the one making the faux pas! I was brought up in America and my mother always had me cut the rind off of cheese (whenever we ate cheese, which was rare, since it’s not a big thing in the states). Only after posting this did I discover that 1) I was wrong and 2) the rind is DELICIOUS! I’m glad everyone wrote in and told me to try it, it changed my world.

    1. If you have read other posts, you would know that I spend my spare time exploring and discovering one of the most culturally gifted cities in the world, in an effort to make the most of my semester abroad and share with other people how to have the best possible time in Paris without spending a fortune. Traveling, discovering, and writing are ways of self-fulfillment, and if you have a problem with that take your negative vibes elsewhere. La Vie En Rose has no place for them.

  16. I am an American living in Paris. I got my now Frnech husband to take me out on our first date by mentioning that I wanted to learn more about cheese. Before I knew it we were exchanging numbers and he had invited me to go to Le Rubis. Le Rubis is little restaurant in the 1st where they serve wine and cheese platters, amongst a few other things. You can also get very affordable cheeses at cheese shops in Paris, plus the shopkeepers are usually great at reccomending little known cheeses.
    Enjoy all that Paris has to offer!
    The hunting museum is great, one of my kids favorites.

  17. Congratulations on being featured on Freshly Pressed!
    I love travelling in France and your post today reminded me that I really must buy some yummy cheeses for company this weekend. Last year I spent some time near Bordeaux with some friends who live there and every afternoon we had a fabulous picnic with fresh bread from the boulangerie and the most incredible cheeses.

    1. Thank you! I would definitely suggest tomme de savoie with fig spread – I eat way too much of it, so much that my mom called to tell me that “cheese causes cellulite!” I was embarrassed. Baked brie is also my go-to for company (although I can’t make it here- no oven!). Just grab a round of brie, leave the rind on or cut off just the top, spread a jar of apricot jam (or maple syrup and brown sugar – delicious this time of year!), get Pillsbury dough (the rolls one that you just unroll, or the croissants…I can’t remember, but you can find it online), and unroll it and spread it on top. Bake for about 15-20 minutes and you have the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted (serve with crackers, big ones, you’ll want to get a lot of brie on there!)

  18. I used to love cheese, but I guess that was only cheddar, colby and edam. My stay in France has somewhat dimmed my cheese craziness: the only cheese I like here is comté. Every other soft cheese smells too strong.

  19. Have you had a Raclette yet? If you love cheese, it’s got to be done, it is just an excuse to make a whole meal out of it. You need a Raclette maker (about 30 euros at Intermarche) and Raclette cheese, which you melt in little individual containers and then pour over boiled potatoes and eat with lots of cured meat. It’s a bit decadent, but awesome!

    1. This makes me wish I wasn’t on a student budget, otherwise I would be the first one in line for the Raclette maker… perhaps I’ll try it without melting it anyway, I’m sure it’s still delicious!

    1. I am not sure if you can or not, I’m sure at specialty food shops, cheese shops (I’m sure there’s a few around), or really nice grocery stores, but I am going to have my mom investigate. I’ve gotten that question a lot!

  20. I am familair with all the cheeses you listed- excpet Tomme De Savoie… I am intrigued to try it now… there is nothing better than a class of wine and a bit of cheese!

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