“A silence fell at the mention of Gavard. They all looked at each other cautiously. As they were all rather short of breath by this time, it was the camembert they could smell. This cheese, with its gamy odour, had overpowered the milder smells of the marolles and the limbourg; its power was remarkable. Every now and then, however, a slight whiff, a flute-like note, came from the parmesan, while the bries came into play with their soft, musty smell, the gentle sound, so to speak, of a damp tambourine. The livarot launched into an overwhelming reprise, and the géromé kept up the symphony with a sustained high note.”
“It’s the way I am.”
“How did you become this way?”
“Why is anyone the way they are? That’s kind of hard to answer. Why do some people like cheese and other people hate it? Do you like cheese? Mrs. Jones – my housekeeper – has left this for supper.” He takes some large, white plates from a cupboard and places one in front of me. We’re talking about cheese… Holy crap.”
-E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey
Cheese is part of the daily consuming habits in France. France has nearly 1000 different cheeses including soft cheeses, cheeses with parsley, pressed cheese, and cooked cheese. In France, 45 of the cheeses are part of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) and 38 of Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP).
The cheese industry in France consists of approx. 30000 milk producers, 1400 cheese producers (refiners or not), 250 cooperative processors of cheese, 227 private processors of cheese and 154 exclusive cheese refiners.
With 24 kg of cheese consumed per year per capita, the French are among the largest consumers in the world, just behind the Greeks (25.4 kg). This is the most consumed dairy product, before yogurt. In 2003, French households bought 589,473 tons of cheese. This expenditure represents 6.8% of the food budget and 41% of milk product budget.
The image of the cheese in France is characterized by a strong pleasure dimension: appreciated for its excellent taste and convivial dimension, it is easily available for the guests. Cheese in France has a positive image in terms of health, through its intake of calcium, proteins, and energy.
The fact that it is perceived by some as a fatty food is still a drag on consumption, mainly among women and the elderly. Finally, the cheese offer in France is considered uneven quality and less accessible than other dairy products in terms of price: good cheese is associated with higher prices.
Thus, certain French people (mostly women concerned about the health dimension of their food, since cheese is a source of calories) replace it with yogurt after meals. Others, however, replace it with a milk dessert; it is often young women (15-35 years) looking for fun products, snacking or compensation, but also practical products for individual consumption.
7% of French would nevertheless eat more cheese: these are people caught in dimensions of pleasure, emotion, vitality, while looking for quick and easy products to consume. In contrast, 8% of French would consume less: those rather obey dietary restriction; they also avoid eating too much fat and feel guilty when they eat cheese. Note however that the heavy users are those who want to consume more and conversely small consumers say they want to consume less.
The variety of cheese suppliers in France (more than 1000 of them) supports the consumption of individuals, who averaged 6 days of eating cheese per week.
With more than half of the consumption, soft cheeses (Camembert, Coulommiers, Munster…) and the cooked, pressed cheeses (Emmentaler, Comté…) are the most popular and consensual cheeses. Goat cheeses, with a more selective and regional consumption rate, are very impressive with their varied tastes.
The many of the other cheeses in France allow everyone to differentiate and vary its consumption according to their preferences, knowledge, habits at home and by geographical region. In France, men rather eat traditional cheeses like typical taste camembert and blue cheeses, and women over-consume cheese with sweet tastes: salty or fresh cheese.
France takes its cheese so seriously, they have a whole system of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC). This means “controlled designation of origin” and is used to protect the authenticity of the cheese. For example, an AOC-protected cheese given the name “California”, must come from the mountains of Cantal in Auvergne from the winter milk of Salers cows, made according to a specific methodology, aged less than a month.
A small percentage of these cheeses are imported to the United States, and most of them are made specifically for the US market. These cheeses tend to be less complex, factory-made, and tragically disappointing. But French cheese lovers in the states have still many glorious options.
Let’s investigate the six of the best French cheeses below:
Considered to be unavoidable during the days, it honors easily its reputation as the symbol of French cheeses. With its almost pure white color, it should be simply tasted accompanied by a glass of cider, riddled like a brie, breaded or even melted in sandwiches. Children (2-14 years) consume mainly processed cheese; by the way, their consumption outside households is more important.
5. Le Petit Basque
As the name suggests, the P’tit Basque is a diminutive cheese, much smaller than most wheels of aged milk cheese. The small cylinder is about 3 inches tall and weighs about 1 1/4 pounds. It is made with pasteurized sheep milk and aged for approximately 70 days. Just for comparison, a Manchego weighing around 6 pounds can be aged for six months or more. The Ossau – Iraty is the most famous member of this family of hard cheeses from the southwest. For a truly traditional consumption, it is eaten with … black cherry jam!
Cantal is one of the oldest cheeses in France, even before Roquefort and Livarot. Cantal is made from pasteurized cow’s milk. Very old, it is blended as AOP and has three forms depending on the duration of its refining: at least 30 days for the “young Cantal” at least 90 days for the Cantal “in-between” and 8 months for the “cantal old”. The older the Cantal cheese is, the stronger the taste will be. This popular diversity allows it to be easily cooked from appetizer to dessert.
3. Sliced Emmental
“The more there is, the less it weighs – what is it?”
Like Camembert, it is a daily companion for the French. This cheese with very large holes is, in fact, the subject of a very diversified consumption. It is classified as mild cheese, with a pleasantly soft taste. The French often call this cheese Gruyère. This is a mistake because Emmental and Gruyère are two different kinds of cheese. Emmental is in the form of a grinding wheel 90 to 100kg while with Gruyère, the wheel weighs 35-40 kg. Emmental is a cheese with big holes and with a crust that is brushed and dry, its color is golden yellow or light brown. It has a fat content of 40% and has a very mild taste.
2. Le comté
Strong in his AOP, it impresses with its authenticity and its fresh but typical flavor. Also good on a plate because as tasted, it reveals all its secrets on the comté roads. In Franche-Comté, the manufacturing of large cheese is more than a millennium old. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, ” fructeries ” produced renowned cheeses. In these mountain areas , these large cheese wheels were a way to preserve food for the long months of very harsh and snowy winter.
The Reblochon cheese was born in the middle ages. The cheese-producing farmers had to pay a part of the milk in the form of tax for the landlords, so initially, they did not completely milk the cow, but after rechecking they peeled the remaining milk a second time, which had a high fat content. Reblochon cheese (made from raw milk) is due to this small fraud (“rebloche”). It is an important raw material of the Savoyard cuisine and ingredient of the famous tartiflette. The perfect accompaniments to Reblochon are the wines of Savoie, the Apremont, the Roussette or the Chignin-Bergeron wine.
Prince Charles is a big fan of French cheeses, but he warned that they are threatened by the “Bacteriological correctness” of the national food security regulations (NFSA). Currently, only about ten percent of the cheese consumed in France is ‘real’ and that is, to say, produced from untreated milk product and in addition, this number is constantly decreasing over the years.
The majority of French cheese is mass-produced from pasteurized or heat-treated milk. Although the old name is retained, the critics see it: their taste and their character is only the shadow of themselves.
Thank you for reading our article about the famous French delicacies. We hope that you keep up with us and read our next article, which will be about the best French foods.