Fromage – the very word rolls off your tongue with a delicious sound. Cheesemaking in France is as old as, well, probably the hills. For the French, it’s a science and an art and it’s been perfected over the years and shows up in its hundreds of cheeses. Every region has so many to choose from. From this land with the greatest choice of cheeses, let’s take a look at some of the most popular ones!
There’s a tale behind this wonderful variety of cheese. The story goes that this cheese, which was named after a village, was first made by a woman. Her name was Marie Harel and she lived in Camembert. There, she hid an Abbé who was trying to hide from the persecution that was very much the order of the day during the French Revolution. In gratitude for what she had done to keep him safe, he parted with a closely guarded secret – how to make Camembert cheese. Today, there’s a statue of her in this town. It is said that one of her daughters presented this cheese to Napoleon and because she said it was from Camembert, somehow that was the name the cheese came to be known as.
This is a cheese that is soft and creamy. It was stored in small wooden containers and quickly found its way across France and then the world, especially to America where it was very popular. All this took place in the 19th century. To date, it still makes its journey to different parts of the globe in those wooden boxes which look the same now as they did then.
How is Camembert made? The first requirement is that the milk should not be pasteurized. Then, certain penicillin moulds are added to it and it is left to ripen. This usually takes around three weeks after which it is wrapped and put into those wooden boxes and shipped to wherever it needs to go. The rind of this cheese is white and the cheese continues to age in the boxes. Camembert cheese and wine go extremely well together.
This is the cheese that Emperor Charlemagne is supposed to have raved about. This is the cheese that Louis XIV wanted to savor again as a last wish during the French Revolution. This was the cheese that was declared to be the ‘king of cheeses’ at a European contest run by Prince de Talleyrand in the early 19th century. This is the cheese that has made the little province of Brie which lies to the east of Paris famous in every corner of the world.
The cheese is called Brie de Meaux though most just shorten it to Brie. Today it is one of the world’s most popular cheeses, sweet with slight fruit and nut notes and maybe even a dash of mushroom and a hint of ammonia. It is a soft cheese made of cow’s milk and it has a white rind which is slightly moldy. However, don’t cut this off and throw it away because it is edible.
Brie is made from unpasteurized raw milk to which rennet is added. It is then ladled into molds, drained, salted, inoculated with penicillin molds and then aged. This is done on straw mats and these lines are visible on the cheese. After four weeks it is taken and packed. It can also be aged for longer in which case the flavor is stronger. This aged Brie is called Brie Noir.
Today, Brie is made with different flavors added and with different kinds of milk – and it is enjoyed all over, by rich and poor alike.
The best way to have Brie of course, is with champagne!
They look like large cartwheels and you think of the Three Wise Men of Gotham when you look at them. The large wheel-like shape is usually around two feet in diameter. Beaufort cheese gets its name from the region in which it is made and it belongs to the Gruyere family. Made from the milk of Tarine cows, the cheese reminds you of the great outdoor pastures of the French countryside. It has the flavors of flowers, grass, honey and fresh air. The unique taste is probably due to the very high altitudes where this cheese is made.
It’s a cheese that has been around a long time – from the time of the Roman Empire in fact. It was the Romans who gave it its name. There are three types available today and they are Beaufort d’hiver which is made in winter, Beaufort de Savoie, made in summer and Beaufort d’alpage which is made in the chalets situated in the Alps. The cheese is aged for around six months, maybe more in the cool temperatures of mountain cellars.
The cheese looks a bit rough and is yellowish in color, but its smoothness is amazing. It melts well so is good for a fondue and it goes well with white wine and smoked salmon.
La Vache Qui Rit
La Vache Qui Rit is a bit of a paradox and though it is a brand name not a cheese type, it needs mention when you talk about French cheese. From the country that prides itself on natural cheeses and where there seems to be a predominance of sharper-tasting, pungent cheeses, this rather bland, slightly sweet offering of processed cheese seems strange. However, this cheese in its many forms and the face of the laughing cow have made it not just a favorite in France but all over the world as well. What it really is perhaps is a sort of buttery cheese.
Its history goes back to 1921 and it is made by blending aged cheese with fresh cheese, milk and cream and is then heated so the ageing process is stopped. Thanks to this, it can withstand ambient temperatures which also contributed to its popularity. The largest selling product is the round box with the triangular wedges. The great thing about this cheese is that it made ready made one serving cheese portions popular. They also have products that are spreads, slices and cubes. The cheese is available in many flavor variants and there is probably no place in the world where you can’t get it.
In France, it is called by its French name but in most parts of the world, it is marketed as The Laughing Cow. In some places, though, the name has been localized. What has also contributed to its popularity, especially in certain parts of the world, is perhaps the fact that it does not contain pepsin or rennet. Whatever the reason, the manufacturers are laughing all the way to the bank with sales skyrocketing globally.