The French have rich cheese history, a deep-rooted culture of cheese, and more than a thousand cheeses in their lexicon. France takes its cheese very seriously. They have a whole system of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC). This means “controlled designation of origin,” and serves to protect the authenticity of cheese.
Every region of France has its own particular cheeses. Back in the time of General de Gaulle, France had 246 cheeses – and it has quite a few more than that now, given the large number of new products, inventions or copies of traditional cheeses, that have emerged from France’s hundreds of dairy companies in the past 20 years.
Here are the main types of cheeses in France.
- All of these “pressed” (or “hard”) cheeses come in large units, off which the cheese merchant will cut slices. There are two types of it, “cooked” cheeses, where the whey is heated during the production process, and “uncooked” cheeses, where it is not. Cooked cheeses can sometimes keep for a very long time. The best known of this type of cheeses are Cantal, Comté, Emmental, Mimolette, (Tomme des) Pyrénées, Reblochon.
- There are literally hundreds of soft French cheeses. Each region has its own specialties. Many of these –those with appellation controlee (controlled designation of origin) – are manufactured in small units, and (with notable exceptions such as Brie and St. Nectaire) if you want to buy one, you must buy a whole cheese. Among soft cheeses are Brie, Camembert, Epoisses, Gaperon, Mont d’Or, Munster, Pont l’Evèque, Saint Nectaire.
- Roquefort– the most famous French blue cheese, though not necessarily the best. Roquefort is an Appellation contrôlée cheese, made from the milk of one single breed of sheep, the “Lacaune” breed. The cheese has been made since the Middle Ages, and has been famous for many centuries.
- Bleu d’Auvergne– An appellation contrôlée cheese whose quality and taste can vary considerably , going from the bland to the sharp. Even in a supermarket, you can ask to taste before you buy.
- Bleu des Causses– An appellation contrôlée cheese which is generally delicious and strong tasting, without being sharp. A cow’s-milk cheese, sometimes quite crumbly, manufactured in the same area as Roquefort and quite similar tasting.
Cheeses and wine
Cheese and wine go together, and as long as you follow a few basic guidelines, you can match a wide range of wines with any cheese.
There is one exception; sweet white wines do not go well with cheese – unless the cheese is being used in a sweet/sour combination.
Red wines go best with most cheeses, though with some very strong cheeses it is better to choose a light-bodied red wine. Dry white wines also go well with cheese, especially with tasty but mild cheeses. Remember the adage: “Even if all the experts agree, they may still be wrong.” It’s your taste against his.