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When I moved to France, I had no idea that cheeses in France would become such a pleasure and an education rolled into one!
While living in Paris (despite the Coronavirus), I have spent enough time around the table with French friends and acquaintances, entered enough fromageries and even taken a class on cheeses in France to have a small base of knowledge about French cheese. I’ve gone from never giving much thought to where Brie originated from, except the shelf in Costco, to actually visiting the region where it is made.
Without further ado, I am sharing my love and knowledge of cheeses in France with you!
“How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”
Charles de Gaulle
Some say Charles de Gaulle vastly underestimated the variety of cheeses in France!
What’s your favourite cheese from France? I wonder if it is on list below.
Cheeses In France – Terroir, AOC & PDO
You might not even notice these designations at first, but they do play a role in choosing the best French cheese.
Terroir: Yes, French people talk about this in relation to cheese (and wine). The terroir refers to the geographic region where the cheese is produced. And that means, what the cows, sheep and goats are feeding on. Thus, terroir refers to the soil, the minerals in the soil, the vegetation, the climate, and how these factors affect the quality of the cheese produced.
AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) (Controlled Designation of Origin): This French label protects the traditional method of production, ingredients used and the origin of a product. For example, Rocamadour cheese, which is goat cheese, can only be produced in Rocamadour. If somebody else wants to produce this AOC goat cheese in a different location in France, they can’t. Or they would have to give it a different name. The AOC designation protects the cheesemakers and community that have a long-standing tradition with their product.
PDO (Protected Designation of Origin): This designation comes from the European Union. It also verifies that cheeses are produced and prepared in a specific region according to traditional methods.
How To Choose Cheeses Of France
Fromageries can be a little bit overwhelming. Here are seven top fromageries in Paris. These cheese shops are often tiny boutiques with more cheese from France than you could even imagine. And there is quite possibly a line of Parisians waiting behind you. Don’t speak much French? It is even more overwhelming. But don’t skip this very French experience, even if it doesn’t go well, the French cheese you walk out the door with is sure to be a winner.
- go with an idea of which cheese from France you would like to try.
- ask for a French cheese from a specific region.
- think about whether you like strong or mild cheese or would like a combination
- don’t be afraid to ask for the amount you want. They can unwrap and cut a smaller piece for you. I have walked out of a fromagerie more than once wondering how I am ever going to eat all that Comté!
- the cheesemakers and shop vendors are happy to make suggestions.
- Here are some top tips on how to put together the best cheeseboard.
Suggested Cheeses Of France To Savour
Blue Cheese From France
I’ve always loved blue cheese – tangy, sharp, aromatic and laced with blue veins. If it’s on a cheeseboard, I’m partaking! I am still learning to distinguish the subtle difference between the blue cheeses of France. Here are a few I have tried:
Bleu d’Auvergne (AOC)
Bleu d’Auvergne from the Auvergne region of France is a strong blue cheese. Great with a baguette or in a salad, this cow’s milk cheese has been around since the 1850’s.
Bleu des Causses (AOC)
Bleu des Causses, made from cow’s milk, is a milder version of Roquefort. It has a creamy texture and is unforgettable. (Yes, I love my blue cheeses.) Bleu des Causses is aged in the limestone caves of the Gorges du Tarn in the Occitanie region of France.
Fourme d’Ambert (AOC)
Fourme d’Ambert, from the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, is the mildest of the blue cheeses from France. So if you are not a fan of blue cheese, try savouring this semi-hard French variety. Fourme d’Ambert, made from raw unpasteurised cow’s milk, is one of the oldest French cheeses dating back to Roman times. Look for it at the fromagerie in its unique cylindrical form.
Spidery blue and green veins. Crumbly. Intense. Tangy. Roquefort is the superstar of blue cheeses in France. Made entirely from sheep’s milk, Roquefort is ripened in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. The French love their Roquefort and it is the second most consumed cheese in France. Roquefort was the first cheese in France to receive the AOC designation in 1925. Buy Roquefort AOC anywhere in the world and you are assured of the real deal.
Best French Cheese: Brie de Melun (AOC)
This is my favourite Brie. This raw cow’s milk cheese is soft, creamy, and runny. It’s no wonder that it was referred to as “The King’s Cheese” after the Revolution. It is sumptuous and regal to savour. Brie de Meaux (AOC) is a milder Brie from the same region.
Cheese Tip: Don’t cut the tip off the end of the Brie triangle… or snip the nose off the piece of Brie. I did it once. I don’t recommend it!
The French Cloud: Brillat-Savarin
When the man ahead of me in line ordered the Brillat-Savarin with Truffles, my curiosity was peaked! Brillat-Savarin’s words “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are” rang through my mind and it dawned on me that I had never tasted the cheese named after him.
I leaned over and started up a conversation.
“Excuse me sir, is the Brillat-Savarin with Truffles good?” (en français, of course)
He readily answered telling me it was delicious, buttery and creamy and not as high in fat as the Camembert or Brie beside which it was perched. The vendor chimed in extolling its qualities – the Triple Cream, the whipped texture, and the layer of shaved truffles making the cheese exceptional.
And to top it off she noted, Brillat-Savarin with Truffles is best served with champagne.
How could one resist?
Of course, I bought this Brillat-Savarin with Truffles. I let the first taste sit on my tongue. I practically dropped to my knees. It’s like eating a complex-flavoured cloud. The most delicious one imaginable. One you just can’t get enough of.
Cheeses In France: Camembert de Normandie (AOC)
You are probably familiar with Camembert cheese. You’ll know you are purchasing the AOC Camembert de Normandie because it comes in a round wooden balsa box, protecting the cheese while not suffocating it. Camembert de Normandie has been around since 1791 and is made from non-pasteurized cow’s milk. When you buy a Camembert de Normandie from a fromagerie, don’t be surprised if they take the lid off the container and feel it to see if it is just right for you.
Comté (AOC): A Favourite Cheese From France
When you pop into a fromagerie and ask for a Comté, you will always be asked for the age of the cheese that you desire. I am no expert and usually go with the middle choice, around 14-18 months. I have never been disappointed. Comté, a raw cow’s milk which comes from the Jura mountains in the Franche-Comté region near the Swiss border, is perfect on a cheeseboard but also grated or melted for a fondue. This hard cheese is also a winner for a picnic. Comté is made in huge rounds of cheese that have to be turned regularly while ripening.
When I put together the Christmas cheeseboard with a variety of cheeses from France, I couldn’t resist the vendor’s suggestion of a 44-month Comté. More fragile and with a strong flavour, my French friends LOVED it!
A Pungent Cheese From France: Epoisses (AOC)
I was warned about this cheese from France, told it is not for the faint of heart. The orange rind of Epoisses is a colourful addition to any cheese platter BUT… its pungent aroma is a bit shocking! Smells, though, can be deceiving. Despite the very smelliness of Époisses, this soft but firm and creamy cow’s milk cheese has a mild flavour. Perhaps why I find it so delicious is the water and French Brandy wash it receives repeatedly while ripening.
Munster (AOC): With Cumin Seeds?
I was invited for dinner at my landlords’ apartment during Covid. It was a delightful evening and one of the highlights was the platter of cheese from France. The Munster was the superstar. Partly for its flavour. Partly for its story. Munster cheese originates from the monks of the Benedictine Abbey in the Munster Valley in the Alsace Region of France (not too shabby in origin). When my landlord sprinkled cumin seeds on top of the Munster and recounted how the Munster had been on his window ledge ripening until the perfect eating moment (right now) I was already a fan of the cheese before it hit my taste buds!
Cheeses in France: Ossau Iraty (AOC)
This semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese is DELICIOUS. It is currently my new favourite. It has a nutty flavour and is a tiny bit oily and basically melts in your mouth. Ossau Iraty is made in the French Basque Country.
French cheese is full of subtle surprises. When purchasing Ossau Iraty at a different fromagerie, the cheesemonger explained to me that this Ossau Iraty was a “fermier” cheese. She explained that the cheese was produced with sheep’s milk all from one farm and that the flavour would not be the same as other Ossau Iraty cheeses. Also delicious, this time the cheese was a bit sharper in flavour.
Pont l’Évêque (AOC): A Creamy Delight
I was reading Flaubert’s A Simple Heart written in 1877. The main character is on her way to Pont l’Évêque. A few weeks later I discovered that Pont l’Évêque is a town that still exists in Normandy and has been making cheese since the 12th century. Of course, I had to try out Pont l’Évêque cheese. This uncooked, cow’s milk cheese is soft, creamy and has a distinct flavour. Don’t forget to eat the rind!
Cheeses In France: Rocamadour (AOC)
Little rounds of Rocamadour cheese from France are perfect for a picnic, in a salad, warmed up or served on walnut bread. This non-pasteurized whole goat’s milk cheese is soft and creamy, especially when it is aged only for a couple of weeks. Another cheese in France that has been around for centuries, Rocamadour is also best eaten with the pilgrimage site in view!
Le Saint-Félicien (AOC): A Best French Cheese
Le Saint-Félicien, from the Rhônes-Alpes region of France, is a very soft cow’s milk cheese that is often sold in a round terra cotta dish. As it is almost runny, the dish helps it keep its shape. Le Saint-Félicien has a very mild, almost buttery, flavour and pairs beautifully with a crusty baguette.
Cheeses In France: Tips To Enjoy
Take the cheeses from France that you have selected out of the fridge about an hour before eating. This should get the cheeses nicely to room temperature. Arrange the cheeseboard right away to avoid the runny cheeses sticking to the paper. Been there. Why waste a morsel of a delectable cheese from France?
When To Serve Your Cheeses From France:
Traditionally in France, cheese is served after the main course before the dessert. It is always offered as a course. I have never eaten with French friends and not had a cheese course.
Note: Strong cheeses from France, such as blue, should be served/eaten last otherwise it overpowers your taste buds. You won’t be tasting a mild goat cheese very well after a bite or two of Roquefort.
Pairing Wine and Cheeses From France:
The French will tell you that it is essential to have a correct pairing between the cheese and the wine. Usually, the cheese course is paired with red wine, but not always. It is not unusual to change from white wine with dinner to a red wine paired with the cheeses from France. However, it is also acceptable to continue with white wine or champagne. If you are hosting, I would have a red on hand to pair with your cheeseboard.
There are wine stores on every corner in Paris, known as a “Cave,” which specialize in wine. They are always happy to suggest a wine that will pair with your best French cheeses. Often wine from the same region where the cheese is produced makes the perfect pairing.
Other Insider Tips:
Don’t be surprised if the vendor at the fromagerie touches your cheese. They are checking for ripeness, especially if you tell them when you plan to eat the cheese.
Did you know cheeses have a season? I am still learning about this but was so surprised when a Cheesemaker told my friend that the cheese was almost out of season and they wouldn’t be getting any more until the fall!
I have many more cheeses of France to sample and much more to learn. Some people claim that there are 1400 kinds of cheeses in France. We’ll see how far I get! Which cheeses of France are on your list to savour?
Happy French cheese tasting and until next time,
More Travel Info…
Stay in Paris: Check out these hotels
Gastronomy in Paris:
Here are some of the best fromageries in Paris.
If you are looking for food suggestions, read about where to find the best croissants in Paris.
And here are the most delectable Pâtisseries in Paris. Have you tried all these classic pâtisseries, like the Paris Brest?
There are also plenty of café suggestions for the Marais area in this post: Tips from a Local. And if you are exploring the area around Canal Saint-Martin, here are the best places to stop for a bite or to find the fixings for a picnic.
Exploring Paris and Beyond:
PARIS: Travelling to Paris alone? This article on navigating Paris alone is full of tips and tricks for the solo traveller.
This page has all my articles on Paris that will help you plan out your trip, including day trips from Paris. I hope you subscribed to my newsletter to get my free download.
FRANCE: If you are going further afield in France, make sure to check out my page on France.