The Essential French Cheese Mini-Pictionary

On my most recent trip to Lyons, France, I came home with 40 euros of pure bliss. You'd have to be a crazy person to go to France and not bring back any cheese, it would sort of be like visiting Spain and not stopping by the airport souvenir shop for that adorable bull shaped bottle of sangria - except you can bet your bull's testicles that the Spaniards ripped you off, and that the French actually strive and succeed in making honest, tasty and outstanding cheese.

This is my crash course suggestion guide to what you should buy from the fromagerie. And of course, while you are hand selecting only the finest in stinky cheese, pick up a bottle of local red or white wine (not a plug from the French tourism board, just a humble opinion that French terroir wine pairs best with French cheese).

Reblochon Savoy | Raw Mountain Cow's Milk Cheese

The odor alone can be smelled from quite a distance, almost as if you walked into a fancy hotel with a durian under your arm in Thailand, but the taste and texture are lovely. With a curation period of roughly 15 days, I recommend this cheese spread on top of hot pumpernickel toasts, or even better if you can nail the recipe for their local specialty of "tartiflette" a potato, cheese and bacon gratin.



Raw Goat's Milk Cheese | Fromage de Chèvre au Lait Cru

Sold as a cylinder shape from Génelard, a commune of Sâone-et-Loire France, it is more or less the classic "goat's cheese roll" that we are used to seeing in supermarkets, adorned with jams or chutneys, or sliced and placed on top of fruit and nut salads, except that this was creamier and based by the rustic label, I'd like to think a whole lot less industrial. I'd adkin it to the Chabichou du Poitou, but I'm still in training to be French cheese expert.



Raw Sheep's Milk Cheese | Médaillon de Brebis au Lait Cru

If I had been on my own, this is certainly one that I would have picked out, since the prices for silver dollar sized cheeses are typically less daunting. But considering this bounty was a gift (thanks Julia & Antonio) it was a pleasant surprise to unwrap a whole lot of varieties and still find this little nugget tucked into our "cheese bag." What can I say? Creamy, slightly acidic and musky, and surely a short amount of fermentation, maybe only days. Curiously, I got the impression that Spanish cheeses are much more commonly constructed with sheep's milk, and French cheeses on a whole, seem to be mostly made of cow's milk.



more little munchkins; these both were goat's milk and the one on the left was sprinkled with herbs

Roquefort

Basically this cheese has made it big time, in the same way that Brie has become a household name. For many, whenever blue cheese is mentioned, Roquefort comes to mind. It's so popular even the Spaniards haven't translated the name, and they translate or phonetically change everything. This authentic France variety blew (no pun intended) all previous blue cheeses that I had brought home out of the water, it had almost a juicy texture it was so fresh. My happy cow hamburger with arugula loved it as well, and later my chicken Roquefort croquetas!  


Compté 


It takes about 10 liters of raw Montbéliarde cow's milk to produce one kilo of Compté cheese, or 450 liters for one wheel, and according to AOP standards it must be made within 24 hours of the cows having been milked, left to mature on wood (generally spruce) planks for at least 4 months but up to 24, also interesting to note that no grated cheese may be sold under its name. Hailing from Jura Massif, the Franche-Compté region of France's alpine zone, it borders Switzerland and offers a strong contrast between summer and winter temperatures; seasons that the each cow endures under a hectare of land. David Lebovitz tells a fascinating story with beautiful imagery about an excursion to a Compté production facility. I loved it. Nutty, semi-hard, and sturdy enough to handle high heat (fondues and pizzas), although apparently the green label on this one meant higher quality and should therefore be appreciated on its own. 



Epoisses de Bourgogne | Raw Cow's Milk Cheese from Burgundy

I was pretty excited to finally get my cheese-loving paws on this. I had heard many stories before of its powerful smell - including the rumor that it's forbidden on some forms of public transport -  its interesting consistency and unique properties. It had been a choice on various dessert menu offerings, but alas I always opted for the chocolate or fruit creations over the French cheese cart. One custardy spoonful later and I was hooked. To my sense of smell I gathered an almost Belgian beer infused rind - but I got that backwards, it should be served with a Trappist beer and the rind is washed with a local Burgundy brandy - the center curds created a sturdier base, as the top and bottom layers proved to be gooey. Fantastique! Although some say that these varieties could be on the verge of distinction, let's hope not. 



Disclaimer: It isn't that the Spanish don't make good cheese, see fine examples from Juan Luis of La Cabezuela and Ruben of Granja Cantagrullas, but they've struggled more over the years to market their quality goods to foreigners in the same way that the French have.

Do you have a favorite? Or is there a specific variety I missed? 

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