Going to Paris and not enjoying French cheese is a sin. There are hundreds and hundreds of kinds to choose from, a cornucopia of taste, texture and color. But finding the right one is often confusing as they vary by age, % of butter fat, region and the animal that produces the milk to start with.
Cheese lovers traveling to France can be divided into the aficionados, the scared and the curious. This article is for the latter two groups. Hard core cheese lovers have plenty of books and blogs to enjoy (for example, look at: (chezlouloufrance.blogspot.com).
For the rest of us, French cheese is often a daunting subject. Just look at this one ooze out of its skin.
Now I have a confession to make. I like mild cheese. White cheese. Mozzarella. Jack. Queso Fresco. Always have and will. And I am here to tell you there are plenty of French cheeses even the timid amongst you to enjoy. Cheeses that are flavorful, delicious and very accessible. And better yet, unpasteurized. No soap box here, those cheeses taste better. Period.
Still scared? Look at these little squares of fresh goat cheese covered in finely chopped chives. How could anything so cute hurt you?
Better yet, with the current exchange rate, cheese in France is a good deal. Remember, you are buying in grams, so 200 grams (about 7 ounces so almost half a pound) is a good portion and what seems like an expensive price of say 25 Euros a kilo is only $12.80 a pound).
There is really only one place to buy cheese in Paris and that is the local cheese shop. Take the time to find one close to where you are staying as every neighborhood has one. Some have special owners that have passed the strict French regulations and been awarded the title of ‘affineur’. Affineurs are a part of the process of finding and creating great cheeses as they play a roll in the aging process as well.
In the 7th district there are two affineurs that we enjoy:
Marie Cantin (www.cantin.fr). Marie and her husband Antoine’s shop has sold fine French cheeses since 1950. They offer cheese classes as well. The shop is located at 12 Rue Champ De Mars, metro Ecole Militaire. Tel: 33 (0)1 45 50 43 94.
On the other side of the Champ De Mars is Fromagerie Laurent DuBois. (www.fromageslaurentdubois.fr) There are three shops, the one we go to is located at 2 Rue De Lourmel, Metro Dupleix.
To get a sense of how an affineur views cheese, here is a quote from the Laurent DuBois website:
“The quality of a cheese depends on a complex series of steps. First, the search for good producers with whom we need to create a lasting partnership, and the selection of the cheeses. Then comes the aging in our cellars, keeping in the mind that the talent of the ripener lies in bringing the product to the point of excellent flavor. This precise moment also defines my taste for cheese, the particular time at which I think the cheese has the reached its peak of flavor. Then you need to know how to sell the cheese at the right moment, and thus advise clients who share our curiosity and our pleasure in the taste of good cheese.”
Here are some basic vocabulary that you will need to know to select cheese.
Goat: Chèvre. Cow: Vache
Sheep: Brebis. Made on a farm: Fermier
Made by a coop. Cooperative.
Artisanal is artisanal. No surprise there.
Soft. Doux. Aged: Gardes
Which brings us to a list of five choices for you to try:
Goat cheese is chèvre. Look for chèvre that is soft and fresh and when in doubt in a restaurant it is always good on a salad. Unless you know what you are getting into stay away from the ones called crotin, they are aged and strong.
Tomme de Savoie. Mild semi soft cheese from the French Alps.
Ossau-Itray Semi soft sheep’s cheese from the Basque Country.
Comte. Unpasteurized cows cheese from Eastern France. Slightly sweet nutty taste.
Brie. Brie has a reputation for gummy soulless cheese that lack character. But if you can find an unpasteurized versions of this creamy cows milk cheese in Paris, it will change your mind.
And last but not least, stay away from the Epoisse. Avoid this stinker at all costs.
To my way of thinking, if you take the time to make a meal out of 30 euros of cheese a baguette and a good bottle of wine you can’t go wrong. It has always worked for us.
Jules and Flo. www.yellowflat.com.