The French are cheese connoisseurs, so brush up on your etiquette. Always take the cheese out the fridge an hour before eating, and use a separate knife for every cheese!
General de Gaulle once famously quipped: “How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?”
Today, there may be as many as 1,000 different cheeses, and the French are certainly no easier to govern. For the French, their cheese, like their bread and their wine (and much else besides) is a source of pride. In fact, France takes its cheeses so seriously that they have an official mark of authenticity: ‘Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée’. As an example: for a cheese to be an AOC-Cantal, it must come from the Cantal mountains in Auvergne from the winter milk of Salers cows, made according to their unique method, before being aged for at least a month.
The system pays off: French cheeses are among the best in the world. And they keep the best for themselves: the ‘French’ cheeses you get in supermarkets across the world usually don’t follow the same high standards. So, to truly experience French cheese, you must go to France.
Comte is one of the world’s great cheeses. It is made from the unpasteurised milk of Montbéliarde cows, high in the Jura mountains, and aged for 12-18 months. It’s a hard yet pliable cheese that perfect for melting: it’s a fondue classic. Take it with a fruity red wine.
Another renowned French cheese is Camembert. This one is soft, with an extraordinary molten texture and earthy, creamy flavours. Spoon out great dollops onto an onion confit, or simply with bread or crackers, and serve with white wine or perhaps a Normandy cider.
Chances are you have encountered Roquefort, a crumbling, milky cheese shot through with blue veins. Legend has it a young boy was lunching on bread and cheese in a cave when he saw a beautiful girl and ran to talk to her. When he returned a few months later Pencicillium roqueforti, the Roquefort mould, had transformed his ordinary cheese into an extraordinary Roquefort. It has certainly earned its nickname, “The King of Blues.”
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