Eating in Paris is a foodie’s dream and should be enough activity in itself to fill an entire trip. Morning croissants stretched into early afternoon coffees, lingering lunches, apéritifs and drawn out dinners make for an indulgent getaway.
For those in the know though, France is valued for one food above all – French cheese. With over 500 different types of cheese made in France, it can be pretty intimidating to walk into a Paris cheese market or fromagerie (a cheese shop). The smell, the bustle, and the towers of dairy goodness… Where are you even supposed to start? Well, a good place to start is to know what you like. Do you like crumbling old aged cheese with strong tastes and even stronger smells? Or do you prefer mild sandwich cheese like cheddar? and don’t be afraid, not all French cheeses are smelly and this is not necessarily a connoisseur’s game.
Despite the overwhelming assortment of French cheese here are only eight categories into which everything falls, making it easier to pick something that will be to your taste. It is definitely worth trying a bit of every type and your fromager (cheese merchant) will probably be happy to let you try several varieties before you decide which cheese you like.
The categories of French cheese are as follows:
Fromage Frais – Fresh Cheese
Fromage frais is a fresh cheese that can come from a cow, goat or ewe, is high in water content and is made using a lactic starter. This French cheese is used mostly in recipes or eaten, like yogurt. This cheese isn’t really sophisticated so your quite unlikely to find any spread in your fromagerie.
Fromages à Pâte Molle – Soft Cheese
Soft cheese is always made from cow’s milk and is split into two sub-groups – moulded and rind-washed. Moulded cheese has a floury, white surface and includes popular types such as Brie and Camembert – both made from raw cow’s milk. Rind-washed soft cheese on the other hand has a harder rind with no mould. Munster would probably be a good starting point. French soft cheeses are generally aged for around a month.
Fromages à Pâte Demi Dure – Semi-hard Cheese
This semi-hard cheese is made from cow’s milk and is uncooked and pressed to drain it of some of its moisture before it is aged for several months. Semi-hard cheeses are great in that they span the distance between mild and pungent with something for everyone in the audience. Those with a more delicate tastebuds Chantal is a mild cheese not unlike cheddar or for a bit more punch go for Saint Nectare.
Fromages à Pâte Dure – Hard Cheese
This French cheese differs from semi-hard cheese in that it is cooked before it is pressed, making it solid as a rock. Hard cheeses are brushed to prevent the growth of mold before they are aged for several months. One that you may be familiar with is Emmental and if you are looking to test a hard cheese in Paris opt for interesting Beaufort or the super-aged Mimolette.
Fromages de Chèvre – Goat’s Cheese
When fresh it is creamy and sweet, becoming saltier and harder as it ages. With over 100 types of goat’s cheese this is a pretty diverse category and hard to describe by simply by taste. A good measure of the diversity of goat’s cheese can be seen in the difference between Sainte Maure de Touraine, a mild and creamy fresh cheese and the older, saltier Crottin de Chavignol.
Fromages à Pate Persille – Blue Cheese
Blue cheese is probably the easiest type of French cheese to spot due to its marbled appearance and it is probably the cheese that you are most expecting to find inside your fromagerie. The actual translation is closer to “parsley cheese” than blue cheese, so-called because of the veins that run through it. If you have never tried blue cheese before then now is your chance to sample Roquefort – delicious cheese made from ewe’s milk and sold in expensive supermarkets all over the world.
With this much diversity within French cheese – from mild and fruity to hard and bitter – there should be something for everybody to enjoy from your local fromagerie. Whether you eat it out of a tub, with a spoon, crumble it into a fresh baguette or devour it before you even leave the shop, so on your next trip to Paris be sure to take some time to explore these delicious French cheeses – but beware, it can be an expensive delicacy!