The formidable year of 2011 has just begun and I’ve decided to introduce you to a couple of – maybe 300 – French cheese varieties which in fact make the French genius. You might know the famous quote once uttered by Charles de Gaulle (not the airport, Jesus!, the first French post-war president) who reportedly said that it was impossible “to govern a country with more than 300 cheese varieties”. Well, nowadays there’s almost 1000 in France – although it has to be admitted, that several hundred of them are just varieties of varieties – and no real originals.
Still, it is a fair assumption to talk about at least 300 genuine cheese varieties when it comes to France, and we’re only talking about crafted, high-quality, non-industrial fare, of course. We’re talking about products made by hand and from real, quite often raw milk and by people who follow century-old traditions. We’re talking about cheese that has been mentioned in imperial documents 900 and more years ago, about food with a history greater than we can imagine nowadays. We’re talking about culture and, yes, the noble parts of “old Europe”.
The names alone are music to the lover’s ear: follow my blog from now on and you’ll meet the aristocratic Beaufort that they call the “Prince of the Alps”, a single loaf weighing 60 kilograms, imagine; I’ll present to you other magically melting mountaineers like Comté or Ossau-Iraty, you’ll meet famous goat guys like Crottin de Chavignol, Saint-Maur or Valençay, the creamy cow products Camembert de Normandie, Epoisses, Brie de Melun or Neufchâtel, the latter is a brilliant one from Normandy. We’ll cross the Pyrenees, the Alps, we’ll stroll along the banks of the Loire, the Rhône and the Seine, climb over hilltops in the Auvergne region, dug into caves in the Massif Central, we’ll bow to the king of blue kings, the one and only Roquefort, and, and, and. French cheese is not just a cliché. It’s a living, thriving universe, still there, and it’s worth exploring it.
Since I came to live in Paris seven years ago I’ve eaten every cheese I could get hold of and I read every book about the subject I found. When I think about it, I estimate that I’ve had around 200 varieties so far. When I go travelling in France, I put the famous cheese villages on my route and, so far, I’ve never been disappointed. Looking for cheese in France means exploring the soul of the nation. Every cheese here tells a story – of a village, a region, an era, a tradition, a specific culture. I’ll pass them on to you. Stay tuned!