By Catherine Rush Thompson
By some estimates, there are more than 1,800 different types of cheese in the world and as many as 1,000 varieties that are produced in France. It is thought that the Romans introduced the first cheese into France and the French monasteries experimented and developed some of the earliest French cheese varieties. Let us explore and celebrate some of the popular French cheeses now available in the United States!
THE HEALTH RISKS AND BENEFITS OF EATING FRENCH CHEESE
Over 96% of French people love to eat cheese; many do so on a daily basis. This love of cheese is deeply rooted in their culture. However, cheese is not for everyone. Some people are allergic to a protein in cheese called casein. An allergic reaction to this substance can cause inflammation throughout the body, rashes, acne, headaches, and sinus congestion. Also, lactose is a sugar that naturally occurs in cheese and can also trigger a reaction in people who are lactose intolerant. Symptoms of lactose intolerance can include bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea.
Cheese is considered a healthy, calorie dense, whole food, if eaten in moderation. Surprisingly, French people have low rates of heart disease despite their affinity to cheese and other saturated fat-rich food. Researchers hypothesize that eating 2 ounces of cheese daily could lower the risk of heart disease by 18% and as little as ½ ounce of cheese could cut stroke risk by 13%. According to Healthline, cheese is an excellent source of calcium, fat, and protein and contains vitamins A and B-12, zinc, phosphorus, and riboflavin. In addition to being nutritious, it can help protect your teeth from cavities, reduce your risk of diabetes, improve your good cholesterol, increase bone strength, boost muscle strength, and extend your lifespan. It was rumored that Molière regularly consumed cheese and port wine, believing that it was good for his health; however, he collapsed on stage in a tubercular coughing fit and died shortly after at the age of 51. Unfortunately for Moliere, cheese is not known to reduce the risk of tuberculosis.
THE BEST TIME TO EAT FRENCH CHEESE
The French view cheese as a rich food and eat it in moderation at the end of their meal to avoid spoiling their appetite and to aid in digestion. Perhaps this may explain the “French Paradox” concept formulated by epidemiologists in the 1980s. Researchers observed the low coronary heart disease death rates in French people despite high intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. More recent studies suggest that regular consumption of wine may be a primary contributor to a low mortality rate specifically from cardiovascular diseases. Perhaps eating French cheese with wine after dinner is a healthier option.
PAIRING WINE WITH FRENCH CHEESE
There is another good reason to pair wine and cheese. Researchers found that red wine and cheese, when consumed responsibly, both seemed to be protective against deteriorating memory and other thinking skills.
There are a few basic guidelines for matching a wide range of wines with any cheese. Generally, red wines go best with most cheeses and dry white wines go well with milder cheeses. Sweet white wines do not go well with cheese unless used as a sweet and sour combination. Overall, it is a matter of individual choice.
TYPES OF FRENCH CHEESES
The different tastes of French cheeses relate to the soil and climate of various French regions, as well as the flavor of milk from the cows, sheep (ewes), and goats used to produce iconic French cheeses. In addition to their location, French cheeses are distinguished by how they are produced, yielding distinctive textures and tastes:
WHERE TO SHOP FOR FRENCH CHEESES
Availability of all the various French cheeses may be limited, though several stores in Kansas City have a good selection from which to choose popular options, including:
The Better Cheddar - http://www.thebettercheddar.com/
French Market - https://frenchmarketkc.com/
Grocery stores with delis featuring specialty cheeses
French cheeses can also be purchased online from multiple vendors, including:
POPULAR CHEESES TO EXPLORE
The ranking of French cheeses varies, so the following is a compilation from multiple lists of favorite cheeses with their descriptions by experts. These cheeses are listed in order of their popularity; however, tastes in French cheeses vary. They are all worth a try.
#1 Brie de Meaux is a soft French cheese made from cow's milk that is known as the "cheese of royalty". "The flavor of brie is rich, buttery, fruity, and increasingly earthy with age. It has a runny, creamy texture and a strong earthy aroma." Nearly a dozen different cheeses boast Brie as part of their names, but Brie de Meaux, is by far the most famous.
#2 Camembert de Normandie, Normandy's most famous and iconic cheese, is made from raw cow's milk. "The flavor profiles of brie and camembert are quite similar. Both are typically described as tasting earthy, nutty, fruity, grassy, and even mushroomy. The variations in taste are subtle, but brie is milder with a creamy, buttery taste, while Camembert has a deeper, more earthy and intense flavor and aroma."
#3 Roquefort, a favorite of kings and popes, is one of the greatest cheeses of France. This cheese is made from full-fat, unpasteurized sheep's milk and has blue veins dispersed throughout its body. "Roquefort has a moist rind on the exterior, while on the inside it is crumbly in texture and creamy, tangy, intense, complex, sharp, and salty in terms of flavor, with a white paste marbled with blue mold."
#4 Reblochon is a semi-hard, pressed cheese, made from unpasteurized cow's milk. "Reblochon has a yellow to orange edible rind with an interior cheese has a lingering nutty and slightly fruity flavor."
#5 Comté is a big, hard cheese made from unpasteurized cow's milk, with at least 45% fat and a pressed, cooked paste. "Each cheese wheel is unique with numerous taste varieties that can range from milky, spicy, roasted to fruity, buttery or plant-like due to the fact the milk it is made from must be used immediately. Regularly dubbed France's favorite cheese, Comté is a pressed cheese from Franche-Comté, near France's border with Switzerland. The Alpine region where it's produced is home to more than 100 small cooperatives known as fruitières that manufacture these massive wheels of cheese."
#6 Fromage blanc is a French fresh cheese made from cow's milk and its texture is soft, creamy, and spreadable. "The aromas are fresh, while the flavors are mild, smooth, and citrusy. Cream is often added to fromage blanc in order to enrich its flavors. It is recommended to serve fromage blanc as a dessert with fruit or jams, flavor it with herbs, use it as a pastry filling, or spread it on bread."
#7 Fromage frais is a "French fresh cheese made from whole or skimmed cow's, goat's, or sheep's milk which is sometimes enriched with the addition of cream. Its texture is smooth and creamy. In flavor, it is similar to cream cheese (milky, tangy, acidic, smooth), but fromage frais is much lower in fat. It is important not to confuse it with fromage blanc, which doesn't contain live cultures, while fromage frais does. The cheese is often used as an accompaniment to caviar, but it can also be enriched with fruit or honey. It pairs well with sparkling white wines and fortified wines."
#8 Chaumes is a "French soft or semi-soft cheese made from cow’s milk. Its rind is washed, and its color is pale yellow. The cheese has a strong aroma, a supple, creamy, springy, and smooth texture, and a complex, nutty flavor. It can be grilled or consumed with French bread. There is also a spreadable version of this cheese, known as chaumes la crème."
#9 Beaufort is a hard cheese made from the raw milk of Tarentaise cattle. "Beaufort also has a very distinct aroma, sometime described as strong or mildly pungent. Beaufort is commonly used to make fondue because it melts easily."
#10 Fourme d'Ambert is "a tall, round, blue cheese that is unpressed and uncooked, with a high fat content (50%). It is made from pasteurized or raw cow's milk and it is one of the oldest cheeses in France. On the exterior it has a dry gray moldy rind, while on the interior it is creamy white with green or blue veins dispersed throughout the body. The flavor is delicate and mild with a velvety mouthfeel, with earthy, mushroomy, sweet, and creamy notes."
#11 Maroilles was invented by a monk at the Abbey of Maroilles in the 10th century. He was trying to invent a bacon-flavored cheese that he could enjoy on fasting days when meat was forbidden by the Catholic Church. "Maroilles has a powerful, pungent aroma suggestive of fermenting fruit, walnuts, mushrooms, and smoky bacon."
#12 Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine is a Loire Valley goat cheese produced near the city of Tours. It can be easily recognized by its long form and small log-like shape. "The cheese has a walnut aroma and a slightly salty but nutty taste."
#13 Epoisses is a "soft cheese boasting a funky and pungent aroma, produced near Dijou, France. Like other washed-rind cheeses, Époisses smells stronger than it tastes; its flavors are garlicky, fruity, and mushroomy."
#14 Brocciu is a fresh, lactose-free cottage cheese with a very distinctive sweet flavor. "One of the best-known cheeses from Napoleon's home island of Corsica, brocciu is a soft, creamy, sheep's-milk cheese. The cheese is mild enough to be enjoyed in either savory or sweet preparations; a brocciu cheesecake is a true delight."
#15 Mimolette is "a bright-orange cheese from Northern France. Aged Mimolette is often described as a sharp but mild cheese that is intensely fruity and nutty, with subtle notes of caramel. Except that it's vibrant orange, Mimolette is similar to parmesan—and can be used similarly."
#16 Cantal is "a hard cheese with a flavor reminiscent of cheddar cheese and a strong, tangy butter taste that grows with age. A well-ripened Cantal has a vigorous nutty and tangy taste, while a young cheese has a hint of sweet and buttery taste of raw milk."
#17 Bleu d'Auvergne "has a strong and pungent taste, but to a lesser extent than other blue cheeses; it is less salted, with a creamier and more buttery taste and a moister texture."
#18 Pont l'Evèque "has a slightly sour flavor that is similar to Camembert but is a bit milder. Pont l'Évêque may well be the oldest Normandy cheese still being made today."
#19 Boursin is "a soft cheese flavored with garlic and herbs, somewhat similar to cream cheese. The first Boursin flavor, Garlic and Fine Herbs, was created in 1957 by François Boursin, a cheese maker from Normandy."
#20 La Tartuffe is "a custom-made cheese layered with truffles that you will only find at the Laurent Dubois fromageries in France. The name is a nod to Molière, incorporating a play on words, as the French word for truffles is "truffes" (TROOF)."
As you explore French cheeses, consider taking notes about those you like the best along with your favorite wine pairings. If you have others you would like to add to this list, please comment below!
A Guide to French Cheese. https://about-france.com/cheese.htm
All You Need to Know About the Magnificent Parmesan Cheese. https://delishably.com/dairy/Magnificent-Parmesan-Cheese
Eating Well: 5 Reasons Cheese Is Actually Good for Your Health. https://www.eatingwell.com/article/289455/5-reasons-cheese-is-actually-good-for-your-health/
Healthline: Is Cheese Bad for You? https://www.healthline.com/health/is-cheese-bad-for-you#takeaway
How Many French Cheeses Are There? https://www.lefoodist.com/guides/cooking-classes-paris/cookingparis62.html
How To Guide: French Cheese: Love It Or Hate It, But Never Forget It! https://howtoguide.org/french-cheese-love-hate-never-forget/
Study finds wine and cheese may help keep your mind sharp.https://www.today.com/health/wine-cheese-may-help-prevent-cognitive-decline-today-t204312
The Foodie - http://www.theoldfoodie.com/2008/01/living-on-parmesan.html
The French Paradox and Wine Drinking. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9949795/
Types of French Cheese. https://about-france.com/cheese.htm
Types of Cheese from France: http://www.eattheglobe.com/story/types-of-cheese-from-france-478
WebMD. Cheddar cheese: Are there health benefits? https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-cheddar-cheese#2
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