Understanding French Cheeses
If there is one group of people in this world who love their cheese, it’s the French. If you are new to French cuisine it may come as surprise that there are well over 400 varieties of French cheeses. They vary in color, texture and flavor and are made in different regions throughout France using milk from different farm animals. Many French cheeses are named after the areas they are produced. Some of the best known cheeses are Brie, Roquefort, Chevre, Munster, and Camembert.
In addition to the different areas the cheese is produced there are differences in the production techniques. Normal farm house production in which cheese is produced on the farms where the milk gets produced is called the Fremier variety of cheese. Artisanal cheese is produced using milk purchased from nearby areas using traditional methods. Cooperative cheese production is when local people or local dairy farms have joined together to produce their cheese as a unit.
Different kinds of milk will produce noticeable differences in flavor and texture in the cheese. Typically cow milk is the common choice for producing cheese. Langres which is a very soft variety, where the rind is not very thick. Typically eaten the year around, the best time is from March to December. The central part of the cheese is soft and the external rind is made from penicillium candidum.
Comte is a well known French cheese that gets its name from where it is made in the eastern regions of France known as Franche-Comte. This is the most produced cheese in France and has an annual production of more than 40 Kilo tones. Usually made in copper vats the production technique still in use is since the 12th century AD. The cheese is made in circular discs and has a creamy center with a light brown rind. The cheese is mainly made from unpasteurized cow milk and the texture is very creamy.
In addition to cow milk there quite a few cheeses made with milk from sheep. Ossau-iraty is one such variety which is made from Sheep milk. The production happens mainly in the south west of France known as the northern Basque Country and the Bearn regions. Ossau-iraty is one of the two varieties of sheep milk cheese made in France. It is made without the application of heat and mainly done using pressing.
Banon is a variety of French cheese that comes from mostly goat milk but also contains a small amount of cow milk. Produced in the town of Banon in south east France, it comes in smaller packages and has a strong taste.
Charouce is another French cheese that is not as well known as others and also gets its name from the village where it is produced in the Champagne region and is similar in taste to Camembert. The center of the cheese is light creamy and the rind is made form penicillium candidum.
Don’t take my word for it. Taste for yourself. The best way to learn more about French Cheeses is to attend a tasting at your local gourmet food store.