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15 essential (but little known) French cheeses for Cheese Day

22 mayo, 2021

Asterix & Obélix, Auguste Rodin, Napoleon Bonaparte, Victor Hugo and Balzac, the motto “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” … the French contributions to the world are incalculable but his culinary contributions are not far behind.

France is the cradle of nouvelle cuisine, of the great priests of modern cuisine such as Paul Bocuse (may he rest in peace), of the dignity of wine -and champagne-, and, obviously, of our protagonists for Cheese Day.

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The French, God help us to classify them as chauvinists, they boast of having a cheese for each day of the year and, tasty, perhaps they are right, although it would be necessary to start cataloging how many are not versions or varieties that are very similar to each other.

What we do know is that this dairy derivative It is a sought-after product for which it is well worth immersing yourself in French culture and discover a peculiar Tour de France, although here the stages shotWe will make them with 15 iconic, tasty and well-known -or not so much- French cheeses.

French Cheeses

An industry that is national pride

To get an idea of ​​the importance of cheese in France, just take a look at their tables of products with Designation of Origin. There, with the latest data on the hand -those from 2018- we see that 50 dairy products (45 cheeses, 3 butters and two creams) have AOP (Apellation d’Origen Protégée), or what is the same, Protected Designation of Origin.

A figure that is equal to the rest of agri-food products with this seal, which are another total of 50. A powerful figure if we take into account that in it are vegetables, meats, fruits or oils. Far, very far, is the wine and the derivatives of the grape, of which they have more than 360 denominations of origin.

To give us an idea, marketing apart from the French advantage, It could be said that in Spain we only have 26 cheeses with PDO and we did not reach 100 DO of wine. With that said, let’s grab the knife and bread and eat France.

1. Reblochon

Photo 01 Reblochon Of Savoy

An alpine icon of the Haute savoie, made with raw cow’s milk from the Abondance, Tarine and Montbéliarde breeds, which owes its curious name (reblochon means in Savoyard something like re-milking) to a trick of the shepherds so as not to have to give all the milk of the cows as a religious tax. First, they milked the animal in the morning and gave that milk to the local monasteries. At night, they would go back to the barn and milk the animal again, obtaining a creamier milk and richer in cream, with which they made this cheese, since it is easier to preserve than fresh milk.

With the reblochon the famous tartiflette recipe is made

It is presented in kilo pieces, although you may find it in supermarkets with other smaller formats, and it is characterized by a soft orange layer. It is fresh, subtle and harmonious, intense flavor and smell of butter, and it can be refined (matured or aged in cheese slang) to make it more intense, but care must be taken, as there is a risk that its rind gives off ammonia odors.

With it the famous tartiflette recipe is made, a strong dish based on potato, onion, fresh cream, bacon and strips of this cheese, all melted in the oven. A feast for those who ask for a nap.

2. Morbier

Photo 02 Morbier

A curious story follows this raw cow’s milk cheese from Franche-Comté, a region in the east of the country, bordering Switzerland. It is characterized by having a thin black layer of ash that divides it in two and that, decades ago, it served so that the first part of the cheese did not get rind.

It was because, due to the ingratitude of the local climate, many shepherds could not fill the whole cheese mold with the morning milking, so they applied a thin layer of charcoal to block that bark and, later, finish filling the mold with the evening milking. Now, these requirements are no longer necessary but the detail has remained as a tribute to the fermiers (farmers) of the past.

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This cheese, in addition to very common for sandwichesIt is smooth and fruity, although it can be aged making it more powerful. It is cylindrical and of a size that we could consider large, since it usually weighs between 5 and 8 kilos, so the most normal thing is that we find it when cut. Its interior is creamy, with slight smells of cream and butter, since it is a pressed and uncooked cheese, which usually gives off subtle aromas of hay and stables. The most delicate palates should consume it fresh, since these smells multiply with the refining of the cheese but it is a perfect cheese to be dipped into relatively mild French raw milks.

3. Coeur de Neufchâtel

Photo 03 Coeur

Born as a romantic detail, this curious cheese will sound familiar to many because in its external appearance -beyond its shape- it bears similarities to Brie and Camembert, possibly two of the best-known cheeses in France. In fact, with Camembert shares department of origin, since they both come from Normandy.

The coeur de Neufchâtel owes its curious shape to the legend that says it was given as a symbol of love

It is a cheese made from raw cow’s milk (at least 65% must come from the Norman breed), made from unpressed, uncooked paste and with a moldy rind – that external texture that looks like very fine hairs – which owes its curious shape to historical legend (it is not clear whether medieval or modern history, during the 100 Years War), where French girls were supposed to give it away as a symbol of their love to English soldiers.

Myths aside, this medium format cheese (around 250 grams, although there are versions of up to 600 grams) has become a benchmark for Valentine’s gifts for obvious reasons and its flavor is not far behind. It is very smooth and creamy when fresh but, like all cheeses, it can be refined and aged, making it more intense and slightly spicy. Like morbier or reblochon, it is a good cheese to start with the less frequent French cheeses.

4. Mimolette

Photo 04 Mimolette

We are facing one of the rarities of French cheeses. Its history dates back to the middle of the seventeenth century, when Louis XIV took protectionist measures for French industry, preventing, among other things, the importation of Dutch cheeses such as Edam.

That is why, in Lille, a city in the north of the country, a cheesemaker decided to make a French Edam and add achiote to dye it and that it differed from its Dutch neighbor. This cheese, today made from pasteurized cow’s milk, which does not have AOC, thus became a best seller, which equally enchanted those who were looking for a young cheese – when it is freshly finished, just two months of maturation, it is fruity and light. – but also for lovers of aged cheeses.

5. Emmental de Savoie

Photo 05 Emmental

We could say that this cheese is a true “Hero of Silence”, because it lives between two lands. In origin, Emmental cheese is of Swiss origin and Alpine, but due to the mutual influence it has with France, it soon began to be produced in Savoy and Haute-Savoie as well, where it has a PGI.

He is also the culprit that much of the world thinks that Gruyère cheeses have holes -when it is not so- and that is mainly due to the fact that both are often used in fondue recipes in both countries, where this confusion comes from. Emmental is a raw cow’s milk cheese -of the same breeds as reblochon- but made of pressed and cooked paste and of enormous dimensions, generating wheels that exceed 70 kilos in weight.

Do you know why Emmental cheese has holes in it?

Its large size is also due to the inclement alpine climate, which they demanded large cheeses to be able to have them throughout the year. This is why its refining usually lasts between two and three months and that allows the cheese to remain open and in optimal conditions for a year.

Their eyes or holes, called trous in French, They are produced by the carbon dioxide that small bacteria generate inside. Its flavor, unlike other pressed paste cheeses (such as the Swiss appenzeller or the French comté), is fresh and light, the cheese is not allowed to mature beyond these three months.

6. Salers

Photo 06 Cantal Salers

We may be very used to seeing French blue or soft cheese, however, one of the great cheeses of France is Salers. Made with raw cow’s milk in Cantal, a small department in the center of the country, this pressed but uncooked pasta cheese is so important that even its production is listed as intangible heritage of France.

The production of Salers cheese is listed as Intangible Heritage of France

Its origin is in the transhumance of cattle of the Salers breed, now in disuse, although to obtain the Tradition Salers cheese (the premium of this production) you can only use milk from this cow, which grazed in the meadows and mountains of volcanic origins in the Auvergne area. The region, also famous for its hot springs, was the epicenter where these herds stayed in the so-called burons (mountain huts).

Currently, this journey is not necessary, the cheese is made by small producers who produce these huge wheels of cheese – around 40 kilos per unit – and that They offer a cheese with a thick rind and firm paste, with a certain graininess, and that fluctuates between ivory and yellow.. Its flavor is fruity, subtle, sometimes herbaceous, and has light hints of nuts and a hint of bitterness, highly contained by the lactic intensity of the cheese.

7. Episodes

Photo 06 Epoisses

We move on to the heavy artillery of French cow cheeses, which are the majority within the PDOs, and that owe this proliferation to the type of grazing of the neighboring country, in more humid areas and with more meadow than we could have in Spain.

This cheese of Burgundian origin, in the west of the country, is an example that we should not completely trust cheeses that seem soft if we are not quite sure what we are going to have. Usually made with raw cow’s milk -although there are also some pasteurized-, we are faced with a cheese made of non-pressed pasta but washed rind. It is first washed with salt, to remove the classic mold from these cheeses, and then with Marc de Bourgougne, a local brandy, which makes its flavor and aroma more intense.

It is a strong cheese, very powerful …