19 July 2011

Trois fromages typiquement français

If you could find and have only three French cheeses to serve as part of a meal, these three might be the ones you'd want. One comes from Normandy, one from the Loire Valley, and one from the Auvergne region. Two are made with cow's milk, and one with goat's milk. Two are made with "raw" — unpasteurized — milk, and one with pasteurized milk.

These three cheeses would make a perfectly nice
cheese course for a good French lunch or dinner.

For some reason, North Americans are more likely to be familiar with Brie cheese than with Camembert. Maybe it's because the two cheeses resemble each other so much, and Brie is an easier word to pronounce. However, Camembert is the quintessential soft French cheese. It's made in Normandy, while Brie is made in the eastern part of the Paris region. Camembert is a village in central lower Normandy.

This Camembert cheese is made with raw cow's milk that's curdled
and then ladled into a form for the ripening process.
As served, it contains about 20% milk fat.

Actually, Brie has a longer tradition, and it was probably to imitate Brie-style cheese that the first Camembert cheeses were made just over 200 years ago. Camembert is made all over the world now, but the authentic ones come from the area around the village in Normandy. Camembert cheese has a higher rind-to-cheese ratio than Brie, which is made in much larger wheels. You can eat the crust or not, as you please.

The goat cheese here comes from an area about 150 miles south of Camembert, in what is loosely known as the Loire Valley (Selles is actually on the Cher River, not the Loire). The land in rainy Normandy is given over to cattle grazing and apple orchards. The land in the drier, warmer Loire Valley is given over to growing vegetables for the table and grapes to make wine. There's not much room for cows.

This Selles-sur-Cher goat cheese is an A.O.C. product, which
tells you that it is made under strictly regulated conditions
in a specific region of France. The label says that it's
farm-made (fermier) using raw goat's milk.

Instead, people in the Loire and Cher valleys raise goats and make cheese from their milk. The goat cheese from Selles-sur-Cher, about 10 miles east of Saint-Aignan, is one of the three most famous Loire Valley cheeses (along with the pyramidal Valençay variety and the log-shaped Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine). Goat cheeses here are often coated in a thin layer of wood ash and salt, which gives them extra flavor. You eat the crust because it's good. The cheeses are mild and not often "goaty-tasting."

Finally, Cantal cheese is made in the Cantal region of Auvergne, another couple of hundred miles south. I've read that Cantal was already being made in Roman times. The cheese can be made with raw or pasteurized milk, and it is made year-round. One variety of Cantal cheese is called Salers, after one of the main towns of the region, and the cheeses called Salers are made only with raw cow's milk and during the summer when the cows are grazing in the green fields, not being fed on hay in a barn.

Cantal Entre-Deux A.O.C. can be pasteurized or not, and it can be made
made year-round. But it can only be made with milk from cows
that have grazed in a specific part of the Auvergne region.

Cantal is not a soft, runny cheese like Camembert. It's firmer, and it's marketed at several stages of ripeness. The youngest, softest Cantal is called tomme fraîche and is mostly used in cooking, melted. Then there's Cantal Jeune — young, tender, and mild — and there's Cantal Vieux — aged, drier, sharper cheese. In between the two, there's the Cantal called Entre-Deux — between the two, as I said — which has more flavor than Cantal Jeune but is still fairly mild.

None of these cheeses contains any fillers, gums, added sugars, hormones, enzymes, or other "introduced" ingredients. They are made from pure milk that has been curdled and then allowed to ferment naturally. The cultures in the cheese — fungi, actually — are tiny "mushrooms" that normally occur naturally in the air in the regions where the cheeses are produced. All three cheeses list milk, rennet (a natural curdling agent), salt, and cheese cultures as their only ingredients — except for the wood-ash coating on the goat cheese.


  1. yum,yum! Nothing beats the real thing. Just like proper Dutch farmhouse Gouda tastes far far better & completly different to the supermarket stuff.

  2. Unpasteurised cheese, locally made or imported, was banned in Australia. I think last year the laws were changed after some significant agitation.

  3. Wonderful post, Ken. Our
    local market has a pretty
    good selection of imported
    cheeses, and they even have
    Cantal on occasion. Am always
    annoyed at the prices, though.
    Most of it's tariffs, I guess.

  4. This is cool info to know about the different levels of Cantal. I always learn something interesting from you, Ken :)

    Every time that you mention cheeses from Salers, I think of your trip there, and the several posts you made about it.


  5. one little piece of each please :-)

    Now I am dreaming of a good "toast au chèvre chaud"

  6. i'm swooning with cheese-envy! good thing i have a fresh neufchatel aging right now (thanks to my goats of course!). i thought of you today - i checked my okra and its coming right along. we're having extremely hot weather - 100* and hotter! and very swampy, the humidity is crippling. but i've discovered mint juleps - so i'm doing just fine.

  7. Loved this post. Do you deliver?

  8. Jean and I are making a tartiflette tomorrow.
    Today, we went to Whole Foods to buy the cheese and learned that raw-milk Reblochon is no longer available in America due to U.S. laws concerning the pasteurization of cheese.
    Ironic that Louis Pasteur's work in the 19th Century now prevents us in the U.S. (and many other countries) from enjoying French cheese in its purest form.
    C'est décevant.

  9. Now I'm going shopping! My cheese platter is calling. We are able to get good French cheese here in Australia through only one or two directly licensed importers.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?