It’s Christmas time so let’s talk French Cheeses
As another year comes to end, and what a great year it was here at the Gascony Cookery School, it’s time to really indulge in what most of us love, and that’s food and drink. When you constantly work with food and those that love to cook and indulge perhaps more than some, it’s very easy to become quite a food snob.
Great food is at the heart of what we do here at the Gascony Cookery School and if you have attended our French cookery courses you will know that we use fantastic fresh and local ingredients to create amazing French local dishes. We are completely spoilt when it comes to not only base ingredients and we are completely immersed in food heaven when it comes to cheese or should I say “Fromage”?
Now it often confuses some when we do the cheese thing before the dessert, most consider the cheese to be at the end of the meal but here in France la fromage holds a much higher standing in the dining experience. Cheese is not only a huge ingredient in many great dishes but is held in esteem in its own right.
Great Cheeses of France
There many to talk about and enjoy but here are five great cheeses that set France apart from many of the world cheeses now available. These are traditional, steeped in history and must be tried at least once in your lifetime of cheese indulgence.
The Bleu d’Auvergne is a cow milk blue-veined cheese, it’s closely related to Roquefort which made from ewe milk. It was the creation of Antoine Roussel who was seeking a cheese with a bluestain which he felt created a perfumed and enjoyable taste.
He developed what he was looking for and after much experimenting, he hit upon a recipe based upon rye bread, mould and manmade holes and this famous cheese was born.
Cantal or “Fourme de Cantal”
Cantal is one of the oldest cheeses in history. This cheese can be a huge 45kg in weight, it’s size leads to it being used as a means of food storage! This cheese is aged for a minimum of 30 days, although it can be up to 45kg in weight you will find it usually around the 15 – 20kg and Cantalets, yes it has babies of around 10 to 8kgs. The bigger the Cantal the longer the ageing process. If you want to try a truly French Cheese, then this is the cheese for you.
This is truly a piece of French history in the eating. Reblochon appeared in the XIIIth century, in the Thones Valley, Haute-Savoie. In a time when farmers were not land owners and they had to pay for their use of the land based on the quantity of milk they produced they had to be inventive with their milk production. This led to what was know as “Rebloche” and in local dialect that meant; pinching the cow udder twice. What this created was a creamy milk and it was perfect for cheese and it avoided the payments on milk production. Thus, the Reblochon cheese production started, with ageing of around 4 – 5 weeks, it was a fairly quick product to take to market.
We have the monks to thank for the cheese they call Epoisses. This is truly the star of the Burgundy region and was born in the XVIth century. The monks settled in the village of Epoisses, and before leaving they gave the recipe to the peasants of the village. This cheese again is steeped in history and true sense of French tradition. It even appeared at Napoleon’s table and was eaten in the court of Louis XIV. Epoisses is a soft, rind-washed cheese. It was stated as being the “King of Cheeses” in the XIXth century but there was a decline in popularity after the First World War. This was to change again in the 1950’s when the cheese was rediscovered by Simone and Robert Berhaut and it’s now a popular cheese once more.
Bouton de Culotte
Let’s talk goats’ cheese now. This soft cheese with its bloomy rind comes from Maconnais and Haut-Beaujolais. Again, we have history in the cheese mix and this cheese was born of the goat herds that were in the region. It’s a small cheese in comparison with many when it comes to actual individual cheese size. In fact, it owes it name Bouton de Coulotte due to its little size. It’s usually shaped too, some say like a trouser button. This cheese can age in 14 days but for those that like its more peppery taste, then you have to wait around 2 months.
We have only touched the outer layer of French cheeses here in this short article on French cheeses. You can experience many great cheeses when in France, you will not only saviour the taste of many diverse cheeses, but you will see why the French take cheese so seriously and its more than a dessert or end of meal option.
Here at the Gascony Cookery School we not only love cheese, but we will share with you how cheese is so important to French dining experience. When visiting local French markets in Gascony you will see on display an amazing range of French cheeses.
The Gascony Cookery School is more than just French Cooking Classes, it’s about immersing yourself in the French lifestyle, a very unique lifestyle in the Gascony region and the village where we are of Gramont.
David, Vikki & Bernard