As we all know, the French love their cheese. I love their cheese. I love them for loving their cheese. And frankly, sampling oozing, raw-milk French cheese is one of the best parts of visiting the country, at least for this fromage-o-phile.
I have worked as an au pair for a French family for past three summers so hopefully I have learned a bit about cheese by now.
Here are my tips for buying, storing and serving French cheese properly.
Where to buy French cheese:
Buy cheese at the fromagerie (cheese shop).
You're never going to find fantastic cheese at Carrefour, so head over to the fromagerie. Most cheesemongers are knowledgeable, friendly and more than happy to recommend you some great choices.
Which French cheeses to buy:
Buy artisanal cheese.
Industrially made cheeses are never as good as artisanal cheeses.
Okay, except for maybe Merkts cheese spread. But seriously, mass-produced cheese will just never have the same flavor or integrity as cheese produced in small capacity.
For example, many industrially produced blue cheeses are injected with penicillium (a bacteria related to penicillin) to speed up production and produce the characteristic blue or green veins. That's just depressing.
Buy cheeses that make sense together.
An ideal cheese platter has between three and five cheeses which possess a variety of flavors and textures.
The cheese platter pictured below is a good example of that. The soft, creamy brie de meaux matches up nicely with the nutty slab of comté, which both work well with the dryer, more intensely flavored aged goat cheese.
When in doubt, buy a runny cheese (brie or camembert), a goat cheese (valencay or Sainte-Maure), and a hard cow milk cheese (comté).
From left to right: aged goat, brie de meaux and comté.
How to serve French cheese:
Serve it room-temperature.
Cheese will have its best flavor, aroma and texture when it has reached room temperature. Make sure to take the cheese out of the fridge a few hours before the party.
Serve the cheese after the main course.
The order of the meal in France is as follows: main course, cheese course and then fruit or dessert to finish. Bring the cheese out on a platter with a fresh knife for each guest, and some bread, wine or jams to accompany if you wish.
Work from the blandest cheese to most flavorful.
If you first eat the cheese with the most powerful flavor (roquefort, for example), you will blow out your palate and be unable to taste the subtle flavors of the blander cheeses.
Don't spread the cheese too much.
If you are eating Laughing Cow, do whatever you want. But if you are eating a nice cheese and want to have it with bread, be gentle.
How to store French cheese:
Don't wrap it in plastic.
Wrap the cheese in the wax paper they give you at the fromagerie, not in plastic wrap. Plastic wrap doesn't allows the cheese to sweat.