French Cheese Course: Selection and Etiquette Tips

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French Cheese Course: Selection and Etiquette Tips
French Cheese Course: Selection and Etiquette Tips Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) wrote the most famous book about food ever published: The Physiology of Taste: Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy. In fact, it’s been in print ever since it was first published in 1825. Brillat-Savarin is considered the world’s foremost food writer and he said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” Brillat-Savarin’s comment about French cheese was even more to the point and far more evocative: “Un repas sans fromage est une belle à qui il manque un œil.” (“A meal without cheese is a beautiful woman with an eye missing.”) The latter remains a fair representation of how the French today feel about cheese in their diet. In June 1940 British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) said of France, “A country producing almost 360 different types of cheese cannot die.” What would Churchill say today about a country that now produces about 400 varieties of cheese, according to the Cheeses of France Marketing Council? It’s easy to see why travelers can be overwhelmed by a French cheese course, with its vast selection and associated etiquette. Basically, French cheese is classified in four categories: soft, semi-soft, hard and bleu. Their flavor values are described as mild, medium, strong, and bold. French cheese is made using milk from cows, sheep and goats. Here are some of the most popular and recognizable French cheeses, followed by etiquette tips to help when you face your first French cheese course. Soft cheeses       Brie, one of the world’s best-known cheeses, is considered the King of Cheeses. Camembert is arguably the quintessential French cheese, with a flavor a bit stronger than Brie. The next time you’re in a French grocery, you may spot les petites vieilles removing Camembert from its round wooden box in the refrigerated dairy section, then sniffing, prodding and thoroughly inspecting it before placing it into their basket or returning it to the shelf. Munster is a cow’s milk cheese with a highly aromatic rind from France’s eastern region of Vosges. Heart-shaped Neufchâtel is a soft and slightly crumbly cow’s milk cheese from Normandy that’s been used to make raviolis and French cheesecake with recipes that date back to the sixth century. Exceptionally creamy and from the Haute-Savoie Alps region, Reblochon has a strong, herbal fragrance with nutty trace. Try it melted on a baked potato. Semi-soft cheeses Port Salut, one of several semi-soft cheeses from the pays de la Loire, is a cow’s milk cheese with a bright orange rind and mild flavor. Raclette has a salty, nutty taste and a silky texture that makes it ideal for melting. It’s often served at parties and is a ski chalet traditional favorite. The grill is heated and guests put pre-sliced pieces of cheese into tiny individual irons placed on the grill. When the cheese is bubbling, a wooden spatula is used to scrape the cheese onto boiled potatoes, roasted root vegetables, ham and other cured meats, apples and other fruits. Hard cheeses Butterscotch is rumored to lightly dance on the palate when savoring a slice of the hard, sharp and nutty Mimolette from Lille. Its brilliant orange color is an eye catcher on any cheese platter. Emmental has a slightly salty taste Americans will recognize as “Swiss Cheese” perfect atop a sandwich or burger. It is made in both the Bourgogne (Burgundy) and Rhône-Alps regions. Comté has little holes called “eyes” and it’s served cubed, on a sandwich, melted in fondue, or grated and sprinkled on dishes. Les Bleus Les bleus can be for some the most affronting of cheeses. Be brave and try to ease into this smelly category with the least salty of all bleu cheeses, Saint Agur, which is more creamy than crumbly. The pungent Bleu d’Auvergne has a salty, spicy tang that’s ideal paired with apple slices or burgers. Roquefort, King of the Blues, is a Midi Pyrénées sheep’s cheese with blue mould veins. Roquefort crumbles, walnuts and figs commonly crown hearty salads. Chèvres Bûche, Bûcheron, Chabichou du Poitou, and Sainte-Maure are chèvres, white cheeses made with goat milk available in three of the four categories of firmness. Chèvres are easy to spot because of their shapes: pyramids, thick discs (think hockey pucks) or cylinders. The Loire Valley and Poitou-Charentes regions are the largest producers and some cheese producers today use recipes that date back to the eighth century. Young cheeses Fromage frais and fromage blanc are fresh or young cheeses. Fromage frais is a fresh creamy white cheese is made with whole or skim milk and cream, with the consistency of a cream cheese but with fewer calories and less cholesterol. Fromage blanc has the consistency of sour cream, but with a less tart flavor and, like its young cheese cousin, fewer calories and less…
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