The mere mention of French cheeses makes most people swoon with thoughts of indulging in creamy Brie, Roquefort, Camembert, flaky chèvre and aged Mimolette.
In the United States, cheese is served as a casual snack, or as something to munch on with wine. In France, it’s a much more serious affair; cheese is served at lunch or dinner as a formal course between the entree and dessert. There is very particular etiquette to eating and serving cheese in France, and without knowing the rules, one can easily offend a host or hostess or their guests. To save embarrassment when serving or eating cheese in France, here are a few recommendations.
- When serving cheese, always put out an odd numbered variety. Three or five cheeses are sufficient and well accepted. You should have at least one soft, one hard, and one blue cheese.
- Make sure soft cheeses are left out of the refrigerator for an ample amount of time so they can ripen and breathe properly before serving. Soft cheeses should be served at room temperature—ask your cheese seller how long each cheese should take to ripen.
- The proper order in which to eat cheese is to start with the mildest, say a Comté, followed by a medium strength like Camembert or goat cheese, followed by a strong, stinky cheese like Roquefort or Epoisses.
- One of the most important cheese rules is the cutting. Round, or wheel-shaped cheeses should be cut into triangular pie-like slices; logs like goat cheese are cut in even, parallel slices, into rounds; and rectangular cheeses should be cut into slices parallel to the rind.
- Cheese should be served with bread only, not crackers. Baguette is best, but sourdough or country bread will do.
- Red wine is usually served with cheese, but other wine may pair well too. Ask your cheese monger for wine pairing suggestions.
Now that you have your rules for cheese, your next question is probably which cheeses should I select? With over 350 types of cheese produced in France, the task of buying cheese can be daunting. You can never go wrong with classic cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, goat cheese, blue, and Comté, but each of these cheeses has hundreds of producers. The best recommendation when it comes to selecting cheese is to go to a small cheese shop and have a conversation with your cheese seller. They can be very patient and passionate about what they are selling, and will be happy to engage in a conversation. If you tell them what you are serving, they can recommend the right cheeses accompany your meal, tell you how to serve and store your cheese, and what wine is best to pair. Sometimes, they’ll even let you taste samples!
Every arrondissement in Paris has at least one high quality cheese shop. Here are a few of our favorites.
Fromagerie Laurent Dubois
Laurent Dubois’s three cheese shops, called Fromagerie Laurent Dubois, are among the best in Paris, winners of the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France, the top prize in France for cheesemongers. Not only does Laurent Dubois feature top quality French cheeses in his shops, but he also ages his cheeses in aging caves in the basement of his three shops, a process called affinage in French. Specialty cheeses include Brie with truffle, Neufchâtel from Normandy in a heart shape topped with cherries, and Roquefort with quince paste. The shop also stocks fresh organic eggs, handmade butter, and yogurt.
97-99 Rue Saint-Antoine, 75004
47 Ter Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75005
2 Rue de Lourmel, 75015
Taka and Vermo
Laure Taka and Matthieu Vermo are partners in business and in life. Both had careers in other fields before they quitting four years ago to pursue a more meaningful, passionate career together. Over a four-month period, Taka and Vermo drove more than 10,000 kilometers through Italy and France, visiting small, artisanal cheese makers—and tasting all along the way.
They opened their shop in 2015—the first cheese shop on the bustling rue Faubourg Saint Denis, a street busy market and café. Laure is half Japanese, and has incorporated Japanese flavors, like fiery Sansho Pepper and candied Yuzu (citrus fruit) into their cheese. Taka and Vermo also sells a selection of biodynamic wines and organic beer.
61 bis Rue de Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010
Beillevaire is a small, local chain of cheese shops in Paris. Not only does the shop carry excellent cheeses such as Saint Nectaire, Camembert from Normandy, Tomme Brûlée and Rocamadour, they also make their own delicious cheeses—and other dairy products, like hand-churned butter in flavors such as salted, pimento, vanilla, seaweed, and smoked.
Looking for the ultimate cheese experience in Paris?
AmericanConcierge offers privately guided Paris experiences by Americans living in Paris, for Americans visiting Paris. Debbi, a self-described foodie and 20-year resident of Paris, offers the unique opportunity to visit her favorite cheesemongers in Paris. This five-hour outing meets up at a cheese market, where you’ll choose six or so cheeses for a tasting lunch, which also includes fabulous breads from Desgranges, local charcuterie, a balancing salad, paired wines…and lively conversation about the history of French cheeses and the regions where they’re produced. You can find it – and other Paris experiences at www.AmericanConcierge.com.
Interested in taking the taste of Paris home? Many cheese shops in Paris will now vacuum pack your cheese for safe travel. It is legal to bring pasteurized cheeses (but not raw milk cheeses) to the United States after declaring them at customs. You may want to chance bringing home raw milk cheeses too, as they don’t always check, but beware, that’s at your own risk.