French Cheeses – France
If anyone asks you to hazard a guess as to how many different cheeses there are in France, the safest response should be “a lot!”. Figures quoted range from 300 to 1,000, which makes France the cheese capital of the world. De Gaulle was quoted in Newsweek in 1962 to have lamented “How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?” Well, Monsieur De Gaulle must be very relieved that he is not governing France today!
I used to think that I’ve seen a lot of different cheeses at our specialty store however when you walk through any of the local districts or villages in France during market days, the range of cheeses is just astounding. The locals know their cheeses so well and a consultation and serious discussion usually takes place before a purchase is made. It’s impressive to observe how seriously they take their food and the pleasures that are derived from tastes and flavours rather than merely demolishing quantities of food for sustenance.
When the cheese tray is brought out in a restaurant, the cheese waiter, almost the equivalent of a sommelier, will ask you a few questions about the types and strength of cheese you prefer and then recommend a few cheeses for you, and you have to eat the cheese in a certain order – somewhat like a vertical tasting in wine. Again, we were so impressed at their skill and knowledge.
Well, back home where our range now seemed to have shrunk by comparison to what we experienced in France, I have a few favourites, one of these being Roquefort, which is probably one the world’s greatest blue cheese. Stilton and Goganzola lovers may beg to differ. It is produced entirely from the milk of ewes and the ripening of the cheese takes place in the natural damp, aired caves found under the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Apparently a similar cheese to Roquefort existed in Roman times, and was mentioned by Plinius in the year 79 . In 1411, Karl VI allowed the inhabitants of Roquefort to have the monopoly for ripening this cheese in their caves, thus the current practice.
Roquefort was one of the first French cheeses to receive the AOC seal in 1925.