Cheese, Fromage, Formaggio
Cheese, fromage in French, formaggio in Italiano, queso in Spanish; a single word that brings me to the doors of luxurious and sensuous pleasure with the memories of pungent sharp flavours slowly melting in my mouth.
Cheese might be made from one main ingredient and yet the variations found are almost endless. Each country has their speciality and what is considered a delicacy in some places may not even be touched in others. A French proverb says that there is a different French cheese for every day of the year.
A Tortuous Romance
I must admit that my love affair with cheese only started a few years ago. The first time I landed in Spain and tasted a tapa of "Queso Manchego", washed down with a glass of Rioja, I was doomed to a tortuous romance.
I write tortuous because my hunger for cheese has taken me to some extreme situations like travelling all the way from central Spain to Central France holding my big "cake of Manchego" cheese outside the window because no one in the car could stand the smell.
Other times, the search for cheese has taken me to discover some new towns in the middle of nowhere; like the day we drove to Fromental just because I liked the name, a mixture of fromage and Emmental which worked up my wildest fantasies about cheese. I could see myself in a small village made of cheese, small cheese sticks growing from trees, lakes of melted yellow thickly Emmental, slices of thin Emmental covering roofs... Unfortunately that day we did not find any cheese but at least my husband -a history enthusiast- discovered a Dolmen and the children were happy to find a new mediaeval looking castle in Fromental.
Other times we just landed in the right place, like when we went to South Italy and found that our rented flat in Scalea was next to a Mozzarella "factory".
Visiting la Maison du Fromage in Limoges, France
Wine and Cheese
In France, it is said that there is a wine to go with every cheese. For example, a Camembert and a Maroilles are two cheeses that are better tasted with a dry white wine like a dry Muscadet from the Loire valley, a dry Pouilly Fumé or a Sancerre. If you prefer to have your cheese with a red wine, then a red Chinon is best to bring up the taste of a Camembert and a Maroilles. .
Max McCalman talks about pairing Wine and Cheese of France.
A Guide to Cheese
Loosely, cheese can be categorized under two main groups:
- Fresh, i.e. Non-fermented. Made out at low temperature, coagulation takes several days. Generally the water is separated out by suspending the cheese-to-be in linen cloths. The cheese is acid in flavour because the lactic acid has not been fermented.
- Fermented. Here there are several varieties:
- Hard pressed like English Cheddar and French Cantal.
- Hard pressed "cooked" like the Italian Parmesan or the Swiss Gruyere.
- Soft cheese where the flavour comes from mould. For example, the French Brie and Camembert whose maturing occurs over about a month and the flavour comes from the penicillium mould. With stronger cheeses like the Maroilles, the maturing takes longer and the penicillium seems to be washed off to be replaced by another bacterial growth which tends to give off an ammonia smell.
- Blue-veined cheese. Here the penicillium produces a blue mould which is put into the cheese during the maturing process.
My Favourite Cheeses
A Few Of My favourite Cheeses In Alphabetical Order
Beaufort: (France). A hard and sharp in flavour cheese made from cow's milk between June and September in the Jura and Savoy mountains of France.
Bleu d'Auvergne: (France) Manufactured with cow's milk in the South of Clermont Ferrand, it was intended to copy Roquefort. It is a rich cheese -less piquant than a Roquefort- with a 45% fat content. Blue D'Auvergne has a strong, pungent flavour, but is milder, creamier, more subtle, less salty and buttery than other blue cheeses.
Bleu de Bresse (France) a rich imitation of the Italian Gorgonzola.
Brie (France). A soft-paste cheese made in the French department of Seine-et-Marne. Three different varieties are named after Melun, Coulommiers and Meaux. Made with cow's milk, its fat content is about 45%. I prefer the unpasteurized version of Brie as I find it richer and ten times more delicious than the pasteurised version, but in some places like USA and Australia that is against the law and they only sell the pasteurised brie.
Burgos (Spain) A very popular soft cheese named after the province of Burgos. It can be eaten salted or sweetened with honey. I have tried this one cut in small cubes seasoned with honey and cinnamon stirred with small apple cubes, a delicious snack or dessert.
Camembert (France). With a minimum fat content of 45%, the Camembert is best enjoyed from June to September. This cheese is sprayed with a white fungus called Penicillium Candidium. Aged and eaten at room temperature it achieves a thickish fluid texture
Cheshire (Great Britain) Also known as Chester. Salt plays an important factor in the making of this cheese. The town where it comes from is near a salt-mining town and the saltiness of the surrounding pastures contribute to the delicious flavour of a Cheshire.
Emmenthal (Switzerland). Gets its name from the Emmenthal Valley. One of the most popular chesses in France, it is difficult to make as three different types of bacteria are used to form the holes. The minimum fat content must be 45%.
Feta (Greece). A soft cheese with a strong flavour and usually very salty. Made from ewe's milk. It should be eaten soon after making as it does not keep very well. Feta made from pasteurized milk keeps longer but it is less tasty.
Géromé (France). One of the most ancient cheeses in France. Similar to the Munster, but often flavoured with aniseed, its production is dying out.
Manchego (Spain). Made from ewe's milk, its fat content varies between 57 and 62%. An exceptionally delicious hard cheese made in the vast plateau of La Mancha.
Maroilles (France) Made in the north of France. It gets its name from the Abbey of Maroilles, built in the 17th century. Best from May to June and September to October it is made in both pasteurised and unpasteurized forms
Mozzarella (Italy) Originally a Neapolitan cheese made from Buffalo's milk but now made all over Italy with cow's milk.
Parmesan (Italy) Several types are made depending on the region in Italy. The best is claimed to be the one made in Parma. The process of maturing takes between 2 and 3 years, the older the cheese the better its taste. Vecchio (old) has been matured for two years and the extra vecchio (extra old) has been matured for three years. There is also an extravecchione which has been matured for four years. Used for grating and cooking, Parmesan is made from April to November.
Petit Suisse (France) Dates back to 1850, it is one of the most soft and creamy cheeses. Eaten with fine sugar, and fruits it is a favourite and healthy children's dessert.
Ricotta (Italy) Best eaten fresh when it resembles a cottage cream cheese. Used for stuffing cannelloni but also eaten with sugar and in tarts.
Roquefort (France). Made with ewe's milk. A very good source of fat, proteins and minerals. First the milk is heated and then set, after a coagulation period of two hours the curd is transferred onto a cloth to drain. A dry blue mould -Penicillium Roqueforti- is sprinkled to give the veins. The ripening takes place in natural caves where humidity is high. There are similar cheeses produced elsewhere, but European law dictates that only those cheeses aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon can be called Roquefort, as it is a cheese with a protected designation of origin. Very creamy, salty and pungent it is considered the king of cheese.
Valencay (France) Made in pyramid shape from goat's milk in the Indre department. It goes very well with a Valençay wine.
With A History Dating Back To Roman Times, The Inestimable Roquefort Is The Most Popular Blue Cheese In France
How To Eat Your Cheese?
- There is an order to eat the cheese presented to you in a way that you taste the weaker and softer cheeses before the stronger ones. For this, it is important that you recognize what cheese is presented to you so you can prejudge its strength. Still, sometimes nothing can warn you about an innocent looking slice of cheese. I still remember a blue de Auvergne de chevre that I tried at a local festival in France. Usually, the blue de Auvergne is made of cow's milk and it is quite a mild blue cheese. However, the one made of goat milk -rarely made- is so strong that it left my tongue tingling and made it useless trying to taste anything at all for a good half hour!
- There is also a best time of the year for each cheese. Take for example Blue cheeses, like a Danish Blue, Roquefort, Stilton or Bleu de Auvergne; they are better eaten in winter along with a Tawny Port; a medium sweet sherry or a Burgundy wine.
Before coming to France, I had never eaten a blue or green cheese. In Peru where I grew up, we consumed mainly fresh cheese -goat's or cow's- and Edam. I do not remember seeing blue cheese when I grew up. Maybe there was some, but my family never bought it. I think we are not used to either the flavour or the sight of blue cheese. That is why when my grandmother came to visit me in France and opened my cheese larder she was horrified with the smell and the sight. She even took all the mould off my cheeses thinking that they had gone off!
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Cheeses in France
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