French Cheese has an image problem.
Let’s face it, the names are hard to pronounce, they’re not local (which is our eating focus of late), and they tend to be crabby about American cheeses using their names. The European Union doesn't want just anyone to use names like parmesan, asiago, feta, gruyere, gorgonzola, and romano among others that refer to European regions from which those cheeses originate, even though we've been doing that forever. To help this, the E.U. formed a marketing group called The Cheeses of Europe, which really should be called "The Cheeses of France" because that's what they are, and a PR person brought two reps for big French cheese companies to the Twin Cities to taste cheese with media.
This worked well for me.
And hopefully it will ultimately work well for you because, big shocker here, French cheese is delicious. In Minnesota and Wisconsin we make some pretty great cheese, cheese that is interesting and of the region and from our friends and neighbors. We've been doing it for a few generations. Pretty cool! But in France they've been perfecting their "cocktail" for four or five generations. The "cocktail" is the recipe of bacteria, yeast, and rennet—the stuff that causes the proteins to form a curd, and allows the liquid to run off as whey. (Cheese is pretty scientifically nerdy.) But after years and years and years of cheese making, it's consistent. It's exactly what the cheesemaker is looking for—every time.
So what did I love? The Bethmale (bet-MAHL) cheese from the Pyrenees has a buttery texture and ivory interior with holes in it, plus a wonderful orange rind. It's slightly sweet and earthy and simply amazing. Fomagerie Jean Faup (there's that fancy French stuff again) makes a Bethmale that dates to the 1700s. Cool, right?
The Bleu D'Auvergne from Paul Dischamp is a creamy, spicy, and salty blue cheese. The name isn't anything to be afraid of—it's named for the region, and it's name-protected. Just like Champagne is only from the Champagne region, bleu d'auvergne is from Auvergne, in South Central France.
I loved the Delice de Bourgogne from Lincet. It's so creamy, with a soft, thin bloomy rind and a super-smooth paste. It almost felt like sour cream it was so silky. This is a triple crème, full-fat cow’s milk cheese from Burgundy, and it is unapologetically rich.
And the Mimolette from Isigny Sainte Mere was glorious as France's answer to Gouda. In the 1600s the Dutch fought with Louis XIV and stopped shipments of Gouda to France. (Wouldn't it be interesting if withholding cheese was part of today's military negotiations?) The French didn't worry too much and created their own version, except they colored it orange. This hard cheese comes from the Northern part of France and has a nice nutty flavor.
The cheeses I tasted are widely available at area markets, groceries, and specialty stores. I am all about shopping and supporting local, but there's more to life than what we can grow and make within a 200-mile radius. So go ahead—buy some French cheese. I won't tell anyone.