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Quick Guide to Famous French Cheeses

Melanie has been interested in cultures, languages, and travel since her youth. She also runs a YouTube channel: The Curious Coder.

Tomme de Savoie, with its nutty flavor, is used in many French recipes.

Tomme de Savoie, with its nutty flavor, is used in many French recipes.

Many countries are known for their great cheeses, but France is especially known for having cheeses with exceptional flavor and texture.

If you're looking to try French cheeses, you may have found that it's easy to get lost in all the terminology. This guide was written to help you so you won't be at a loss when standing in front of rows of cheese at a fromagerie (that's French for a store that sells cheese). Feel knowledgable and choose exactly the cheese what you want!

Not sure what kind of cheese you like? Whether you crave something mild, medium, strong, piquant, or sharp, there is a cheese that will fit your particular tastes.

Brie is an extremely popular French cheese that is often used as a "stuffing" for savory pastries.

Brie is an extremely popular French cheese that is often used as a "stuffing" for savory pastries.

Camembert and Brie

Although Brie and Camembert each have a distinct flavor, they are made in a similar way (and are actually very closely related).

Both cheeses are made from cows’ milk and penicillium camemberti bacterium, which is similar to the penicillin that is used as an antibiotic. (Those who are allergic to penicillin have to be careful when eating either Camembert or Brie.) Both cheeses are also soft and creamy, surface ripening cheeses that look alike. However, the similarities end there.

Brie was first created during the 8th century in the region of Brie (modern-day Seine-et-Marne, near Paris). Camembert didn't make an appearance until much later in the 1790s after a farmer in Normandy received advice from a priest visiting the area from Brie. While Brie is produced from cows grazing in stony pastures, Camembert is made from the milk of cows grazing in green pastures.

Both kinds of cheese are now made in flat wheels, but Camembert was originally high and cylindrical. If you're looking for a cheese to bake into a yummy pastry, Brie is it. (Although it's also yummy uncooked.) Camembert loses its flavor when heated so it's primarily served raw and eaten with bread or meat. Both are amazing eats with a sliced apple!

Brie is a soft cheese with a flavor that is slightly reminiscent of butter.

Brie is a soft cheese with a flavor that is slightly reminiscent of butter.

CheeseMilkTextureProduced

Brie

Cow

Soft-ripened

Ile-de-France

Camembert

Cow

Soft-ripened

Normandy

Époisses de Bourgogne

Cow

Soft, washed rind

Côte-d'Or

Tomme de Savoie

Cow

Semi-soft

Savoie

Roquefort

Sheep

Semi-hard

Roquefort-sur-Soulzon

Reblochon

Cow

Soft, washed rind

Haute-Savoie

Époisses de Bourgogne pairs really well with strong red wines as well as spicy white wines.

Époisses de Bourgogne pairs really well with strong red wines as well as spicy white wines.

Époisses de Bourgogne

This pungent, strong-odored cheese made from cow’s milk is generally left unpasteurized. The cheese has a dark orange rind that is from the cheese being washed in brine and later with red wine, usually burgundy. It is washed with brine primarily to achieve the strong flavor that Époisses de Bourgogne is known for.

For those looking to pair this cheese with wine, it's good to remember that this cheese pairs wonderfully with Burgundy wine, which makes sense since both the cheese and wine are made in this area.

Hailing from the famous region of Burgundy, this cheese is made in the village of Époisses, which is not only known for this wonderful cheese but for which Château d'Époisses which is a beautiful medieval castle. Those visiting the area to catch a glimpse of the castle should also stop to get some of this wonderful cheese as well as a bottle or two of Burgundy's amazing wines!

Tomme de Savoie

There are many different types of Tomme cheese. Each type is generally identified by the region in which they are made. Different varieties of this cheese includeTomme de Grandmère, Tomme Boudane, Tomme au Fenouil, Tomme d'Aydius, Tomme Affinée, Tomme de Crayeuse, Tomme du Revard, and, of course, the most famous variety, Tomme de Savoie. This cheese made in the Savoie village located in the French Alps.

Tomme de Savoie is a semi-solid cheese with a beautiful gray-brown rind with a pleasant nut-like flavor and silky texture. Because this cheese is made with skim milk, it is known for its low-fat content. Tomme cheese is used in a popular French dish known as aligot which is made from mashed potatoes, Tomme cheese, and sometimes garlic is also added.

Roquefort is a blue cheese made in the south of France from sheep's milk.

Roquefort is a blue cheese made in the south of France from sheep's milk.

Roquefort

Roquefort is a blue cheese made from sheep milk. This rindless cheese is known for being white, tangy, slightly moist and crumbly with green veins. The exterior of Roquefort is salty whereas veins of the cheese are where the distinct tang lies. The flavor of the cheese begins mild, becomes sweet and smoky, and then finishes salty.

In France, there are various cheeses and wines that can only be called a particular name if they follow strict guidelines. One of these guidelines is solely based on the region of France a product is made. This is known as appellation d’origine contrôlée (controlled designation of origin) and is shortened as AOC. Interestingly enough, when the AOC was developed Roquefort was the very first cheese to be regulated and controlled.

There is very strict regulation on this cheese, for example, only made from the milk of Lacaune, Manech and Basco-Béarnaise sheep can be used in the production of this cheese per AOC regulation. Also, Roquefort can only carry the name “Roquefort” if it has been aged in the Combalou caves in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.

Roquefort contains as much as 1280 mg of glutamate per 100 g of cheese, which means it has the highest level of glutamate out of any naturally produced food. This cheese is also of political importance as in 2009, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab announced a 300% tariff on the cheese, which was the highest tariff placed on European goods that year.

Reblochon comes from the French word "reblocher," which means "to pinch a cow's udder again."

Reblochon comes from the French word "reblocher," which means "to pinch a cow's udder again."

Reblochon

Reblochon cheese is produced in the Savoie region of the Alps, and until the 1960s it was also produced in the Italian areas of the Alps. Reblochon is a washed-rind cheese with an extremely soft texture making it even softer than Brie.

Reblochon is made from the second milking of a cow which results in the very rich flavor of the cheese. This second milking was done as farmers in the area were taxed on how much milk their cows produced. The farmers would purposefully not fully milk their cows to avoid heavy taxation. This practice resulted in particularly rich milk that was perfect for cheese making. Reblochon has a nutty and herbal aroma and is best paired with white wine or fruity red wine.

© 2009 Melanie Palen