When I was first introduced to France and her cheeses at the tender age of twelve, I remember being told there was a different cheese for each day of the year. Now, of course, with the benefit of age and experience, I have discovered that was not true. There are over five hundred!

I don’t believe there is a single region of France (and there are twenty-two of them) which does not produce cheese, and each region is fiercely proud of its own AOC (appellation d’origine controlee) which is the mark awarded by government assuring both the quality and the origin of produce, including cheeses. You will find, for example, that a Maroilles cheese, which originates from the town of Thierache near the border with Belgium can only be produced within a clearly defined area around that town. For this reason, regional cheeses in France, unlike the ubiquitous Cheddar’ cheese, now made throughout the world, continue to retain their unique parochial characteristics and flavours.

Here is a very small sample of some regional cheeses and their vastly different characteristics taking in some regions of France from North to South. Since I have already mentioned it, let’s start with Maroilles, from the department Nord Pas de Calais. Maroilles is a 45% fat strongly flavoured cow’s milk cheese. It is a soft, yellowish colour, with a washed, orange rind. It’s tasty with bread or crackers, and can be very successfully incorporated into pies and flans, imparting a strong, cheesy flavour.

Heading south to Champagne-Ardenne we find a most unusual looking cheese, Langres. It is another soft cheese, with a rind which looks wrinkled, like a dried prune. The rind has a small indentation in the top, and locals traditionally fill this with a little Champagne before serving. It too has a rather strong flavour, but gives the impression that it is made with sheep’s milk, though in fact it is made with cow’s milk. It is 50% fat, so be careful if you are watching your cholesterol. Welcome addition to any cheese board.

Further South and to the West, we find the region of Poitou-Charente, France’s biggest producer of goat’s milk cheeses, including Chabichou du Poitou, a medium strength cheese, best in summer and autumn but delicious the year round. It is creamy and soft with a slight sour note, common in goat’s cheese. It is particularly good served with walnut bread.

Finishing our brief journey across France in the region of Midi-Pyrenees, bordering spain, let us sample a blue cheese, Bleu des Causses, a nutty, even somehow spicy flavoured cow’s milk cheese. It comes from a few communes spread out in an area of small dairy farms. It is good all year round. Soft and creamy in texture it is delicious as part of the cheese board, but also lends itself to cooking, and is particularly good in omelettes, mixed with pasta or forming part of a sauce for red meats.

It can be a lifetime’s quest to discover all of France’s cheeses, particularly if you are keen to explore complementary wines and local culinary delicacies, but if you haven’t done so already, I recommend you make a start. You will not regret the experience.


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