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Cheese newbie - where to begin?

annamikemc Dec 31, 2007 05:20 AM

Hello! As someone who does not have much experience (okay, ANY experience) with French cheese, can anyone point me in the right direction for our fromagerie visits on our upcoming Paris trip? I know that there are hundreds of cheeses and I'm a bit overwhelmed! I want to experience as many food delights as possible and don't want my limited knowledge to get in the way. Can I find some of the cheeses here in America before I go? I've really only tried Muenster (but probably not French), goat cheese (a few softer kinds - I think it was French chevre, love it), bleu cheese (probably not french) and that's about it. I've tried brie once and didn't really like it, but I'm willing to try some while in Paris since it seems so many people love it and I'm not generally a picky eater.

Thanks!

  1. b
    Babess Jan 16, 2008 11:48 PM

    My fiance and I took a cheese atelier class at a small cookery school in the 16th. We visited a cheese shop that has an incredible variety of cheeses (maybe all 365 that former President DeGaule mentioned!). The display of goat cheese is stuinning! The owner is an "afineur", and ages the cheeses in his shop.
    We then tasted the cheeses with the right wines - and delicous bread - in the studio. Great experience! The atelier is called All about cheese and the cookery school is World in a pan.
    We've been more adeventurous when buying cheese since we have retruned - although yes, you're right, it does not taste the same.

    1. souphie Jan 3, 2008 01:37 PM

      Cheeses are alive. Names are not very relevant, this Livarot will be the best cheese you ever had one day and an infection one week later. The right way to go is to go to a good, renowned cheese listed on this board (e.g. Cantin, Quatrehomme, la ferme Saint-Hubert, Alléosse, etc see other threads) and ask to taste what they recommend on that day. If they have no suggestions or don't let you taste, go away. Once this is done, buy what you like and eat it without delay.

      4 Replies
      1. re: souphie
        PhilD Jan 4, 2008 04:15 AM

        Souphie makes a really good point. Most French cheese is made from unpasteurised milk and therefore is very much alive. A good cheese shop will have rooms/cellars to mature their cheeses and bring them out only when they are in peak condition. Also some cheeses are seasonal, either only made at certain times of the year, or have different characteristics depending on the feeds influence on the milk (i.e, fresh spring grass) therefore it isn't wise to have to fixed an idea of what to try.

        My local cheese shop was Barthelemy in the 7eme (which is as good as Cantin etc), they would ask us when we wanted to eat the cheese - today, tomorrow, the next day (never later) then help us select a cheese that would be perfect in that time frame.

        To add to Souphie's advice, definitely put yourself in the hands of the shop assistant, but do help to guide them by knowing what style of cheese you want. A goat, sheep or cows cheese; a hard or creamy cheese; a plain or a blue; a strong or a mild one. I would suggest that one of the best things to do is to compare and contrast - say a hard and a soft goats cheese, or compare a soft goat with a soft sheep's cheese. Buy small portions (enough for two too share) of two or three combinations and ask them to write the name on the packaging.

        Then find a nice park, grab a fresh baguette or some Poilâne bread, open a nice bottle of red and enjoy. Repeat this once a day for a week and your "newbieness" will be cured - but I am afraid expertise will take time. And don't forget Charles de Gaulle famous quote "how can you govern a country in which there are 246 kinds of cheese?"

        1. re: PhilD
          annamikemc Jan 4, 2008 05:23 AM

          Thanks everyone! I think I may also visit my local cheese shop (although I know that their French cheese will probably be dramatically different from what I will actually find in Paris), so I know what I actually like. This is my kind of research :)

          1. re: annamikemc
            ChefJune Jan 4, 2008 08:06 AM

            annamikemc, any French cheese you buy in US will first of all be aged at least 60 days in order to be allowed to be sold here, and/or made from pasteurized milk. Both situations drastically alter the flavor and texture of cheese. So you still won't know what you actually like until you get to Paris.

            1. re: annamikemc
              s
              smtucker Jan 9, 2008 12:54 AM

              I have also found that it is helpful to tell the shopkeeper what day you will be eating the cheese. If the soft cheese is for today's plate, they will select a riper section for you. If the plate will be served tomorrow, they select something firmer. The shop will also help you assemble an assortment that compliments so that you don't end up with three cheeses of the same texture and/or flavor. Enjoy discovering the joys of cheese.

        2. PBSF Dec 31, 2007 08:22 PM

          There is an earlier link on this board regarding to shops that offer cheese tastings in Paris. I would purchase a good book on cheese, such as Steve Jenkin's Cheese Primer or Max McCalman's The Cheese Plate and get an introduction to French cheese types. When in Paris, search out a good fromagerie and buy a small amount of 3 or 4 each day and taste them. Depends where you live, most good cheese shop will have a good assortment of French cheeses or French style cheeses made by American producers.

          2 Replies
          1. re: PBSF
            Ljubitca Jan 15, 2008 02:09 PM

            I always read about how folks always come back healthier and weighing less from Paris because of the qaulity of the food and all the walking - can this be if we eat 4 cheeses a day?

            1. re: Ljubitca
              souphie Jan 15, 2008 02:11 PM

              surely over four pounds of cheese per day you should worry ;-)

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