Cheese Tours in France?
On another travel group, someone asked about cheese tours in France. Know there are wine tours, but how about ones for cheeses?
Or, what would be a good independent tour of various spots around France for uniquely French or internationallly known French varieties. Let's say someone started their tour in Roquefort and then where would they go next, and next and next?
Roquefort is a place to visit because of its caves (and the region is gorgeous). But other than that, there's not much to see to cheese makers. Factories tend to be ugly and modern, and the other things to see include grazing cows, or goats, or sheeps. There are some artisanal ferms of course but would they warrant a trip?
The more general problem is that a cheese tour of France is a tour of France, period. There are over 400 different cheeses and there is no place that does not have their local cheese, wherever you are. Now a tour de France is a wonderful idea but it is long.
In contrast, there are just a few wine regions that you can visit one by one. They imply vineyards and often castles and tastings and endless discussions on how the wine is made.
Also: if your point is to taste meny different cheeses, and taste them at their best, a cheese monger will always have a better offer. Not only will he have more choice, a good affineur will also have properly aged cheeses, which is much more interesting. In that case, your prime destination is to go to Antony in Vieux-Ferrette, the ultimate cheese genius.
It's true that cheeses don't taste exactly the same at the source, e.g. comté. But again, while that can be a feature of a visit to Franche-Comté, I don't see how it can be part of a tour.
Rocamadour, besides being a great cabécou cheese, is breathtakingly beautiful from afar. Up close all the dozens of identical religious geegaw boutiques are a lethal turnoff.
The surrounding of Rocamadour is also one of the most beautiful corners of France: with villages like Carennac, Martel, Autoire, etc. and incredible prehistoric caves like Cougnac. And the legendary "Black" Dordogne is not far.
Try this farm:
The region can be easily linked with a trip to the Roquefort region.
On the other side of France, we found our fave reblochon in the ferme-auberge Charbonnière in the village of Menthon-St Bernard on the beautiful Annecy lake. The farm only sells it whole, and the locals gobble it up. We were holidaying in Annecy and were going back to Paris soon and did not buy the reblochon after our ace tartiflette lunch. We offered to buy half and were rightly laughed off the farm. After suffering collective contempt, we walked home empty handed. Is that a new definition of adding insult to injury or what.
Am still kicking myself.
Back in 2007, our (guru? ronin?) Soup wrote re Antony père: "the best fromagerie period, wherever in the World, is in the small village of Vieux-Ferrette in Alsace, it is Bernard Antony's. I only ever tasted his cheeses before at the best restaurants (l'Arpège, Lucas Carton) and already then I thought "those cheeses we buy in Paris are good but this is another dimension". So on my way (or almost) from Munich I stopped in Vieux Ferrette, and the cheeses I got there were truly amazing, I dare say they were spiritual. I think I'm officially spoiled for cheese now. Bernard Antony's shop is as much of a destination as any three-stars restaurant in France. There. I said it.
Antony calls himself "eleveur de fromages" and his genius lies in the selection and "affinage" of cheeses. Among his most famous achievements are the four year old Comtés that are only served at Ducasse and l'Arpège (and lately it seems in Manresa as well) to my knowledge. If you're really nice and respectful, maybe he will sell you some for an ultimate cheese experience."
(And Peech I like your blog. Loved your rant re bowtie.)
The thing with Antony's extaordinary Comté, as with anything excellent, and as with any cheese, is that it just is not systematically available. Only a few wheels of cheese a year are selected to be aged that much, and there is variation from one year to the next depending in particular on the weather. And then, Antony is a facetious little guy and he decides who gets the very best cheese he has in store.
So, even with Antony, my advice remains: don't focus on the name of the cheese, or its age, but ask what is good when you're in. If it's camembert or vacherin or livarot, it will still be better than a three or four year old unexceptional comté.
"So, even with Antony, my advice remains: don't focus on the name of the cheese, or its age, but ask what is good when you're in. If it's camembert or vacherin or livarot, it will still be better than a three or four year old unexceptional comté."
This is fine advice for visiting any purveyor, cave or restaurant. We set our hearts on something specific we've heard about and fail to take advantage of something extraordinary that might be available if only we'd opened our minds.
I want ot add two more cheese destinations
In the village of Epoisses, I actually stayed in a lovely b&b in the former farm where Epoisses cheese was created.
Ferme de Plumeron
The owner does not sell it but can steer you to his neighbor who does.
Chèvre in Provence:
The ferme-auberge Castelas in the village of Sivergues. Sort of hard to get to. But sooooo worth it when you arrive at land's end at the old bergerie and lunch on farm-fresh smoked ham and goat cheese and bread, and a little goat jumps on your table.
Here is a description of the place:
It's been a while since this post but since I am a fromologue in france, for future reference for anyone interested in this kind of tour, several private groups/companies provide tours that explore the wonderful topic of cheese in the various regions of France and in and around Paris. Some are specialists, some combine it with wine or other elements of travel and their sites have information worth looking into.
Would be happy to share them with you or anyone who is interested because Sophie and the others are correct when they say that a cheese tour in France is a tour of France and the terroir that gives birth to its cheeses.