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Feb 18, 2012 08:13 PM

French raw milk cheese -what are the best that are imported?

Certain raw milk cheese can't be imported in the US because they have to be aged over 60 days, so it's been said that there's a big difference in quality between the cheeses in France, some that peak at 30 days, and those imported in the US (after it's peak).

But what raw milk cheeses actually PEAK aged after 60 days? In other words, what raw milk cheeses can you get here that are as close to the quality if it were in France?

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    1. re: Veggo

      I found another in my fridge from yesterday's buying binge - a raw milk Swiss sharfe maxx. I'm also looking forward to this Rogue raw milk blue, but it's from Oregon.

      1. re: Veggo

        The Epoisses that comes into the USA, from 3 manufacturers. is all low heat pasteurized. Only one Jean Gaugry, can still be found in France in raw state.

        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

          The best Epoisses I can find is the Berthaut. I'm learning that they have a very slender window of perfection as they are so alive. I can handle a little ammoniation as I crave ripe cheese, but an overripe St. Marcellin is more than I can deal with, sour.

      2. Some blue cheeses: Roquefort, Bleu de Gex.

        I once found a raw milk Camembert in the USA but I think it's supposedly still not legal. Reblochon is sometimes aged a few extra days to make the USA import bar.

        Others: Beaufort, Comte, French Emmental, Morbier, and Raclette.

        In all cases, it pays to attend carefully to labeling, as some versions can be knock offs or even pasteurized.

        Edit: don't leave out other countries, too. For example, raw milk Taleggio from Italy.

        11 Replies
        1. re: Bada Bing

          Roquefort is delicious everywhere, but I don't think I've ever tasted an American Camembert or french import that I've like as in France.

          1. re: david t.

            Yes, I still wonder about that one raw-milk Camembert. I got it from Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan, around the year 2000. That's a serious cheese purveyor, and they might well have had something imported specifically for them.

            As for the other French cheeses I mentioned, they're already aged more than the USA-mandated 60 days, except for Reblochon, which in France is aged 55 days, but some makers add five more days to meet USA requirements.

            1. re: Bada Bing

              Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that at some point, the import law got an addendum that prohibits "soft" cheeses that are raw milk from being imported into the US, even if they are more than 60 days old. As it stands now, domestic cheese is still under the old rules so those are OK as are "gently" pasturized cheeses, like the Epoisses mentioned but that of course may change in the future (someone I know who actually works for the USDA says there is a lot of pressure to ban ALL raw milk cheeses and redifine pasturization to US import standards as pasturizing milk until it is "dead" (sterile) so that no microbes exist in the cheese save those put in on purpose by the cheese makers. There is even talk of the US asking places like Italy to try and develop pasturized versions of cheeses aged for years, like Parmesan, just to be on the safe side). To be imported the cheese also has to come from producers that have met USDA standards of cleanliness and hygene, which skews imports heavily in favor of the big "industriel" producers, most of whom pasturize anyway (to keep their product consistent) I'm not saying it's impossible to find a small artisinal produced imported cheese, but it is not easy, you will probably have to pay a lot more (above and beyond the high price for any imported cheese) and you will have to be savvy about knowing how it is supposed to look, as there will be a higher risk of it being less than optimal in condition. Finally a lot of the chain cheese buyers like the high end supermarkets (Whole foods for example) also skew heavily for the industriel, since they need massive quantities of each cheese to distibute to thier stores; qunaties that most small producers just cannot supply. And , like with too many other things, the big chains largely set the market, by sheer numbers.
              On top of the list BadaBing mentioned I will add. I second Tallegio though most of the versions turned out by the factories are pasturized too, so you will have to look at labels carefully (also a lot of it is sold rather underripe (at which poin I suppose it's technically Quartiolo) so you may have to seach to find a good bulgy oozing one) Most of the AOC Swiss cheeses are raw milk, except for the "official" Vacherin Mont d'Or (some of the smaller non official producers make raw milk versions though, under other names) I particualry reccomend Tete d' Moine. In French itself, the Rouzaire version of Gratte Paille is quite good, if you can find it (it is pastrurized, but Rouzaire is very gentle with his method) Blue de Gex is great, if you can loacte it (I haven't seen any for over a decade) Domestically there is my belowed Cayuga Blue, which, as a raw goats milk blue is pretty much like no other cheese on earth (apart from possibly the very tiny number of indigenous French makers who still make raw versions of Persliee de Beujolais and it's cousins.)

              1. re: jumpingmonk

                Great update. Thanks! What a drag, though, to hear that the raw milk freak-out is still going strong. Banning imported raw milk cheeses! Talk about a solution without a problem...

                1. re: Bada Bing

                  Sad to hear of it getting even more restrictive. A few years ago, I thought they would be more open to loosening restrictions with the explosion of artisanal american cheeses.

                  1. re: david t.

                    Actually, I would imagine the artisinal explosion is what led to the greater crackdown. The USDA is regulatory goverment angency, and if there is one thing such agencys hate, it is small, independent producers of anything. All agencys are, at the essence very pro big business, big business is easier to regulate (bigger business = fewer people needed to keep and eye on things, plus a lot of them hire people of thier own) they have more money (which means there is a lot less griping in the courts along the lines of "this clause will put us out of business) etc. There is also the simple cynical fact that those in power always prefer to have the people as dependent on them as possible, make your market completely inelastic (i.e. where the buyer buys what you have to sell no matter how much you charge, because they have no choice) and you can charge what you want. It's the same logic that almost gave us a law last year that would have made saving your own seeds illegal (don't worry, they managed to get an exemption in for small businesses at the last moment) or that gets the idea that the way to deal with America's weight problem is to create a standardized National Diet. Be allowed to feed yourself, and at some level, you don't need them. To paraphrase an old saying "once you have the people by thier stomachs, you have them by thier hearts and minds"

          2. re: Bada Bing

            May I ask where you acquired Bleu de Gex? I've not seen it in the San Francisco marketplace for a few years.

            Here's a photo of the wedge purchased at the creamery in the Jura.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I haven't tried it, but heard some years ago that it was sometimes available at a Manhattan cheese shop, and got raves, so I included it in the list of "possibles" for the USA. Maybe someday...

              From having lived in the SF Bay Area and out in the USA East Coast, I can tell you that less stuff from France gets all the way to CA than to places like NYC, alas. I notice it especially with wines. Much better selection of French wines in NY than in CA, and I don't think it's just CA snobbiness, but also quantity and cost of distribution.

              1. re: Bada Bing

                Thanks, the last reference to Bleu de Gex in SF is around 2005 that I can find. Let us know if you find it on this side of the pond.

                Yes, NY has more French imports. Certainly proximity and greater population have something to do with it. However, in Cru Burgundy, I'd been told that San Francisco is the top market in the US.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Interesting about the Burgundy and SF. Glad those CA types are keeping an open mind, despite the proximity of the Central-Coast to Sonoma corridor wines.

                  I don't track these things in recent years, but my best guess would be that East Asia is gobbling up the majority of Euro-prestige wine bottlings these days. But prevalent lactose intolerance out there makes cheese a whole different matter.

                  edit p.s.: the Cru French wines were never my stomping ground. What I noticed was that CA wine shops would have a generic smattering of, say, French Rhone wines under 15$, but in the East Coast, there's much more going on at the price point.

                  1. re: Bada Bing

                    Yes, I've observed the same re: lower priced French wines. It's even more marked a difference for Italian and Spanish wines. However, Spain has made huge in-roads in California in the last decade. And lucky for us, Spanish cheese has come along with them!